I have such fond memories of reading The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove, and Ashes in the Wind that years after reading them, I can still recall several scenes vividly. That is why I really wanted to like Everlasting by Kathleen Woodiwiss before I even read it. I wanted to give it an A+++ like the teacher in Ralphie’s daydream in A Christmas Story. My expectations may have been too high, I was just setting myself up for the disappointment – and I got it.
Abrielle of Harrington is a beautiful young lady whose marital prospects are dashed when King Henry I overlooks her stepfather, Vachel, when providing rewards for services to the crown. The family is left without means of support and many of Abrielle’s previous suitors ignore her after Vachel’s disappointment became obvious. During the course of a gala, Raven Seabern, a handsome young Scot who has stared at her all evening, is the only man who asks her dance.
Abrielle soon becomes the object unwanted attentions, especially from Desmond de Marlé. He is able to snatch her unawares and tries to force himself upon her. For the second time that evening, Raven saves her.
Desmond might be as physically appealing as Jabba the Hutt, but he has money. He asks for Abrielle’s hand in marriage and she agrees only because she cannot allow her mother and stepfather to face the poverty that awaits if she declines. Desmond is an innately cruel man; he mistreats his servants, he kills for his own profit and he enjoys goading an enemy.
The wedding takes place, but that night an accident occurs in which Raven – yet again – saves Abrielle. Desmond dies, leaving her a wealthy young widow with more suitors than she can handle, all trying to win her riches by fair means or foul. Raven is always there to rescue her from the others, yet Abrielle cannot bring herself to trust him as his own intentions become clear to her only after she inherits her fortune.
The trouble with the novel is that there are some really good parts that only serve to emphasize the weaknesses. For example, the best character in the book is Cedric, who is handsome, charming, witty, good with children, a warrior, and a diplomat. Sounds good, right? The trouble is he is Raven’s father. Raven is not nearly as charming. He is more reticent and we never really learn what he is thinking, especially in regards to the heroine. While he sets himself up as Abrielle’s protector, he never tells her why. There is no explanation of his feelings or action, but then Abrielle never asks any questions. She simply assumes she knows his motives – assumptions based on the way men have previously behaved badly around her.
Another example is one great scene when Abrielle and her maid, Nedda, rescue themselves from a trio of kidnappers. Abrielle is resourceful and clever at getting out the situation, yet in previous attempts at kidnapping or ravishment she seems helpless, naïve or foolish when getting into or dealing with dangerous situations. Yet the only man she seems wary of is Raven. She keeps herself too emotionally distant from him, which actually serves to diffuse any sexual tension between the two.
While I enjoyed the book while reading it, I later found that I was thinking of ways to “improve” the novel, almost like a critique partner. “Hey, Kathy, here is what you need to do – drop this, shore up that, etc.” That may be the biggest problem of all, the novel seems incomplete, as if it still in a draft stage.
I think the book will be of interest to the long time fans of Woodiwiss, if only because it is her last published work. Newcomers or Medieval lovers would be better served by reading her earlier book, The Wolf and the Dove. I find myself as disappointed as Ralphie in having to give a low grade to the novel as he was in receiving one.