I am easily bored by politics. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s present-day Congressional wrangling or the more direct and often brutal politics of other eras – at a certain point I just begin to lose interest. This, unfortunately, is exactly what happened when I read Lady Robyn, the second book in a trilogy about a 21st century Hollywood executive transported back in time to 1460 England, where she becomes the “girlfriend” of a powerful young earl.
Lady Robyn is well-written, engrossing, funny and historically accurate to the nth degree. That extensive historical detail – however critical to the politically charged plot about the war between the Yorks and Lancasters for succession to the English throne – ultimately lessened my enjoyment of the book. I’m a fan of well-researched historical fiction, but for me there is a definite line between rich historical detail and whole pages of historical exposition without any character dialogue/movement. At times I felt like a college student cramming for a Medieval history midterm as I worked my way through Garcia y Robertson’s dense prose.
In Knight Errant, the first book of the trilogy, Lady Robyn of Holy Wood (the Medieval translation of Hollywood) was walking the hills of 21st century Wales when, the victim of a spell by a powerful witch, she was sent back in time to the 15 century. In Lady Robyn, we find the titular character in 15th century England, living a charmed but uncertain life as the unofficially betrothed, but officially involved, lover of Edward, Earl of March. The son of Richard, Duke of York, one of the most infamous characters in the era’s political struggle, Edward is a charismatic young man - battle-scarred yet not hardened, compassionate yet ruthless in his support of cause, scheming yet principled. He is also the era’s equivalent to Prince William, handsome, cheerful, eighteen years old, unmarried, and third-in-line for the throne of England, Ireland and France. He is The Bachelor of the day, much sought-after and loved by all.
In contrast, Robyn’s status as his girlfriend is loosely defined and easily changed. Indeed one of the main points this book makes is that in 15th century England anyone’s status could change in the blink of an eye or the thrust of a well-placed sword. As we witness in Lady Robyn, fortunes could be made and lost and regained in one dizzying day. Lady Robyn is hailed by commoners as the Earl’s “pretty strumpet” an affectionate term, not a derogatory one. She is also a favorite of mad old King Henry, at the same time that she is being stalked by vengeful members of the nobility who want to burn her as a witch.
Robyn is actually a novice witch in the magical sense of the word, dabbling in the occult with a tiny coven of other Medieval witches. Here, too, her status is constantly threatened since an older, extremely powerful witch is out to destroy her. The sorceress sets Robyn up, placing her in the middle of the royal power struggle, sending her fleeing for her life across England without Edward’s protection. Her flight from her hunters, and her experiences along the way (including detailed descriptions of the countryside and her run-ins with major political players) make up the bulk of Lady Robyn.
As a character, Robyn is fascinating and sympathetic, though she made some choices I found confusing and counterproductive to her goals. I think she’s luckier than she is smart, and her emotional impulses often overshadowed her better judgment, imperiling herself and others. Her relationship with Edward, a much younger man, yet her protector in this strange Medieval world, is multi-faceted and remains a constantly powerful element in the novel.
Indeed, it is their relationship, with its many twists, which is the thread connecting the books. Whether or not these two kindred spirits in adventure and love can overcome the forces of man, time, and magic to stay together is the central question at issue. In this book the challenge to their relationship is Edward’s sudden ascension to status as principal heir to the throne. Robyn doesn’t want to be queen and wants Edward to renounce his status, which raises a host of other political issues. Of course, being on the lam due to charges of witchcraft don’t help their situation.
The story is told in a combination of diary entries (Robyn still has battery power in her electronic PDA) and third-person narrative (still from Robyn’s POV), which give the reader both the very personal “experience” of Medieval life through modern sensibilitities, as well as the bigger picture of events. The following is an example of a typical :
“Last time Robyn had roomed with a teenager was in college but in some ways the Dark Ages were like one long sleepover, sans CDs or VCRs, with no privacy and nothing to do but play dress-up and gossip about each other’s sex lives, while prepping for pop quizzes in medieval history.”
Robyn’s voice is irreverent and Hollywood hip - a funny and ironic juxtaposition to the mundane activities of the time period. Her modern commentary on Medieval events is to-the-point and generally unburdened by sentiment. Her relationships with the secondary cast a well-drawn collection of both motley and noble characters are similar in nature, direct and unsentimental, and occasionally calculating.
There is a lot to like about Lady Robyn, and I would recommend it for any reader who is partial to sweeping historical epics, particularly of the courtly variety. I think I would have liked this book better had I read Knight Errant first, though I suspect I will still enjoy that novel more because it looks to be less politically oriented and more about the forming of the relationship between the two main characters. If you are interested in the books, I highly suggest you start at the beginning of the trilogy. Knight Errant is now available in paperback, while Lady Robyn has just been released in hardcover.