Edith of Warren Hamelt is a blacksmith's widow. She has also buried a fiance' who died before they could take the trip down the aisle. She's a resourceful girl, who uses her wits to get her whole village out of a jam. When the Black Death comes rolling into town, their lord, fearing the spread of the disease, locks them all in the church (healthy and sick), leaving them to die. Once she frees them, she hits upon a plan. Using the fine silks and stories her sailor grandfather brought back from his travels, she'll play an exotic eastern princess with the other villagers playing her entourage. They travel the circuit of various tournaments, where Edith, as a veiled princess, has many admirers among the competing knights. She and the villagers are safe and well-fed, until an old enemy comes creeping out of the forest.
Sir Ranulf of Fredenwyke is a widower, who competes in the tournaments in the name of his dead wife. He doesn't compete to win ladies' favors, or even the glory. His motives are never entirely clear, but one gets the impression he isn't wild about moldering around Fredenwyke, where memories of his wife are everywhere. When he hears rumblings about a princess, he decides to check her out for himself. He's not that impressed, and isn't about to grovel at her feet, but something about her does intrigue him. There's something more there than meets the eye....
On the surface, this story held a lot of promise. I have not read an extensive catalog of medievals, but even I'm aware that stories centered around tournaments of archery, jousting, and the like aren't terribly common. It gives this novel a nice backdrop, with not only the pageantry and chivalry, but also with the shadow of the Black Death lurking around every corner; giving the setting an intersting mix of "light" and "dark." When looking at the sense of place and detail of this tale, there's a lot here that medieval fans should really enjoy.
The problem for me came with the romance. Edith is lying. OK, she has an excellent reason for lying, and lying characters aren't a deal-breaker for me by any stretch of the imagination. The problem here is trust. Edith and Ranulf keep a lot of details to themselves for a very long stretch. Again, Edith has some cause, but she keeps on lying even after she should have gotten somewhat of a clue that Ranulf is a trustworthy sort. That he's not going to throw her to the wolves. These two have doubts about each other up until the very end, and it did not instill me with confidence that their love story was going to transcend the ages.
The pacing of this book was also an issue for me. Admittedly, I do read a lot of category romance, but the first 100 pages of this story take a while to get off the ground. There's a lot of set-up. There's a lot of moving around of various chess pieces. Because of this, I felt the conflict lacked a real sense of urgency. The villain is present for the whole book, and while he is a "bad man," I never read those moments when he was on page with my heart in my throat. A more foreboding sense of danger would have definitely helped move things along.
I appreciated the sense of place, the history, and the idea of the story. It all boils down to the execution not entirely working for me. Which leaves me with one of those books that sort of evened out in the end. It didn't light my world on fire, but it also didn't have me reaching for
Final Grade = C