A Knight Like No Other

One Knight Stands
by Jocelyn Kelley
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0451-21687-3
This medieval romance has a hint of fantasy which detracts from the tale and is not helped by the slow pacing. The heroine and hero deserved a much better story.

One Knight Stands is the second in a series about the ladies of St. Judeís Abbey, and is the story of Elspeth Braybrooke. Elspeth is the daughter of entertainers who died of a virus. She has been at the abbey for years and is the best using the quarterstaff to defend herself. She is also knowledgeable about martial arts. The Abbey was founded by Eleanor of Aquitaine and teaches young girls the knightly arts that may come in handy, and Eleanor and Henry try to keep their power. There is an old Welsh legend that the King will be killed if he steps on Llech-lafar, the speaking stone. The stone was cursed by Merlin (of King Arthur fame) and the legend implies that the Welsh will keep their land when this king is killed. Eleanor wants to protect Henry upon his return from Ireland and sends Elspeth to find the stone and keep Henry from walking on it.

Tarran Ap Lyr is an illegitimate son, but is still called Prince. He is Welsh but is supportive of Henry and his allies. He is on a mission of vengeance to kill the man who killed his beloved wife. The man was once a friend and Tarran cannot rest until he sees justice done.

Elspeth is hanging from the arrow slit of a castle when the two meet. Tarran thinks she is falling out, but actually she was trying to get in. There is a wise woman in the castle who is rumored to know where the stone is and Elspeth hoped to sneak in and leave without anyone being wiser. But fate brings her Tarran. Together they discover that they can be stronger as two than as one, but it is a lesson they must learn the hard way. They journey together because they just happen to be going in the same direction. Despite the fact that Elspeth proves time after time that she can defend herself, she continually finds Tarran trying to protect her. They argue and yet find they respect each other as they save each otherís lives time after time. They are attracted and yet, Tarran fights the demons of loving his dead wife and feeling he is betraying her while Elspeth fights the attraction because she fears it will keep her from completing her mission.

The story is driven by their quests. There is action, but it is interspersed with dreams of the dead, monks who are not monks and a variety of villains who try to keep them from completing their tasks and ultimately their destinies together. The villains were wicked and there was little subtlety to good versus evil.

I found the writing full of details and descriptions that were hard to follow. At times the descriptions felt frenetic, with things going this way and that way until you couldnít really follow what was occurring. The premise of the stone and the fact that someone would think you could find one stone in all of Wales was a bit of a stretch. The men traveling with Tarran were never really described so that you could distinguish one from the other. The fact that Elspeth could beat men twice her size required a leap of faith, especially when she had only trained against other women at the Abbey. And Tarran seemed to have no real job or land. He had men, but since there was an inference that not everyone saw him as having a real title, this seemed out of the ordinary.

What kept the interest in the story was the romance between Elspeth and Tarran. They grew in friendship as their lust grew. They recognized kindred spirits and they supported each other even when not in full agreement. Their interactions were at times gentle, loving and fiery when they disagreed. While they had their important quests, neither seemed completely certain they could succeed and this lack of certainty detracted from the characterizations made about their persistence and dedication. It created a sense of irregularity in their prescribed roles that was never explained.

One Knight Stands had its moments, the best of which was the two main characters. Unfortunately, their tale was interspersed with pointless details, a plodding pace and a sense of chaos due to the uneven writing style.

--Shirley Lyons

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