The Viking’s Defiant Bride
by Joanna Fulford
(Harlequin, $5.99, PG)  ISBN  0373-29534-0
***
Fulford is a fresh voice and in her first novel, she has written a charming medieval romance set at the time of the Norman invaders into Saxon England. While there are some moments that caused me to wince, the majority of the story was engaging and romantic.

The Viking’s Defiant Bride pits Saxon beauty Lady Elgiva Ravenswood against the Viking conqueror Earl Wulfrum. Elgiva has just finished mourning her father and more recently her brother, only to find herself betrothed to Alwyn, an older man who happens to be her closest neighbor. He convinced her to a betrothal so that he could gain her lands and protect her people.  She reluctantly agreed and literally within just a few days, the keep is overrun with Norman invaders. 

Wulfrum is the adopted brother of the new king and leader of the Norman army. The Normans are invading England to avenge their previous king’s death at the hands of one of the English lords. The Normans have decided to not only kill the Saxons, but to conquer them and take over their lands. Wulfrum is given Ravenswood to hold and with it, the hand of the lovely Elgiva.

Theirs is a forced marriage between vanquisher and captive. While Wulfrum is attracted to her, he sees Elgiva as a means to an end with slim hopes that she will assist him and actually feel some loyalty to him, helping him restore the previous splendor of the lands. Elgiva on the other hand, mourns the loss of her freedom and in some ways, the loss of her betrothed. Alwyn has eluded capture and is living in the surrounding forest with other rebel Saxons. As Elgiva begins to care for Wulfrum and see that he is not only fierce, he is fair and does intend to give her people a new home, she finds herself torn in her loyalties. 

Wulfrum protects her from a Norman warrior intent on rape. He treats her people with compassion and gives all of the captives the opportunity to be a part of their new world rather than what everyone expects – which is to be slaughtered. Wulfrum also realizes that while he wants her in his bed, he wants her there willingly. He gives Elgiva time to get to know him and he slowly seduces her to his touch and his bed. By the time they consummate their marriage, they have begun to trust and care for one another.  But Elgiva had been approached by Alwyn and in an effort to both protect him and Wulfrum, she keeps the secret and is fearful that discovery of it would destroy the fragile trust and love she is developing with Wulfrum.

Wulfrum is the pinnacle of the gentle warrior. He listens and often finds himself contemplating things in a way that is surprising to a woman who expected the Normans to all be cruel, ferocious and lacking morals. He loves and yet, he is a man bent on attaining his goals. He reacts as one would expect to his discovery of treachery and it is only his thoughtful manner that eventually wins the day for true love. 

Elgiva on the other hand is a bit harder to figure. She is courageous and realizes early on that she must remain alive and in control in order to ensure that her people are taken care of. She is often surprised by Wulfrum’s actions and yet, readily sees that he is not the man she feared. On the other hand, she struggles with her loyalties. This is both understandable and discomfiting, as she holds to those loyalties much longer than it seems reasonable in order to set up the climatic ending.  This took away from the strength of the story and kept the tale from being more than a good story.

The Viking’s Defiant Bride is overall a strong first novel and one that I can suggest you pick up, especially if you enjoy medieval tales pitting two people who are well-matched. 

--Shirley Lyons


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