Queen of the May by Denee Cody
Zebra, $4.99, PG-13 ISBN 0-8217-5668-0
*****
Denee Cody writes the kind of medieval romances that I love. She creates strong and compelling characters who think and act like medieval men and women. She devises plots that are clearly rooted in the realities of life and society in the middle ages. She provides a historical context for her story that is rich and full. She is as close as any current author to matching the skill and depth of Roberta Gellis -- and for me, at least, there is no higher praise.

Queen of the May continues the story of the de Mandeville brothers, begun in Court of Love. The year is 1202 and Alexander de Mandeville, Baron of Wolfhurst has finally come to visit the manor that had been given to him for his service to Richard the Lionheart twelve years earlier. He has spent the intervening years fighting with Richard -- first in the crusade and then in France. But now Richard is dead and his hateful brother John is on the throne. Alexander wants no more to do with war. What he wants is to live peaceably on his manor near Nottingham and repair the ravages of a dishonest steward.

Times are hard at Wolfhurst and in England as a whole. The weather has been bad; the new king's financial demands have grown increasingly onerous. As the story opens, one of Alexander's serf children has been killed by a wolf, and he sets off into Sherwood Forest to kill the predator. He kills the wolf, but he himself falls into a poacher's trap and is accidentally shot by poisoned arrow. When he comes to, he finds himself in the outlaws' hidden lair, being cared for by the beautiful and mysterious Giselle, a healer of great skill.

Giselle has lived with Robyn Hood and his men for six years, since her guardian Maeve died. She knows nothing of her parentage, only that she and Maeve had lived an isolated and hidden life. Giselle is attracted to the handsome lord she has tended; Alex is likewise intrigued by this unusual woman. The outlaws free their prisoner and both assume that their paths will not cross again. But, of course, they will.

Cody has set the love story between Alex and Giselle within a deftly plotted story which includes political intrigue and a villain who threatens both the hero and the heroine. There is a rich cast of secondary characters including Stephan and Julianna from Court of Love and the outlaws of Sherwood forest.

Queen of the May is historical romance at its best. Cody writes as compelling and sensual love scenes as any fan of the genre could want. She also has a complete command of the era about which she writes. If I found any fault with this book, it was that I wanted more history. I hope she continues to tell the saga of the de Mandevilles. I want to learn how they deal with the perilous and exciting challenges that faced the English barons during the reign of John.

Fans of historical romance who believe that the modifier "historical" means more than a story set in some vague time in the past should rush out to find this book. They will not be disappointed.

--Jean Mason


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