The Lion trilogy, a Scots medieval trilogy Suzanne Barclay published in 1995 and 1996 as part of a larger series, was riveting, exciting, and romantic. Knight’s Rebellion, the final installment of the second Sommerville trilogy, falls somewhat short of a the B level grades I awarded to each of the Lion stories.
Suzanne Barclay crafts her medievals expertly, and while this story is well-written, it didn’t fully capture my imagination. Perhaps it was the heroine’s special powers of feeling others’ emotions and pain through her hands, which were similar to (although not exactly the same as) the special powers of Michael in Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour, Ian Carrick in Kristin Hannah’s Waiting for the Moon, and Kara Fitzgerald in Christina Skye’s Bride of the Mist. Or perhaps it was the kidnap of the heroine by the hero motif, which I’ve read a myriad of times before.
There’s nothing new about plot lines that aren’t new. A romance might be like a hundred others in terms of story-line and still be great. But there has to be something else, a character quirk, a certain secondary character, something or someone that sets the book apart.
And Suzanne Barclay provides some of those extra things because she is such a fine story-teller who weaves just enough historical detail into her writing that the setting feels real. There just aren’t enough to make this story stand out.
The story, in a thumbnail, is of beautiful Alys Sommerville, a healer for whom touch is unbearable. She is journeying to an abbey with Ranulf de Cracy, an opportunist who plans to make Alys his own, when she is kidnapped by Gowain de Cracy, outlaw, and Ranulf’s half-brother, who may or may not be a bastard. Gowain has had a hard life, imprisoned in France, cuckolded by his fiancée, and prevented by his evil brother from making Malpas, his mother’s dower estate, his own.
While Alys has already figured out Ranulf is no prince, she is suspicious of Gowain. He, in turn, thinks all noble ladies are bad news. Alys will remain his captive until he figures out what to do with her, even if he must include her on his journey to Malpas. Going along on this journey are his band of merry men and women, the serfs and such from Ranulf’s stronghold who have escaped his cruelty. Also included is his two-year-old daughter by his wicked ex-fiancée, and a woman who has loved him for years.
After Alys’ kidnapping, Ranulf convinces her father that he and Alys were betrothed and that Gowain murdered her in cold blood. Will Gowain, Alys and his party make it to Malpas before Ranulf and Alys’ father kill Gowain? What will Gowain find at Malpas? Will Gowain and Alys find trust and true love?
Obviously I can’t provide those answers. I can say that Suzanne Barclay has added some wonderful touches. To the author’s credit, one of the suspected villains turned out not to be a villain; I was very surprised when the true villain (other than Ranulf) was identified. Also, there was a very powerful scene roughly one-third into the story where Gowain holds Alys and, instead of feeling pain and/or fear, she feels safe.
She should have felt trapped; she felt safe. Why was she not linked to his emotions?
Lifting her head, she stared into his leaf green eyes and knew these were his emotions. She felt safe because of his overwhelming urge to protect.
Had the author sustained such powerful writing throughout the book, I would have been entranced. As it was, I was reminded too often of similar books that were better. There should have been more of the glimmering moments showered throughout this book. Sadly, there weren’t.
Still, Suzanne Barclay remains a favorite author of medieval romance. Search around for her Lion trilogy, particularly Lion’s Heart and Lion’s Legacy. I promise those won’t disappoint.