Desert Isle Keeper
I first read Alinor, the second volume in the Roselynde Chronicles, when I was a student in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. I came across volumes one to three in a used book store, and was in romance heaven. (It took me almost eight years to track down volumes four to six.) When I reread Alinor for reviewing, I became aware how different this 1970s medieval is from almost all medievals written at present. I appreciated the depth and meatiness of its descriptions and developments, but am aware that some readers may find it too slow moving for their taste.
The novel starts in 1206, with King John about to return from waging war in France. Sir Ian de Vipont arrives at Roselynde Keep on the south coast of England for his first visit since his best friend and former mentor, Sir Simon Lemagne, died four months ago. King John bears a grudge against Simon’s beautiful widow Alinor, and he plans to revenge himself by marrying her off to one of the most despicable of his henchmen, as is his right as Alinor’s overlord. This would mean the destruction of Alinor and her son and daughter, and to prevent it, Ian proposes he and Alinor marry before the King returns. Alinor sees the force of his arguments and agrees almost instantly. The novel covers the period leading to the wedding and the first months of marriage.
The problem is, Ian has always loved Alinor, ever since he first saw her when he was only a squire. She was utterly unattainable for him, first because she was a great heiress, later because she loved the much older Simon. So he became Alinor’s trusted friend and her children’s beloved surrogate uncle. Alinor, on the other hand, never spared Ian a glance while Simon was alive, but now she is shocked at how much she is attracted to him. Because of the sudden shift in their relationship, neither speaks about their feelings. At the same time, the new situation asks for many small changes in the way they treat each other. As a result, this is one of the subtlest romances I have ever read about the way two people find their way into a new marriage.
Roberta Gellis portrays Alinor’s and Ian’s situation (and that of some minor characters) by describing their reasonings and emotions in great detail, sometimes moving from head to head several times in the course of one scene. Some readers may not like this, but in my eyes it greatly enhances the richness of the characterization. It also adds to the medieval flavor: Roberta Gellis’s characters are not 20th century folks in medieval garb, but instead she tries to illuminate the quite alien thinking and mores of the early 13th century. So some scenes might be shocking or even distasteful to modern sensibilities, but to me they are far more convincing and thus interesting than those in many wallpaper medievals.
Alinor is an extremely strong and determined character. She seems based to some degree on the historical Eleanor of Aquitaine (who makes an appearance in Roselynde)- fierce, possessive, deeply loyal to those she loves and far more independent than the men around her are comfortable with. She is not all admirable, though, and can be quite aggravating at times.
Ian is one of the most delightful romance heroes ever: honorable, loyal, strong and protective. Did I mention extremely good-looking? And that he adores children? Dealing with the force of nature that Alinor is doesn’t always come easy to him, but he is wonderful in that he accepts her as the exceptional woman she is without permitting her to push him around. Seeing them forge a true partnership is utterly satisfying. It’s also delightful to read about Alinor and Ian’s interaction with the children, with Ian’s squires, with their friends and political allies (many of whom are historical figures).
Although I love all the Roselynde Chronicles, my true favorites are Alinor and Joanna (about Alinor’s daughter). All these books are sadly out of print, but if you are fortunate you may come across an affordable copy at a garage sale, or online. They are among the best of the meaty historicals of the 1970s, and well worth rereading every couple of years.