The Maiden Warrior
Everyone knows the legend of King Arthur, the once and future king, who will rise again to defend Britain. Here there is a twist. The Britain of the legend is Wales, and when Arthur returns he is reborn as a woman – or so the Welsh rebels think.
Aidan de Brice, the Scourge of Wales, remembers what drove him to fight for King Henry against the Welsh: when he was but a lad of fifteen he fell in love with a beautiful Welsh lass, Gwynne, and asked for her hand in marriage, even though as the son of an English earl he was destined to marry a lady. Unfortunately, just as they were about to consummate their handfast marriage, Welsh rebels attacked them. Aidan was gravely wounded and would’ve died if it weren’t for Gwynne’s power to heal. Before she could do more than save his life, she was viciously ripped away and appeared dead. From that day forward, Aidan vowed to wreak vengeance on the Welsh for taking Gwynne.
Now he has his chance to take their most famous warrior, the Dark Legend, in planned ambush. Only as Aidan is about to kill the warrior, he discovers that, not only is the Dark Legend a woman, but she’s Gwynne. Aidan is so shocked at her appearance she nearly kills him, but he quickly regains his wits and follows her back into the mountains. He can’t kill her, but he can’t leave her in control, either. So he tells her that they’re betrothed and she must come back to England with him for three months to undo the marriage contract. Gwynne has no memory of her life before she was fourteen and thinks Aidan is lying about the betrothal, but agrees to go with him so she can learn about his plans to defeat the Welsh.
It’s a ruse on Aidan’s part. Only he knows they were pledged to one another, but he wants the chance to allow Gwynne to regain her memory so she’ll turn against the Welsh, effectively removing the Dark Legend from power and saving Aidan from having to turn her over to the King. Unfortunately, Aidan may not have enough time. He is betrothed to the lovely Lady Helene, whose father would like nothing more than an excuse to break the engagement and prove Aidan guilty of treason. Aidan’s sister is so scared of this outcome that she invites Lady Helene and her father to their estate. With a reluctant Gwynne and a hostile future father-in-law in residence, Aidan may not be able to save either himself or Gwynne from the hangman’s noose.
Poor Aidan! In order to be near the heroine he has come up with one of the flimsiest lies that I’ve ever read. Even so, he’s truly a good guy trying to make the best of a bad situation. He loves Gwynne, but duty says he must marry Lady Helene. His apparent indifference to Helene was quite believable considering it wasn’t a love match. Even though I understand why he wanted Gwynne to remember their time together, his methods were incredibly lame: forced dance lessons, strawberry picking, etc. Things might have happened faster if he’d talked to her. So while I liked Aidan, he was rather a dim bulb.
No dimmer than Gwynne, though, who didn’t find it suspicious that throughout the three months of paperwork it took to undo their betrothal, no one ever brought her anything to sign. She never questioned the fact that no one else seemed to know about this betrothal besides Aidan. For a spy, she didn’t ask a lot of questions. She was also quite abrasive. It was understandable that after the vicious training she underwent at the hands of her father to make her a warrior, she would reject everything feminine and fear anything that would make her miss what she couldn’t have. Still, she was a too harsh and unbending towards Aidan for my taste, considering he was never anything but kind to her.
Actually, I would’ve preferred Lady Helene as the heroine. She was a breath of fresh air and a far cry from the romance cliché of the evil other woman. She was sweet and kind and loyal, and I thought she deserved better treatment. I also liked that it was Aidan’s sister, Diana, who was jealous and spiteful. While her logic was questionable (it must be something in the water), her heart was in the right place.
My really big quibble is that the book’s two paranormal elements were never really explored. Gwynne is supposed to be King Arthur reborn, destined to lead her people to freedom from English rule. What were the signs that led the Welsh to think she was the one? If she’s the salvation of Wales then why doesn’t she follow through with it? Or is it really just wishful thinking on everyone’s part? She also has an ability to heal people by touch. How does that work? She saved Aidan when he was wounded, but didn’t heal the wound, so who’s to say it was her power that saved him?
While I enjoyed The Maiden Warrior as historical brain candy, there were just too many imperfections for me to give it a recommendation.