Desert Isle Keeper
A few months ago, I had a brief online chat with author Karen Ranney after I had reviewed her last book, Upon a Wicked Time. She told me a bit about her upcoming release, My Beloved, and emphasized that she truly believed in the healing power of love to the point where her heroes always have some dark torment they need to overcome in which the heroine’s love plays a pivotal role. She told me about the anguishing secret the hero of My Beloved suffers and swore me to secrecy.
I’ve not said a word to anyone, but I also told her that it sounded as though the hero’s seemingly insurmountable plight might be more than I could endure and that I probably wouldn’t read the book. But Ms. Ranney’s writing talent is so alluring and the concept of this story so intriguing, that I bought it and read it anyway. I am so glad I did.
Sebastian of Langlinais has returned from the Crusades a very changed man. Captured in the Holy Land, he languished in a horrid prison until his release was purchased by his younger brother, Gregory, an ambitious and not particularly likable Knight Templar. The condition of the ransom was such that, if Sebastian could not repay the money to the Templars within the allotted time, he must forfeit his beloved Langlinais to them. As a man who cares deeply for his home and the people for whom he feels responsible, and despite the ultimate anguish that awaits him, Sebastian takes desperate measures to ensure his birthright and the future of Langlinais.
Lady Juliana was wed to Sebastian when she was five years old and he a lad of twelve. They have not set eyes on each other in the ensuing twelve or so years, but each has fond, if somewhat vague, recollections of the other. Now, Sebastian has sent to the convent that has been Juliana’s home most of her life, so she may travel to Langlinais and become his wife in full, and lady of his demense. She is thrilled at finally becoming a real wife at last, and eagerly anticipates her first meeting with her husband. But Juliana is shocked to find a man garbed in a monk’s hooded robe who asks to make a bargain with her: Accept an unconsummated marriage or return to the convent to live out her days as his estranged wife.
But why? Sebastian gives her no reason. He cannot. He is a doomed man, and if anyone finds out, he will lose Langlinais and the people who depend on him will be turned out. Sebastian is relieved when Juliana accepts his odd bargain and agrees to tell no one. Over the next few weeks, the husband and wife talk to each other of books they have read, philosophies of life … they get to know each other and ultimately become friends. Then, they fall in love. But their love can never be.
Instead of revealing more of the plot, I want to express, instead, how beautifully and well this book was written. It’s one of the few medievals that actually feels like one. Ms. Ranney has done an incredible amount of research and has been able to incorporate the medieval world flawlessly into the story. So many have tried and failed, that I’d almost given up on finding an author who makes a historical smell and taste and look and feel like like the times being portrayed.
Sebastian is a marvelous hero – a strong, honorable, intelligent man who faces his destiny with a broken heart and a determined sense of purpose. If he could only touch Juliana just once … but he can’t. Juliana is a wonderful heroine – intelligent, happy in her life as a scribe, equal in strength to the man she loves. When she learns his terrible secret, her love for him is such that it binds her to him rather than repulsing or frightening her. Sebastian and Juliana find a bittersweet love between them. Each honors and respects the other. They are a fine match.
The secondary characters are noteworthy and are not stereotypical in the least. There are two such characters that are destined for stories of their own if I’m not mistaken (and, oh, I hope I’m not). My Beloved is not for readers who are looking for a light Medieval romp. War, the unbridled and often unreasonable power of the Church, ambition, greed, human frailties, questions of faith, the persecution of innocents, superstition rather than science … these elements shape all the characters in the story, as well they should. Sebastian and Juliana are products of their time with sensibilities that enlightened modern readers cannot possibly comprehend.
Karen Ranney has fashioned a love story you will not soon forget. While dark and filled with much anguish, it is yet imbued with a sweetness and gentility that raises it from merely a good book, to a remarkable one. The action is minimal as the focus is on the cerebral, thereby allowing the reader to know the characters much more fully than usual. Don’t make the mistake I almost made; give My Beloved a try. This book’s got RITA-contender written all over it.