I’m really sorry I’m not giving Beyond Temptation a better grade. The author, Mary Reed McCall, wrote a wonderful segment for a recent ATBF column. Also, she took a chance on an unusual conflict of honor between the hero and heroine. Unfortunately, that conflict didn’t work for me; it just kept me from getting engaged in the love story.
The year is 1307. The military monastic order of the Knights Templar has just been exterminated in France in a wave of arrests and persecutions. Four knights flee for their lives, planning to reunite in England, where they will beg the King to intervene on their behalf and that of their brethren. These, of course, are to be the heroes of this new series.
One of the Templars, Sir Richard de Cantor, owns an English estate called Hawksley. There lives his wife, Eleanor, whose mental illness is what drove Richard away. He joined the Templars in order to atone for whatever sin led to her insanity. Eleanor’s cousin, a noblewoman named Lady Margaret, was disowned by her family and sent into quiet exile at Hawksley as punishment for a youthful sin – she now cares for Eleanor. She was once in love with a man, but her wicked father bribed the Templar order to take him. Margaret (or Meg, as she is called) hates the Templars, who stole her love from her, and she blames Richard for Eleanor’s state.
The main conflict between Meg and Richard is his marriage to Eleanor. Meg soon realizes that Richard is a good guy; Richard sees Meg’s beautiful and generous nature. There’s lots of attraction between them, too. But they are honorable; they know any relationship is impossible – neither of them ever even considers it – because Richard is married. So the death of Eleanor becomes a novelistic necessity; the only question was when and how it would happen. I found it impossible to root for the main couple in such circumstances, when rooting for them meant hoping for an innocent character to kick the bucket.
The author’s treatment of Eleanor is actually quite interesting. Eleanor is never portrayed as a villain, either by the author or the characters. (Anachronistically, they view her illness as just that, rather than demonic possession or an imbalance of humors.) Meg and Richard both care for the incoherent Eleanor and treat her gently. This showed them in an excellent light, but it added to my discomfort. I knew that she was not long for this world, because the romance could not proceed until she died.
This book has a lot of strengths, and if the Eleanor Deathwatch doesn’t turn you off, you’ve got a treat in store for you. Richard is an honorable and gentle hero, deals with both the women in his life with sensitivity and kindness. Meg is a troubled but tough woman, much scarred by her painful experiences, but ready to be healed by love. The book starts off slow but gathers steam rapidly, and comes to a breathtaking and suspenseful climax. I enjoyed the adventure of the Templar Knights, and the appearance of several historical characters.
In fact, there are a lot of things I liked about this book. The romance just isn’t one of them. I felt emotionally distant from Meg and Richard, and that emotional distance prevailed all the way through the book, right up through the passionate consummation and the flowery declarations of eternal love. I couldn’t get into it. If you don’t think that Eleanor’s existence and inevitable demise will be an issue for you, then you should pick up Beyond Temptation; you’ll almost certainly enjoy it more than I did.