Skin

 
Master of Surrender
by Karin Tabke
(Pocket Books, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-4165-5089-5
***
If you're feeling nostalgic for a world where men were men and women stood up to them, Karin Tabke's Master of Surrender could be the book for you.

Rohan du Luc is the leader of a group of knights who are defending William of Normandy's right to the English throne. The men bonded when held captive in a Saracen prison: their capturer tortured them and branded them with a burning sword. A prophecy also holds the men together. When Rohan meets his destiny in Lady Isabel of Alethorpe he is the first to make it come true.

Lady Isabel of Alethorpe is taking care of the family domains while her father and brother are with Harold, fighting off William and his Norman conquerors. When a group of Norman knights lays siege to her castle, she denies them entry. They batter down the door and demand her surrender. Her father's squire makes one last attempt to defeat the conqueror and is almost beheaded for his effort. Isabel offers herself in his place: she will grant her body to Rohan du Luc in exchange for the boy's life.

Because Isabel heals one of his men, Rohan agrees not to take her virginity. And although Rohan is clearly the victor, Isabel is not prepared to surrender everything. Her responsibilities to her people and her loyalties to her father come first. As she attempts to keep her word and do her duty, Isabel discovers how Rohan and his apparently ruthless men are. She comes to respect and love her Norman conqueror.

Both Rohan and Isabel are intelligent, honorable and likeable characters. Rohan is an efficient and relentless warrior, but he is not all brawn and muscle. Born a bastard, he has known many slights. Instead of granting him a major chip on his shoulder, it has made him all the more sensitive to other outcasts. It would take a very strong woman to lock horns with him, and fortunately Isabel is one. She knows she cannot always win under his terms, so she very cleverly redefines them.

This contest of wills is the main source of tension between them, and frankly it drags a bit. The first half of the book is filled with far too many clashes over when and how Isabel will keep her promise. The fact that both manage to prove themselves outside the bedroom helps matters a bit.

The continuing war between the Normans and the Saxons as well as some minor skirmishes between feuding clans take up space. These subplots are not as developed as they could be, and they seemed more of an attempt to white-wash Rohan than anything else. Similarly, Rohan alludes to events that occurred during his captivity, but they are never really elucidated. Tabke will probably return to them in subsequent novels in the series.

Rohan's men are cut out of the same cloth as their leader. They will surely meet a similar fate in future books. Keep your eyes out for more guilty pleasure.  

--Mary Benn


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