White Lion=s Lady by Tina St. John
(Ivy, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8041-1962-7
White Lion’s Lady introduces two appealing characters and sets them on the road together. On the way, however, things bog down, and what had promised to be an entertaining story fails to deliver.

Isabel de Lamere meets Griffin of Droghallow as a child when the youth saves her life. Even though she never expects to see him again, he remains her romantic ideal.

Isabel has spent six years in a convent after her father was executed for treason and his property forfeited. She has now, however, inherited her mother’s property, and King Richard has betrothed her to Sebastian of Montborne because this will consolidate their lands. Isabel has personal reasons for wanting a secure marriage and home and resolves to forget Griffin of Droghallow and give her loyalty to her unknown, future husband.

Dominic of Droghallow, earl and foster brother of Griffin, despises Sebastian. Griffin, who has remained at Droghallow after his foster father=s death because he vowed to assist Dominic, is ordered to intercept the party escorting Isabel and another betrothed bride to their weddings.

Isabel and Griffin soon recognize each other even though ten years have elapsed since they last saw one another. Griffin realizes that he cannot turn the lovely young maiden over to his wicked foster brother. Recognizing that he has lost his honor in the depths to which he=s fallen in service to Dominic, he decides to aid Isabel in her escape to Sebastian and safety and not incidentally claim a reward.

But Dominic is not acting alone in his determination to prevent Isabel from reaching Sebastian. Conflicting political forces headed by Prince John, King Richard=s brother, are plotting against the marriage. Griffin=s and Isabel=s flight will lead to life-threatening danger and a growing love.

Possibly my favorite subgenre within romance novels is the medieval. I ignore the fact that it was a time of treachery, brutality, corruption, poverty, ignorance, intolerance, inequality, superstition, disease, and appalling hygiene and just enjoy the courtly tales of bold knights and fair maidens. I expect, however, that the author will adhere to certain conventions - primarily that the characters and setting be as close as possible to the reality of the medieval era. No twenty-first century heroes and heroines sneaking into a Middle Ages locale. No messing with historical fact. No anachronisms.

From that standpoint, other fans of medieval romances will likely be as disappointed with White Lion’s Lady as I was. There are numerous situations where the action is contrary to medieval practices. A couple posing as common folk seeking shelter from a storm at a castle causes no comment when they arrive riding destriers, the massive warhorses of knights. The hero goes to a dressmaker in a country town and buys a beautifully embroidered silk gown right on the spot. During a period of marital alliances for property purposes, the hero and heroine engage in frequent discussions about the desirability of marrying for love. In an era of wide-spread illiteracy, the villain gets his evil impulses after reading stacks of letters between his stepmother and her sister. The unmarried heroine has freedom of movement within a monastery populated by an order of devout monks. A tower room in a remote castle is decorated with murals of a non-religious subject matter so the heroine has a setting where she can look cutesy for the hero in a scene that advances the plot not one bit.

Putting the hero and heroine into medieval clothing, throwing around the names of a few English monarchs, and seasoning the dialogue with repeated “my lord” and “my lady” does not a medieval make.

But I could overlook a few untimely flaws for a rollicking good tale. In that respect, White Lion’s Lady disappoints, too. The majority of the book is a “road story” where the hero and heroine spend time together as they travel to their destination. Travel during the Middle Ages because of the limited modes available and the poor condition of public roads was a plodding, time-consuming business. That’s a fitting comparison to the pace of this story. Some of the action seems driven primarily by the desire to get the hero and heroine into each other’s arms rather than to get them to safety. The characters are supposed to be fleeing for their lives, but they sure take their own sweet time getting there. You=d expect that with their lead the hero and heroine could keep ahead of their pursuers, but messages regarding them and the bounty offered for their capture overtake them repeatedly. The bad guys seem to be making a whole lot faster progress than the hero and heroine!

Because it failed to capture my interest, I made frequent “pit stops” over the course of reading this book and forced myself to finish it only in order to review it. It’s unfortunate that two such promising characters didn’t get a more dynamic plot or a more authentic setting.

Readers who enjoy solid medieval romances would be advised to skip White Lion=s Lady and look for a book that is truer to the time period.

--Lesley Dunlap

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