Black Lion's Bride
Timing is everything. Just ask all those television/movie producers who postponed something because of September 11. Ms. St. John might have the same concern with Black Lion’s Bride. The book is set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1192 and involves a Middle Eastern assassin determined to kill King Richard to stop his Crusade in the Holy Land. Since things have heated up in the modern day Middle East I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the subject matter. What I discovered is that while I didn’t have a problem with the plot, I did have a problem with the hero and heroine and how their relationship and behavior weakened the plot to a point just short of silly.
Zahirah has been training all her life to be a fida’i (assassin). She grew up as the daughter of the King of Assassins, Rashid al-Din Sinan and has worked and suffered for years in order to please him. Her assignment has brought her into Ascalon, where King Richard and his knights are encamped. She is determined to kill Richard, though it will probably mean her own death, in order to finally prove herself to Sinan.
Her first attempt is thwarted by Sebastian, Earl of Montborne and an officer to King Richard. He spots Zahirah’s shadowy figure near the king’s pavilion and gives chase. Zahirah escapes after nearly killing Sebastian. Because of the way she’s dressed, he has no idea that the attacker was a woman. Sebastian is forced to stay in Ascalon to recover from his wounds rather then join his king on another foray. In the next attack Sebastian kills a male assassin and rescues Zahirah, a beautiful innocent bystander (or so he thinks) injured in the attack.
Sebastian brings Zahirah to the palace being used as King Richard’s headquarters so that her injuries can be tended. Of course that’s all part of her plan to get to the king. She’s unaware that the King has left Ascalon and isn’t expected to return for some time. These initial scenes had me reading with great interest. Two professionals on opposite sides in a very violent conflict fall in love. Hey, that could make for very intense reading! It didn’t. As soon as Zahirah has settled in, her interactions with Sebastian became pretty commonplace. They could have occurred in a castle in England, a chateau in France or any other Medieval romance setting you could think of.
The primary reason for the blandness is that the Sebastian and Zahirah cease to be the professionals they’re portrayed as in the early chapters. Both are considered experts at what they do, but somehow love has made them forget how to act like it. That’s when they begin to lose some of my interest. When Zahirah, who has trained all her life let’s not forget, is not only unable to prevent another killing but does nothing but stand there and look on in horror, she began to lose me. When Sebastian takes this woman into the palace, a woman who professes to be completely on her own and who wants to leave pretty abruptly, and doesn’t even consider the possibility that she could be a problem, he began to lose me.
The bond that formed between the two was well-written. I believed they were falling in love. And by that I mean the two people who are living in the palace, not the two who meet in the first chapter of the book. If they had been living somewhere else and acting out different roles this probably would have been a somewhat higher grade. But they’re not. These people are sworn enemies raised in two different countries in two different religions. Their romance reads like they simply disagree on how to raise the kids. As such, it was a mixed bag that didn’t quite work for me. Since St. John’s other books have all earned DIK status from this site, it may be best to start with one of those.