The Sword Maiden
I began to read The Sword Maiden hoping to find a book that rose above the usual Scottish-set historical. If you’re also looking for a fresh take on this oft-used setting, I urge you to give Susan King’s latest a try. Although this is the third in the Maiden trilogy, the books seem to be related in name only, as far as I can tell, and this final installment is a wonderfully told story of a childhood love struggling against the conflicts of the times.
As daughter of the laird, Eva MacArthur is destined to marry Colin Campbell, a much older man, in a match that will prove beneficial for her clan. However, she has always loved Lachlann MacKerron. Lachlann knows that Eva cannot ever marry him, a mere blacksmith’s son, but before he leaves for France to fight the English, Eva and Lachlann share a tender moment. Although Eva offers herself to him, Lachlann refuses to disgrace her. He leaves with two secrets: one, that he loves Eva, and two, a secret concerning his real heritage.
Lachlann becomes a broken man after fighting alongside Joan of Arc and watching her downfall. Now, his vision is faulty as a result of his injuries, and when he returns home and meets Eva again, he dreads what is to come. Eva has fallen on hard times, her clan is dispossessed, her father has been executed, one brother was captured and the other is an outlaw. It seems only a matter of time before Colin Campbell – who can further the King’s interests – returns to marry Eva (in exchange for helping her clan) and take possession of Innisfarna, her island castle. And there is another element in all this. According to a faery legend, Innisfarna must not be ruled by anyone other than Eva – chaos will come upon Scotland should Innisfarna fall into the wrong hands.
Eva is truly torn between her duty, which is marrying Colin to save her kinsmen, even if the terms are somewhat bitter, and her love for Lachlann, which would entail fulfilling the legend and fighting for Innisfarna. She believes that Lachlann knows the secret to make a faery blade, but not only does Lachlann refuse to arm her kinsmen against Colin, the source of true power to defeat Colin lies elsewhere.
Ms. King incorporates two threads into the book that concern Lachlann: Smithing and Joan of Arc, and both are interwoven into the story masterfully. I read enough about smithing to give me a good idea of the process, but I didn’t find myself in the midst of an operating manual, and it also served to illustrate the changes in Lachlann, the master smith who must now rely on another’s eyes to work, since his own vision is not good enough for bladesmithing. Joan of Arc is enough of a presence to give this story another dimension, but her presence doesn’t overpower Eva and Lachlann, or become a history lesson.
I enjoyed The Sword Maiden immensely, and although not quite a keeper, it was interesting enough that it has added another author’s backlist to my to-be-bought list. I hope you enjoy it as I did.