Northern England in 1339 is not a safe place to live, especially if you are a single lady. Lady Sara Fernstowe lost her father months earlier and has been managing the estate all on her own. She’s doing a remarkable job, considering that the Scots, who she believes are led by Alan the True, not only murdered her father, but continue to raid her land and supplies. The only way to ensure her safety and her birthright is for her to wed.
Luckily, Lady Sara has a strong ally in King Edward III. The King himself is travelling in northern England with his most trusted knight, Richard Strode, when they are attacked and Richard is gravely injured. The King informs Sara that if she can save his best knight, she can marry him right then and there. Inevitably, Richard lives and while he is still incoherent, he and Sara tie the knot.
Of course, when Richard wakes up, he is none too happy. He was married once, and after his wife’s death, vowed never to marry again. Now he finds himself saddled with another estate to take care of, and a wife he didn’t want. Besides that little hurdle, Richard must contend with Alan the True, who just happens to be his much older half brother. But Richard has sworn allegiance to the King, and that means staying in a marriage he never wanted, and stopping his own brother’s accused crimes.
As a heroine, Sara is hardly sympathetic. She convinces the King to let her marry Richard, and then does so before he can even speak for himself. She has had two other offers for her hand, but neither is apparently as appealing as a man knocking on death’s door. She chooses Richard assuming he’s just a landless knight who will benefit from her wealth. And even though she weds an unconscious man, who has no say in the marriage, she soon starts daydreaming about having her own happy family. Very unrealistic expectations.
Also troublesome is Sara’s general character development. She is painted as willful, voicing her opinion freely, and is amazingly experienced for a virginal maiden. Yet, she is quite insecure about her appearance -- she’s tall, thin, and has a long faint scar on her face. These attributes and years of negative reinforcement have supposedly done little to bolster her self-image. But her adamant and wanton advances towards Richard didn’t seem realistic behavior for a woman who’s supposedly vulnerable about her looks.
I almost immediately sympathized with Richard, but quickly changed my mind after he was awake long enough for me to get to know him. Most bothersome is that he’s still extremely loyal to a King who weds him off (even though this King knows Richard’s desire to remain unwed) and places him in a situation where he must fight his own brother. The marriage issue alone would sway a normal person’s loyalty, but having to hunt down your own brother?
Richard also has this interesting idea that noble women only endure sex to have children. Exactly how many noble women has Richard been to bed with? Just one -- his former wife. But, of course, he’s had a wench or two who enjoyed the act, so he immediately decides that his opinion must be right. However, this notion doesn’t stop him from setting the land speed record for going from anger to lust where Sara is concerned. While he’s unhappy about the marriage, he decides that her motives weren’t self-serving (huh?), and is soon experiencing bodily urges where his wife is concerned.
And all of this exemplary behavior occurs within the first 50 pages. It made the rest of the 250 quite taxing to get through, especially when Sara undergoes a failed transformation. She soon finds herself in situations where the reader is supposed to feel sorry for her, and Richard has the urge to blacken eyes throughout the countryside to protect her honor. I didn’t buy into it, because by that point, Sara had gone from opinionated to simpering -- the common “I must change to make my man happy and then he'll never leave me” disease.
The accused villain, Alan the True, was a main character in a previous Stone novel The Knight’s Bride. Readers who enjoyed that story, may find some pleasure in this tale, since he does make a appearance. However, with Richard and Sara driving the plot, even fans of that earlier book may have a hard time finding a silver lining.