The Swan Maiden
While reading Susan King’s 2000 release, The Stone Maiden, I fell in love with her lyrical writing and her historical intricacy, and eagerly awaited The Swan Maiden, the next in the series. Fans won’t be disappointed – King’s trademark style and beautifully realized settings are back. However, most will find the heroine a bit difficult even as they fall in love with the hero.
Gawain Avenel, a knight in Edward I’s army, carefully guards his secret – he was born Gabhan Macduff, the son of a Scotsman and an English lady. He and his mother fled Scotland after the English attacked, and his new English stepfather accepted him as his own, but Gawain has always dreamed of going back to Scotland to claim his family’s lands and heritage. Gawain’s sympathy for the Scots keeps getting him into trouble; for example, as a young knight, he helped a Scottish maiden escape her burning castle. As the book begins, Gawain has just resworn his fealty after aiding the hero and heroine of an earlier King novel, Laird of the Wind. Gawain knows he must tread carefully to protect his Scottish family from the king’s wrath.
Since she was forced from her family’s castle, Juliana Lindsay has aided Scottish rebels by posing as the Swan Maiden, a mysterious figure who terrifies and eludes English soldiers as if by magic. But when the cruel sheriff Walter De Soulis captures her, Juliana is dragged to Edward’s court dressed as a swan for the king’s amusement. Chivalrous Gawain tries to stop the mockery by offering himself as Juliana’s champion. Edward forces the two to marry on the spot and sends Gawain north with Juliana to take over her castle, with De Soulis close by. Gawain must keep Juliana from escaping in order to avoid further disgrace, while of course Juliana wants only to escape. But the two recognize each other from the night when Gawain rescued Juliana, and their passion grows as they travel to Scotland. When they arrive at Juliana’s castle, Elladoune, the rebels in the area force a confrontation with De Soulis, and Gawain and Juliana must decide where their loyalties ultimately lie.
If you’re tired of cruel, arrogant men who pass as heroes, Gawain Avenel is the cure for what ails you. Gawain is the rare knight who truly believes in the ideals of chivalry, and he always behaves with grace and kindness. Gawain is trapped between his love for Scotland and Juliana and his loyalty to his English family. I fell in love with him almost immediately.
It would be hard for any heroine to match a hero as near-perfect as Gawain, and while Juliana doesn’t quite make it, she does come close. Juliana is brave and resourceful, and totally dedicated to her cause. My only problem with her came from her behavior towards Gawain; I found her unwillingness to trust him first understandable, then frustrating, and finally just annoying. Gawain treats Juliana with nothing but kindness and respect, and she heaps abuse on him for far longer than she should. I admit to wanting to shake her shoulders and say, “Don’t you know you’re in a romance novel?”
Still, if you’re looking for a well-written romance with lots of historical detail and lovely Scottish legends woven into the story, The Swan Maiden is well worth your time. If Susan King keeps turning out books like this one, she may well find herself the new queen of Scottish romance.