The Lily and the Sword
The blurb on the back of this debut novel tells the reader “fans of Kathleen Woodiwiss will love this. Fans of Stephanie Laurens will love this.” Possibly. But the two sentences are confusing. Woodiwiss’ level of tortured angst is far beyond this one and Laurens is a bit too light. If anything The Lily and the Sword is what would result if the two authors were thrown into the kind of machine that produced The Fly (either the original movie where the man had a fly head and fly had a human head or the grossfest with Jeff Goldblum slowing puking his way to being a giant buzzing beast).
When it comes down to it, there are basically only about three plots utilized in Medieval romances: 1) Heroine has lands or castle and she must marry to hang on to them; 2) Heroine is on one side of a civil war and hero is on the other; or 3) The variation of that in which the heroine is in trouble for something she did, or more usually, did not do, and is facing imprisonment or death and the hero has to figure out a way to get her out of the trouble (once he’s developed feelings for her). Any of these sound familiar? Recent books by Jane Feather and Madeline Hunter both used the third option to good effect. The Lily and the Sword tries to do the same with mixed results.
The protagonists and setting are familiar. Lady Lily’s dead husband Vorgen tried to lead an uprising against King William in 1070 Britain. The King’s Sword, Radulf, believes that Lily was responsible for turning Vorgen against the King and has been sent to capture her to prevent another uprising. Lily is determined to flee to Scotland but is caught by Radulf. Though she lies to Radulf about her identity, Lily knows it’s just a matter of time before he figures out who she is, making her need to escape all the more pressing. The conflict for her, of course, is in her growing feelings for Radulf.
Though the plot is fairly routine and the personal histories of the hero and heroine pretty predictable – he’s tortured by an event that made him mistrustful of women and she was married to an abusive, impotent man and is thus still a virgin – Ms. Bennett does create some emotional tension. None of the familiar devices completely detracts from the engrossing romance between this man and woman. They are entirely believable as a couple that met under impossible circumstances and must figure out a way past their difficulties.
When the protagonists are sharing the page the story is at it’s best. And when the author attempts to create dramatic tension by adding a murder and an unbelievable misunderstanding between Lily and Radulf, it’s at its worst. The outside threats to the relationship are probably included to pick up the pace, but unfortunately they slow things down by drawing the reader out of the love story. As a debut author, Ms. Bennett shows a lot of promise. If her next book can match the strength of her characters with a compelling plot, I’d definitely read her again.