The Rose and the Shield
If I’m reading a book that says “Romance” on the spine and has a clinch on the cover, but halfway through I have to skip ahead to the end just to make sure everything turns out all right, then I figure I’m reading a pretty darn good book. While Sara Bennett’s sophomore effort, The Rose and the Shield, isn’t flawless, it definitely put Bennett on my radar as an author who can deliver an exciting tale.
Lady Rose took over as the leader of Somerfeld Manor upon her elderly husband’s death, but now finds herself in a tenuous position as mysterious strangers begin raiding her village. On the advice of her second in command, Sir Arnod’Alan, and out of a desire to keep her overlord, Lord Radulf (the hero of The Lily and the Sword) from doubting her ability to keep order in Somerfeld, Rose sends for mercenaries to defend her holdings. But Rose gets far more than she bargained for in Viking warrior Gunnar Olafson, who simultaneously inspires her with terror and lust.
Gunnar, for his part, doesn’t want to like Rose any more than she wants to like him. You see, Gunnar isn’t your ordinary mercenary – he’s an ally of Radulf’s, who intercepted the message for help and suspects treachery is afoot at Somerfeld. And Gunnar has a very personal reason for wanting to prove Rose a traitor: he’s grown tired of his mercenary life, and Radulf has promised that after Gunnar exposes Rose, he will be the next lord of Somerfeld.
Rose believes that Gunnar’s an uncouth heathen who lives for nothing but bloodshed, and Gunnar’s convinced that Rose is a calculating traitor. Still, the two of them must work together, and they’re slowly forced to admit that there may be more to each other than they initially believed. But when violence erupts in the village, Rose has to make a difficult choice. Can she and Gunnar work together to outwit her enemies?
Rose and Gunnar are very likable. Rose is making the best of a difficult situation, and is believably strong: when she first meets Gunnar, she’s terrified of him, but she stands up to him anyway because it’s her duty. Gunnar is honorable and quick-witted, and genuinely likes women. The supporting characters are well-sketched; even the too-obvious villain has some moments of depth. And if you enjoyed Bennett’s The Lily and the Sword, you’re in luck: Radulf, and to a lesser degree Lily, are real characters with something to do besides stand around and babble about how happy they are.
Reading this book was a lot of fun. Bennett’s vivid, fast-paced writing style had me hooked, and she certainly seems to have done her research on life in a Medieval manor. My only complaint is that the last third of the book didn’t live up to the high standard the rest of the book set; by turns it’s anticlimactic and rushed. I wanted a more complete happy ending for Gunnar and Rose.
But even with that quibble, The Rose and the Shield is one of the more enjoyable books I’ve read lately. Medieval fans, take note: Sara Bennett is an author to watch. I know I will.