Maidensong

 
Silk Dreams
by Diana Groe
(Leisure, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-5869-3
***
In the Byzantine capital of Miklagard, in the year 1100, a blonde Norsewoman with two different-colored eyes named Valdis Ivorsdottir is led to the slave block. Valdis was cast out by her family due to her strange seizures, in which she sometimes has visions. When one such fit caused her well-born betrothed to break their engagement, her family sold her to slavers. Now she appears to be destined for life in a harem.

Two men have their eyes on Valdis. One, Damian Aristarchus, is a wealthy eunuch who wants to use Valdis in an intrigue against the Emperor. The other is Erik Heimdalsson, a Nordic warrior now in service to the Emperorís army after being banished for murdering his own brother. Erik holds a high position in the Varangian Guard, where his duty is to protect the Emperor. Erik recognizes Valdis as a woman of his homeland and attempts to outbid Damian, but loses. Later, when Valdis refuses to learn Greek, thereby frustrating Damianís plans, Erik is called into service to tutor her.

Valdis dreams of escape, Erik dreams of Valdis, and Damian dreams of his lost wife and lost sexuality. Valdis continues to have seizures in which she blacks out, writhes on the ground, and sees visions of Erikís death. Eventually they become lovers, then are parted after a mock sea battle becomes an attempt on the Emperorís life. Valdisís reputation as a seeress will help safeguard her from typical harem duties, and she must use her wits to engineer her escape. .

Itís an uphill battle, because for quite a while, Valdis seems to have no wits at all. Once she gets a taste of sex, she continually takes extreme risks to be with Erik ďjust one more time.Ē Since Valdis has already been shown the brutality reserved for women of the harem who dare to take a lover, she comes across as a brainless blonde with an itch. No matter how earnestly the author tries to convince us that Valdis possesses cunning and intelligence, it isnít borne out by her actions.

As for Erik, he protests rather feebly, but is all too happy to indulge Valdis. Their story isnít a romance so much as two people in lust. The most interesting character by far is Damian, whose story is tragic yet hopeful. The author seems to find him interesting, too, and spends time exploring the world of the late-made castrati and their sexual life. With Erik out of the story after the sea battle, there is room for Damianís character to be better developed, and the author takes time to do it.

As for the intrigue plot, it was only mildly interesting and basically serves as a plot device to move the characters around the stage. Silk Dreams is memorable mostly for the time period in which itís placed and the unusual secondary lead. If youíre looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, give it a try, but itís unlikely to stay with you for very long after you close the book.

--Cathy Sova


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