The Vow by Juliana Garnett
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-57626-7
The Vow could draw favorable comparisons to Kathleen Woodiwiss' landmark romance The Wolf and the Dove. Like that worthy novel of twenty-odd years ago, The Vow is set during the days of William the Conqueror, and the hero is a Norman knight determined to secure a holding for himself in the newly-conquered Saxon land. The heroine is a feisty girl prepared to defend her family home, no matter what the personal cost.

And it's also a very good read.

Luc Louvat, favored knight of William of Normandy, is sent to the Yorkshire to quell a Saxon uprising and gain control of Wulfridge, a Saxon stronghold. No sooner does he arrive than his band of warriors is beset by fierce fighting. The Saxons are no match for the well-trained Normans, though, and Luc is in for the shock of his life when he demands that the leader of the rebels be brought forth. It's Ceara, daughter of the late lord and a decent fighter in her own right.

Luc takes Ceara hostage and hauls her off to see the king. Enroute, he is angered to find that Ceara has been married, though she protests that she's a virgin. Luc believes she's lying and uses the opportunity to initiate a sexual relationship with her. Ceara sees in this a chance to regain her home. If she can somehow inform the king that Luc has taken her virginity, the king may force Luc to wed her.

All goes according to plan and Luc and Ceara are married. This all sounds very cold-hearted and calculating, but the undercurrents of friendship and admiration between the two make it palatable within the context of the story. The couple return to Wulfridge, where they have plenty of obstacles to overcome, including a jealous ex-mistress on Luc's part and a distrust of the Norman's on Ceara's part.

I enjoyed this book. None of this is new ground, but for sheer entertainment, it certainly fit the bill. The relationship between Luc and Ceara evolved in a natural manner. While they are interested in each other early on, there is a lot of mistrust to get past before they can really begin to strengthen their relationship. It made the romance more satisfying because these two had to work at it.

The historical details were vivid and added to the story. The details of the trip to see the king were especially well-done. Bad roads, bad weather, cold tents, and generally unpleasant conditions felt like an accurate description of Yorkshire during this time period. Set against this backdrop, Luc and Ceara's growing interest in each other was thrown into bright relief.

If you're in the mood for a fast-paced, entertaining trip back to the time of the Normans and Saxons, this is the book to read. Juliana Garnett has written a number of novels under another name; hers is a seasoned talent. The Vow promises to satisfy lovers of medieval romance.

--Cathy Sova

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