The Baron is an ambitious project, based on an idea that’s so good I don’t know why no one ever thought of it before.
Tré Devaux is the Norman baron of Brayeton. The avaricious King John seizes his lands on a pretext because he (rightly) doubts Tré’s loyalty. The King appoints Tré to the lesser position of Sheriff of Nottingham, putting him in a position where he must prove his loyalty to John by enforcing his cruel decrees. He must collect taxes from people who have already given everything they have, and he must capture and hang the outlaws that live in Sherwood Forest. If he does not demonstrate his fealty to the King in this way, he will never return to Brayeton.
Lady Jane of Neville was born a Saxon, but she is the widow of a Norman baron and a respected woman in Nottingham. She also just happens to be the niece of Robin Hood, and she’s a heck of a good shot with the bow as well. She goes to Tré to plead with him to be lenient with the people, but Tré is determined to enforce all of King John’s decrees, whether he agrees with them or not. So Jane decides to take matters into her own hands by aiding and abetting the outlaws of Sherwood.
So that’s the setup, and it’s a beauty: can the Sheriff of Nottingham find love with Robin Hood’s successor?
This juicy plot is driven by two very well-drawn characters. Jane is a lady to the core, courageous, valiant and dignified. Life hasn’t given her much happiness and she doesn’t expect it; she is terribly melancholy. Tré is a growling, tortured sort of hero. He is driven by anger and a lust for revenge for past hurts, and deep inside he feels empty and soulless. There is a scene near the end when Tré is actually relieved to be treacherously attacked, because it gives him something to do with his pent-up anger and aggression.
These two people are so miserable without each other that you can’t help rooting for them to find happiness together against tremendous odds. The chemistry between the two is emotionally poignant rather than sexually steamy, even though there are some compelling love scenes.
The Baron starts out a little slow. Sometimes Garnett is a bit wordy, her sentences a little labyrinthine. I was a annoyed at first by some of her self-consciously “middle ages” phraseology. But once you get through the opening chapters, this book shifts into the kind of high adventure that one expects from anything associated with Robin Hood.
King John is portrayed as, not merely a lousy king, but an evil human being. When he comes to Nottingham to check up on Tré, suddenly things start happening that set your heart pounding. I don’t want to give the plot away, but it involves treachery, lies, greed, lust, politics, imprisonment, escape, sword fights. . . .
Reading The Baron is not like traveling back to the England of the middle ages. It’s more like stepping into a legend. If you love medieval romances, read this. I usually don’t, but I liked this, and I think you will too. Persevere through the slow opening chapters, and then hold on for the ride.