A Retro Review
originally published on September 4, 2001
The Maiden and her Knight reminds me of a quote from the movie Clueless. “The plot is a full-out Monet,” Clueless heroine Cher might say. “From a distance, it looks OK. But up close it’s a real mess.” It’s a pretty accurate description of this somewhat overblown novel, which mistakes melodrama for romance and a vaguely TSTL heroine and hero for strong and worthy protagonists.
Lady Allis of Montclair basically runs the show at her father’s castle. Ever since her mother’s death, her father has fallen into a state of melancholy, both unable and unwilling to take any responsibility, or make any decisions about the running of daily affairs. So dutiful Allis takes care of her younger siblings Isabel and Edmond, while trying to fend off the unwanted advances of neighboring lord Rennick DeFrouchette, a man eager to get his hands on both Allis and Montclair. With all of her troubles, does she focus on keeping things running smoothly, and keeping DeFrouchette from gaining too much influence with her father? Well, not really. Apparently she thinks it would be a good idea to also throw a tournament into the mix. Clearly, managing that as well as her other burdensome tasks is no big deal. That, or it gives her another chance to feel dutiful and noble, which is one of her favorite pastimes.
Sir Connor of Llanespan is a knight come back from Crusade. Dismissed from King Richard’s service for daring to criticize his sovereign, he is traveling about, attempting to put his knightly skills to use winning tournaments in order to gain enough money to pay off his family’s huge debts. He feels deeply responsible for these debts, since they were incurred by the excessive cost of sending him to the Holy Land, as well as by the oppressive taxes imposed on the family lands as a result of Connor’s dismissal and dishonor at court. When he sees Allis in the Great Hall at Montclair, he becomes instantly enamored of her, and grows to admire her for her dutiful nobility (that makes two of them), even though he knows that a disgraced second son like him has nothing to offer her.
The ensuing plot has holes big enough to drive Connor’s destrier Demetrius through, beginning with the villainous DeFrouchette’s inexplicable murder of his own squire (complete with transparently convenient “explanation” a couple hundred pages after the fact). This heinous murder is apparently only included because it necessitates DeFrouchette’s extended absence from Montclair, which in turn enables plentiful opportunities for the young couple to sneak off together. This leads to a second huge plot problem when the hero and heroine go riding while a rainstorm obviously brews on the horizon. When they “realize” that the storm is going to hit, they seem to believe it’s plausible for them to send back their servants to tell everyone at the castle that Allis and Connor are going to weather the storm at a cabin in the woods, so as not to get caught in the rain. As they send off the two servants, Allis encourages them that if they hurry, they won’t get caught in the storm, either. Yet they expect everyone at the castle to believe that it was necessary for the two of them – an unwed maiden and a young, virile knight – to remain alone together in that cabin throughout the remarkably short storm. They actually seem surprised when they return, and people have figured out that they weren’t playing checkers in that cabin.
Another difficulty or two centers around the King. Although Connor has been forbidden to enter his monarch’s presence again on pain of death – a fact which has caused Connor no small problem in the past few years – when he finally does so, Richard Lionheart acts amused, and, in the end, quite trusting of the man he has declared a traitor. This discrepancy continues to be troublesome, since it’s obvious that the king takes offense at being spoken to plainly and critically, yet nearly every major character proceeds to cuss out the sovereign ruler of England at length as the novel progresses, and his reaction is both mild and tolerant. Also, in only a few instances does any character refer to their King as “Your Majesty”, preferring to call him – to his face, no less – simply “Richard”, and he never takes offense. This pushes the bounds of disbelief, and then some.
But perhaps the most distracting problem is the English that the hero frequently speaks, which sounds as if he learned it at Master Yoda’s Grammar and Finishing School. “Different you were in the garden with me,” he accuses the heroine, and later, “Needing help I am.” At least it made up for the some of the rest of the book, by allowing me to picture the overly-noble hero as a green, three foot tall muppet with a cane and winglike ears.
The Maiden and her Knight suffers from a transparent plot and characters so self-sacrificing that they seem like saints (other than the fact that they essentially congratulate themselves for their own nobility on a regular basis). Allis and Connor are tedious instead of interesting, and most of the characters act in ways that can only be described as “extraordinarily convenient,” since “logic” and “reasonable” don’t seem to enter into the picture. If you are looking for your first medieval romance, I implore you to look elsewhere; this one could easily turn you off the sub-genre permanently. And that would be a shame.