The Protector begins during a chaotic time in Brittany, when the country was trying to maintain its independence in the midst of a civil war. Two factions warred for control. One faction was led by Jean Comte de Montfort, half brother of the Duke who controlled the country. The other contender was Jeanne de Penthievre, who was married to the French king’s nephew, Charles de Blois. Ms. Hunter explains this at the beginning of the book and does an excellent job weaving it into the plot. Right away the stage is set for drama and intrigue, and though there’s plenty of information here, no one would mistake it for a dry historical text. The history is a rich part of the story and helps bind it all together.
As Morvan Fitzwaryn waits for one of his knights to die from the Plague in a cottage in Brittany, he fears for his own life – if the sickness doesn’t get him, fearful villagers will. When he first sees Anna de Leon, she is standing in the doorway dressed as a knight. Anna has been thrust into the position of more than just chatelaine for her home. The Plague has taken her older brother and until she believes her home is secure, she feels obligated to protect it. Because Anne has survived the plague, her people believe she is protected by Angels – if she isn’t one herself. Morvan does get the Plague, but like Anne he survives. During his convalescence, he and Anna grow closer and become friends. Morvan is quite attracted to Anna, who is unlike any woman Morvan has ever encountered. Anna wears men’s clothing and is an expert Archer.
After a disastrous betrothal when she was younger, Anna has sworn never to marry. She believes more freedom can be found at the Abbey than as someone’s wife. Her betrothed, Gurwant De Beaumanoir, was a brute of a man and Anna found her only course of action was to have the betrothal annulled. Then Gurwant decides he wants Anna back, and his defeat (but not death) convinces Anna she needs to settle her estate so she can get on with her life. She is very attracted to Morvan but is determined to resist his charms and take the veil. She plans to petition the king to uphold her annulment and help her turn her estate over to her sister and brother-in-law so she can finally go to the Abbey. The King has his own ideas, and he orders Anna to marry. Through her own machinations she ends up married to Morvan, but it doesn’t come off quite as she planned. She expects a marriage in name only, and still plans to go off to the Abbey after a specified time. Morvan, of course, has other ideas.
Once Anna and Morvan are married, things begin to get really interesting. It’s easy to see how the battle of the sexes could have started in medieval times. Morvan wants to do whatever it takes to keep Anna safe. That includes taking away her sword and her men’s clothing. He insists Anna have more, ahem, wifely pursuits. For Anna, her worst fears have come true: not only has she lost her freedom but she’s in love with person making her life miserable. She fears that Morvan, while trying to protect her, will rob her of her spirit. In truth, this is not the case. He only wants to keep her safe out of the love he feels for her.
This type of plot device can easily get old – we’ve all read it before. But Hunter’s writing was subtle, and the reader could see each side of the story. I got equally irritated with Morvan and Anna, but in a good way: I felt as if I were involved in their conflict. I was also pleased to see Hunter avoid a situation that could have turned into yet another Big Misunderstanding. Hunter handles differences in personality and marital misunderstandings deftly, never turning either Anna or Morvan into the “bad guy” of the relationship. These two have to learn about compromising.
When Morvan’s life becomes endangered, Anna knows she’d do anything to get him back. She has the poignant realization that her life might be easier without Morvan but it wouldn’t be as rich and full. The final scene between she, Morvan and Gurwant is breathtaking and had this reviewer cheering. Once the two realize how close they came to losing the other and how much they love each other, they are both more willing to give up some of their cherished independence. These two have quiten a bumpy road on their way to true love, but I enjoyed both of their characters throughout it all. Though they can be stubborn, both are eminently likable characters, and you really root for them. Both are strong, yet wounded, with personalities that compliment each other.
My only complaint is that I didn’t feel any of the secondary characters added much, if anything, to the story. Most of them came across as slightly one-dimensional, with the notable exceptions of Ascanio, a friend and priest of Anna’s, and Morvan’s brother-in-law David (from By Arrangement). This is the only thing that kept the book from being a Desert Isle Keeper for me. Overall, however, Madeline Hunter has restored my faith in historicals and in the medieval romance especially. The Protector is definitely a wonderful read.