Angel of the Knight by Diana Hall
(Harl. Historical #501, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29101-9
**
If your favorite thing is curling up with an historical romance and immersing yourself in the atmosphere of days gone by, you will want to think twice before picking up Angel of the Knight. Any similarities between the real medieval period and that represented in this book are purely coincidental. Yes, there are knights and serfs and castles and armor, but these people want to marry only for love, have a remarkably modern perspective on the practice of medicine, and speak an English centuries removed from the language of Chaucer.

“Believe me, only a friend would put up with your attitude.” Ozbern shared a laugh with his leader. “Now, we need a strategy to expedite you from marriage to the lady Wren.”

Lady Gwendolyn’s uncle Titus has killed her father, his brother, in order to seize his land and power. He lets her mother die in childbirth because he refuses to permit a physician to assist her. When the eight-year-old Gwendolyn confronts him, he throws her against a wall. Realizing that her life is in jeopardy with Titus in power, a couple loyal to her parents assume the responsibility for keeping her alive and safe.

Gwendolyn hides in plain sight. Her distinctive platinum blonde hair is dyed and matted, her lithe body is padded and clumsy, her stride awkward and limping, and her speech simple and halting. Her uncle and cruel cousin Ferris believe that she has been permanently impaired by her impact with the wall and ignore her.

Ten years later during the reign of King Henry in 1154, Gwendolyn has succeeded in avoiding her uncle’s notice. She manipulates the castle’s financial records to conceal the value of her dowry and secretly tends to the peasants’ illnesses.

Titus receives word that Gwendolyn is to wed Falke de Chretian. Falke has been named lord and heir of Mistedge, his uncle’s estate, contingent on his marrying Lady Gwendolyn. For reasons that are never made clear, Falke is not considered to be an honorable knight, and there are residents at Mistedge who would renounce him and appoint another lord. Even though his inheritance hinges on marrying Gwendolyn, Falke rejects marrying her because his mother had an unhappy marriage so he only wants to marry for love. He decides to delay the marriage.

When Gwendolyn comes to his castle, he is repulsed by her hideous appearance and by the idea that he will be related by marriage to the disgusting Titus. A few peasants, however, recognize Gwendolyn’s caring nature and begin to call her “Lady Wren.”

While hunting in nearby woods, Falke catches sight of a beautiful blonde maiden he calls “Angel.” Even as he fixes his interest on the mysterious Angel, a plague sweeps the area, and he will begin to see the Lady Wren in a whole new light.

The basic premise of this story -- that a medieval knight would reject a marriage that has the king’s approval, particularly one that brought him property, because he would only marry for love -- is so unbelievable that it undermines the whole story. And it’s only one of a number of historical implausibilities. There is no mention of midwives, the individual who would be assisting a woman in childbirth during that period rather than a physician. There’s a lot of washing bedding with hot, soapy water at a time when soap was a rare luxury confined to the privileged few. The divisions between social classes seem pretty flexible for a time when birth was destiny.

The story line lacks direction and could have used an editor’s tightening. There are a number of details in the plot that seem thrown in just to heighten the conflict but never contribute much. There’s a beautiful woman who’s obviously ready, willing, and eager to accommodate Falke’s carnal inclinations, but she disappears for much of the book. The simmering rebellion among the knights never amounts to anything. Furthermore, the plot seems to take a sudden detour when the plague appears. The story first looks to be about the struggle for power among the upper class then suddenly it focuses on the peasants. The shift in direction makes for a loose plot and leaves an unsettled impression.

I liked the character Gwendolyn although it seems pretty unlikely that she would be able to sustain her deception as the castle idiot for ten long years. Falke’s character is less defined, and the answers to some questions about his background are never revealed. My biggest problem with him, however, is that some of his actions are contrary to practices of the time.

Angel of the Knight is the sequel to The Warrior’s Deception. I haven’t read the earlier book, but I didn’t feel lost without knowing the details of the earlier story. It’s possible that some of the questions about Falke might be answered in the first book.

For a variety of reasons, I cannot recommend this book and should advise readers who consider historical accuracy important that they would be well advised to skip this one.

--Lesley Dunlap


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