Fans of Isolde Martyn have waited a long time to read this, her second novel, The Knight and the Rose, published in Australia two years ago. First published by Bantam (The Maiden and the Unicorn), the author has been picked up by Berkley.
Lady Joanna FitzHenry is married to Sir Fulk de Enderby, a brute who beats her night and day for, among other things, her failure to conceive a child. When she gets a chance to return to her childhood home, she takes it, ready to confront her parents about their apparent abandonment. She soon learns that her husband is to blame, while her mother seeks to find a way to save her daughter from the marriage she didn't want.
Geraint is on the run. He must save his young companion from a sure death and the best way to do that is to find somewhere to hide. When he is caught by the lady of the manor, he tells her he is a scholar who was robbed. She agrees to hide him and his companion if he will swear to a church court that he and Joanna secretly betrothed themselves before her marriage to Sir Fulk.
Set during the reign of King Edward II, just after the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, this novel is loosely based on a real court case from the period and straddles the genres of historical romance and romantic historical fiction. Though the main focus of the story is indeed the relationship between the hero and heroine, the politics of the era are not ignored and figure prominently. Geraint and Joanna fall in love while preparing for the court case, but must also deal with the consequences of Geraint's actions as a supporter of the rebels. Nor does Joanna's husband quietly accept that his marriage is not legal.
As with her first novel, The Maiden and the Unicorn, Ms. Martyn has created memorable characters, a realistic setting and exciting plot. Her writing is polished and the depth of her research is obvious in the many small details of daily life. Geraint stands out, a worthy hero with dark secrets who is noble yet far from perfect, while the supporting cast is, for the most part, well-drawn. Sir Fulk, however, comes close to being a moustache-twirling villain as the reader never truly understands the motivation for his evil personality.
Also slightly problematic is the character of Joanna, who at times appears shrewish and overly stubborn. Over the course of the story, though, she does grow and proves worthy of her husband, risking all in the end to save him.
The plot has many twists and turns, saving one last surprise for the end. Pacing, however, isn't a problem as the author has a deft touch, balancing periods of intense action with slower domestic scenes. Also, there is no awkward dialogue to interfere as there is little "gadzookery". Instead the period is represented through more formal phrasing and the occasional medieval word.
Readers who so eagerly anticipated this novel need not fear disappointment. As with her debut novel, Ms. Martyn has succeeded in combining romance and history with aplomb, crafting an unforgettable story of love, intrigue and adventure. I look forward to her next release, Moonlight and Shadow (to be published shortly in Australia as The Silver Bride), the sequel to The Maiden and the Unicorn and set during the upheaval of 1483. To learn more about the author or to read some excerpts, you can visit her website at http://www.isoldemartyn.com.
This review first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of The Ricardian Register.
© Teresa Eckford, 2002