A Hidden Magic

Storm Prince

The Moon Lord
by Terri Lynn Wilhelm
(Signet, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-198696-4
I realize that there are no new plots under the sun. I also realize that when someone reads as many books as I (and most of you) do, we are bound to come across the same story with some frequency. When we come across a tried and true story line, we are not necessarily dismayed. In fact, sometimes we are downright intrigued, anxious to find out what an author has done to make an old faithful seem new. Sometimes, we are rewarded with a gem of a book. At other times, the tale seems all too familiar.

I had high expectations when I picked up Terri Lynn Wilhelm’s entry in Signet’s “Lords of Midnight” promotional series. I could tell from the back blurb that The Moon Lord offered an old stand-by medieval plot: hero seizes or is given the family lands; heroine faces conflicting loyalty as she falls in love with said hero who has or will dispose of her male relatives. I hoped that Wilhelm, whose Storm Lord was a marvelously imaginative fantasy romance, would take this familiar story and run with it. Unfortunately, the she mostly walks through the story.

Thus, The Moon Lord is a standard medieval romance that has nothing to set it apart from all the other books that have used this storyline.

The story begins in the Holy Land where the knight, Tancred de Vierzon, leads an uprising of other Christian prisoners which makes it possible for King Richard to take a Saracen stronghold. When the king offers him a reward for his bravery, Tancred insists that he wants the fief of the lord Arnaud Bourton, the man he holds responsible for betraying him and his fellows into the enemy’s hands. Since there is no proof of Arnaud’s guilt other than Tancred’s word, the king tells the knight that he can have Wynnsef if he can take and hold it, thus leaving the matter in God’s hand.

Two years later, Rosamund Bourton finds herself in dire straits. Her brother Arnaud has taken most of his knights and men-at-arms north to try to seize another castle, and her greedy neighbor, Lord Godfrey Fitz Clare, is threatening the keep. Then, out of nowhere, a body of soldiers arrives to drive Lord Godfrey off. But this is no rescue. The soldiers’ leader demands that Rosamund surrender the keep. When she refuses, the men take the under-armed castle by stealth. Rosamund feels responsible and that she has failed her brother. She is understandably antagonistic toward her captor, especially when it becomes clear that Tancred will cheerfully kill her brother to keep his prize and to gain his revenge.

Tancred has established a fearsome reputation as a skilled and devious warrior. His is known as the “moon lord,” in part because of a brand of the moon his captors left on his cheek and partly because of the stealth with which he attacks his enemies.

The “Lords of Midnight” series clearly aims to highlight dark and tormented heroes. Certainly his harsh life has left its mark on Tancred. His experiences at the hands of the Saracens have resulted in understandable nightmares as have the horrors he has seen in the Holy Land. Yet for all this, he does not really come across as a dark and tortured hero.

The challenge to any author who uses this particular plot is to make the conflict between the heroine’s loyalty to her family and her love for the hero believable and compelling. Wilhelm succeeds with part of this challenge. Tancred is eminently lovable and we certainly understand why Rosamund falls in love with him. Unfortunately, Rosamund’s loyalty to her brother is less comprehensible. Arnaud is portrayed as a generally nasty piece of work who has mistreated his sister, his serfs and just about everybody else. Rosamund’s devotion to her brother’s interests thus seems hollow which reduces the impact of the conflict and makes her choices seem foolish rather than heroic.

Wilhelm’s failure to make the conflict persuasive detracted from The Moon Lord’s emotional impact. Thus, this particular retooling of this old favorite plot did not succeed in grabbing this reader. The tale seemed all too familiar.

--Jean Mason

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