In one of my favorite medieval romances, Bride of the Lion by Elizabeth Stuart, at one point it appears that the heroine has betrayed the hero, her husband, by turning over one of his castles to her brother. The hero states that he would never believe she would do such a thing. The characters in Malcolm’s Honor could sure use a little of that kind of trust. It’s hard to imagine a story with more distrust, betrayal, and treachery. Nobody ever believes somebody might actually be acting from good intentions. Everyone is willing to believe the worst of motives of every other character. The hero and heroine exchange more insults than kisses. Villains throw out accusations right and left that are accepted without question. It’s all pretty exhausting, and it overwhelms the romance aspect of the story.
Lady Elinore of Evenbough is accompanying her father, the baron, and a small party of knights as they head for the coast. She is reluctant to accept that her father has committed treason and is fleeing for his life. The small company encounters another band of knights led by the fearsome Malcolm le Farouche, Malcolm the Fierce, the king’s protector. In the ensuing battle, Malcolm’s knights defeat the Evenbough knights and her father is captured. Elin tries to escape notice but is also seized.
On the journey to London where her father is to be tried and sentenced to a traitor’s death, Malcolm displays his distaste for Elin by frequently referring to her as “traitor’s daughter” and by threatening that she will meet with the same gruesome penalty.
Malcolm’s party is soon battling yet another armed force, this one led by the king’s nephew Caradoc. Caradoc informs him that they were trying to rescue Elin, that she had been promised to him by her father. Malcolm, of course, doesn’t question this claim and repeatedly refers to Caradoc as “her betrothed” when speaking with Elin. Elin disavows the betrothal - she despises Caradoc because she had once had to defend herself against his assault - but Malcolm ignores her denials.
One of Malcolm’s most trusted knights is grievously wounded in the fight with Caradoc’s forces. Elin is skilled in healing arts and saves the man from near-certain death. This does not persuade Malcolm, however, that she is any more trustworthy ... she is still “traitor’s daughter.” His opinion only hardens when she causes all the men to become ill so she can escape although he easily recaptures her.
They reach the court of King Edward where Caradoc tries to cause further mischief, but the king awards Evenbough to Malcolm and orders that he and Elin be married. When they return to Evenbough together they will encounter yet more treachery and betrayal. Is it possible they may also find love?
A good story requires conflict. Without a certain amount of conflict, the story will be flat and uninteresting. But Malcolm’s Honor has enough conflict for several stories. Malcolm has a tortured history. Elin has a tortured history. Malcolm gets badly wounded. Elin gets thrown into the dungeon. Bands of armed men are around every bend in the road. More bands of armed men are banging at the castle gate. Everybody’s fighting everybody else. Everybody’s betraying everybody else.
What’s lacking in all this is much of an explanation. Motivation gets swamped by the all the fighting and betraying and name-calling. Character development doesn’t extend much beyond identifying one as bad, another as really bad, and another as seemingly good but he’s probably bad. Even the behavior of the hero and heroine is occasionally incomprehensible (such as why after they’re married, Malcolm is naked and so is Elin and they’re in a passionate embrace with the most obvious physical manifestation of masculine arousal tight between them and he turns and walks away). The result is a lot of action that pretty much leaves the plot spinning its wheels and characters that fail to arouse a reader’s sympathy.
Medieval romances are among my favorites in the genre, but Malcolm’s Honor isn’t one that I can recommend to even the staunchest fans.