Virtual Heaven

Lord of the Keep by Ann Lawrence
(Love Spell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52351-5
If the recent trend in movies of having older men paired with much younger women, such as Michael Douglas with Gwyneth Paltrow and Sean Connery with Catherine Zeta-Jones, bothers you, then you may have a problem with this book. The hero has reached his forties -- a vast age in the late twelfth century -- and is already experiencing aching joints and slowing reflexes while the heroine is in her teens, lithe and nubile. Her exact age is never given, but during that time period girls were married in their early to mid-teens and her first loverís age is given as twenty.

Lord Gilles díArgent is holding Hawkwatch Castle for King Richard, who is off on Crusade. An old man brings his young niece to manorial court. He has arranged a marriage for her with the baker, but she has given her maidenhead to another so her value is now worthless. The girl, Emma, refuses to name her lover, and the details of her shame are revealed to all present. She is taken with Gillesís powerful masculinity and thinks that a man of a mere score of years cannot be expected have the same attraction of a man twice his age.

Two years later Gilles rescues the beautiful Emma and her little daughter, Angelique, from an attack by wild dogs. Although the daughter of a knight, Emma has supported herself as a weaver. Emma decides to weave something for Gilles partly to thank him for saving them and partly to bring herself to his attention. Gilles is impressed by both her skill and her loveliness. He has her join the weavers at the castle and later orders that she weave only for him.

Even though their vows were not exchanged publicly, Emma believes herself married to one of Gillesís knights, William Belfour, who disavows her and denies that he is the father of her child. William is one of those men who brags about his conquests with wanton wenches.

Gilles and Emma are attracted to each other but do not act upon it at first. When Emma flees the castle because other men are forcing their attentions on her, Gilles offers her his protection. Gilles admits that he wants her in his bed, but Emma tells him of her vows and how she considers herself married.

Eventually, their mutual attraction overwhelms them, although Emma tries to keep their relationship secret from the other castle residents. Gilles, however, is very aware of the difference in their ages and worries that Emma will look to younger men. When he realizes who Angeliqueís father must be, his jealousy erupts threatening their future happiness. Can love survive jealousy, disparity in social rank, and the dictates of the king?

I found this a difficult book to rate because I found some of it unconvincing and some of it moving. Many of my concerns about the age difference between Gilles and Emma are shared by Gilles. Because many marriages at the time were arranged with an eye to a merger of family and property, the compatibility of the particular individuals involved was often of little importance. Gilles, however, is not considering Emma as a woman of property to marry but as a bed partner. And he spends a lot of time thinking about her in that way.

Considering the book is set in medieval times, Gilles spends little time thinking about their difference in rank. Hawkwatch Castle appears to have an unrealistically flexible class structure considering that at that time in history birth was social destiny.

I was not convinced that the young Emma would be so immediately attracted to a man much older than she -- before she even became acquainted with him. Sure, her first lover was a shallow cad, but that was a factor of his character rather than his age. She insists that Gillesís age means nothing to her, that she loves him for the person he is. I donít doubt her feelings -- I just doubt their logic. Her beliefs about William and the vows she thinks they have exchanged demonstrate a similar lack of logic.

On the moving aspect, the author has managed to convey Gillesís and Emmaís feelings in a most believable way. The bookís best feature is its strong character development. Both Gilles and Emma are solid, multi-dimensional characters.

The good character development does not sufficiently offset the uncomfortable plot so that I can recommend this book. If this plot doesnít bother you at all, you might find Lord of the Keep more enjoyable than I did.

--Lesley Lawrence

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