The Temptress is the final book in The Bride Quest series. It follows the adventures of Esmeraude, a maiden in search of adventure and her determined suitor, Bayard.
Bayard has returned from the Third Crusade, a follower of King Richard I. Determined to protect his family's holding, he learns that he must win Esmeraud's hand before his grandmother will name him her heir.
Esmeraude's parents have arranged for the most eligible men in the kingdom to compete for her hand in marriage. But she surprises them by embarking on her own quest, seeking the man her heart will tell her is right. She is convinced that none of the men her parents have invited, especially the foreign ones, are right for her. After setting a riddle for all those gathered, she flees. If one of the knights is indeed meant for her, he will be able to solve her riddle and claim her.
Bayard arrives to find the lady in question gone. Determined not to be thwarted he sets off in search of her and finds her. She seduces him, believing that men want her only for her maidenhead. Little does she know that the stranger is one of her suitors, one who is not put off by her behaviour.
Once Bayard understands Esmeraude's yearning for adventure, he allows her to have one, admiring her spirit. They meet up with her other pursuers at her sister's castle, where the wooing begins in earnest. But there is one knight determined to have Esmeraude who values her only for her ability to bear children and when he learns she is indeed with child, the adventure becomes a desperate race to save herself and her child. Part fairy-tale, part adventure and part romance, The Temptress is an engrossing read. In the hands of a less talented author it could have been very clichéd, yet each time the story appears to be going in one direction the author surprises the reader with a deft plot turn.
Esmeraude is a spoiled young lady who at first appears to be a stereotypical heroine - feisty, beautiful, stubborn and silly. Yet the author soon shows that she is much more than that as Esmeraude learns from her mistakes and matures. When she realizes that Bayard does not believe in marrying for love, she sets out to show him otherwise. Bayard is an intelligent and worthy hero, one who battles his own demons and comes to realize there is more to love than he ever expected.
The depth of the author's research is clear in the many historical details, yet she manages to slip them into the narrative unobtrusively. Ms Delacroix has been writing novels set in the Middle Ages for many years and her comfort level is obvious. Though historical events don't play a huge role in this story, there is no doubt that it is set firmly in the medieval world. At several points in the story, Bayard sings a ballad, the story of Tristan and Iseult, based on two separate translations, including that of Beroul, who wrote in the 12th century. An interesting subplot involves Dame Fortune, who appears after one of the characters invokes her name.
All the characters are unique and well depicted, even the most minor ones. Ms. Delacroix's writing style is fluid and elegant, with just enough archaic language to give a medieval flavour without overwhelming. There is also a supernatural element to the story, handled deftly by the author, adding to the fairy-tale quality of the story.
I found little to criticize as I read the book in two sittings. If the pace lagged a couple of times, specifically with a very minor subplot concerning the romance of Esmeraude's younger sister, it did little to detract from the book's overall appeal.
Fans of the romance genre looking for a well-written, literate tale would do well to pick up The Temptress.
This review first appeared in the Winter 2001 issue of The Ricardian Register.
© Teresa Eckford, 2002