Desert Isle Keeper
This is a book that feels like it was written according to my private list of preferences for medieval romances. It features a non-aristocratic hero who lives by his wits rather than by his brawn, a sensible heroine, a marriage of convenience and plenty of historical detail. Oh, did I mention that the married couple doesn’t quarrel much before they fall joyously into bed?
Robert Wardell is a wealthy London merchant who supports the King against the rebellion raised by Simon de Montfort in the mid 13th century. It is a gamble for high stakes, and to hedge his bets somewhat, Robert marries Lady Alyce, daughter of one of de Montfort’s impoverished barons. Bringing her home to London, Robert and Alyce are faced with their contrasting expectations of what their marriage should be like. The tension in the city is rising around them, and Robert’s enemies are quick to take advantage of the change in the fortunes of war, to the point where Robert and Alyce risk both imprisonment and destitution.
Robert is a decent fellow in every way you look at him, but one who is so used to hiding his intentions that he finds sharing his life with an equal partner difficult to get used to. Still carrying the emotional scars of an earlier marriage, he extends every courtesy and kindness to his wife, except himself. Only gradually does he learn to appreciate Alyce as herself and not just as a political pawn and a pleasant bedmate.
Alyce never thought to marry a commoner, and the differences between her old life and her new life in London are very clear to her. Robert’s good points quickly become apparent, and she wants to be his true wife, and not just sit around embroidering, waiting to become pregnant. She functioned as a chatelaine to her father, and feels the need to be useful. Yet, she is far too quiet a personality to scream and wail. Instead, she sets out to prove to Robert by action just what kind of wife she can be.
This is a comparatively castle-fee medieval. The merchants’ life in London is very well-drawn, with details giving the flavor rather than long descriptions. While I am not an expert on the detailed history of this uprising, there are no extreme liberties taken with medieval life. I also liked the cheerful fellow merchant, William Townsend and his wife, providing another glimpse at family life at this time and social station.
Did I have any problems with this book? While I like the cool and rational approach, some readers might dislike the lack of fire and passion of Robert and Alyce’s marital spats. Some may even feel it took them too long to work things out, which I found consistent with their personalities. Shame on me for complaining, but a bit more graphic love scenes wouldn’t have hurt. Oh, I know they enjoyed themselves, I’m just being a Peeping Tomasina.
Bartered Bride is joining my very sparse pile of true keepers. So, I’m a sucker for rational heroes and heroines. So, I find low-key stories very moving. If you want more flames with your romance, I regretfully have to recommend you another book, but if you know the value of a hearth full of embers, this read will reward you in full measure.