Gwyneth and the Thief
I am not a stickler for historical accuracy by any stretch of the imagination and I might have let the questionable plot points of this book slide by had the story been good enough. Alas, the plot was so reminiscent of an animated Disney movie that I kept waiting for little woodland animals to burst into song, and the characters were so lacking in charm that the implausibility of the whole setup was just too much to ignore.
Lady Gwyneth of Haverleigh has a few problems. Her father is recovering from a near-fatal fever and is too weak to run the estate, so the responsibility has fallen to her young shoulders. This wouldn’t be so bad, except the reeve refuses to take orders from a teenage girl, the estate’s garrison has abandoned its lord because there is no money to pay them, and a neighboring baron is determined to have Haverleigh by forcing Gwyneth into marriage while her father is too ill to object. With all these worries, Gwyneth goes for a walk in the near-by woods so she can think about what to do in peace.
While there, she comes across four ruffians having an argument. It seems the youngest member of the gang wants out and the other three aren’t very amenable to the idea – so much so that they knock him out and leave him for dead. Gwyneth wants to leave the thief as well, but as a good Christian woman her conscience won’t allow that, so she brings him to Haverleigh and starts to form a plan that will cure all her problems.
Gavin is surprised when he comes to and finds himself not in the woods, but in a soft bed inside a castle. Growing up amongst thieves and ruffians he’s not very trusting of the situation he’s in, nor should he be. Gwyneth has something in mind for him. She points out that he is well-spoken (his mother was a Scottish noblewoman before being banished for an unwed pregnancy) and that he can fight well, so she wants him to pretend to be a squire and teach the residents of Haverleigh to fight so they can defend the estate. If he doesn’t go along with her plan, she’ll reveal his true identity and hand him over to the hangman’s noose.
So like recent Disney movies, we have the feisty heroine who’s trying to protect Daddy Dearest and, despite living in 13th Century England, has a 21st century girl-power message. Then there’s our diamond in the rough hero, who really has a noble heart despite picking purses for a living. This wouldn’t have been so bad had the characters been remotely interesting or even original. Gwyneth is such a cliché that her every move was predictable, and Gavin’s most original thought is to tumble the kitchen maid because despite lusting after Lady Gwyneth, he knows she’s above his station.
By the end of the book, just as I was building a tolerance for these two, Moore inserts the most obvious deus ex machina since the ancient Greeks came up with the concept. In the climatic scene, while Gavin fights off the villainous neighboring baron, in waltzes a character to solve everyone’s problems. The implausibility of the solution was as likely being struck by lightning twice in one day.
It’s true that this is a romance marketed for young adults, but that doesn’t mean it should be a dumbed-down, cliché-ridden story with an ending so unrealistic that even someone clueless about the Middle Ages can’t buy it. If Avon is hoping to draw younger women into the romance genre, they’ll have to do better than Gwyneth and the Thief, which has all the excitement of paint drying. If you or a young adult in your life is looking to try one of Avon’s new True Romance novels, I’d recommend Lorraine Heath’s Samantha and the Cowboy, which I reviewed last month, or Meg Cabot’s Nicola and the Viscount, which my colleague Ellen Micheletti recently enjoyed.