|A good romance novel needs more than a good set-up and a happy-ever-after. It also needs a middle that convincingly demonstrates how we get there, and that is certainly lacking in Saxon Lady.
When the Normans lay siege to Lady Aelia's home, first she aims an arrow at the conqueror's head, then, she chases her ten-year-old brother into the enemy camp. The first is an act of bravery, the second a foolhardy gesture that ultimately obliges her people to surrender. Baron Mathieu Fitz Autier takes control of the manor and forces Lady Aelia and her brother to accompany him back to London, where the king is to decide their fate. On the way, they have numerous adventures, which somehow make Aelia acknowledge her true love. Mathieu too quickly falls for his captive, but before they can have a permanent union he must deal with the king's plan and his own unofficial betrothal.
Beyond this fairly vague set up, there is not much of a story in this rather episodic novel. The different mishaps may well be culled from the day-to-day life during the Norman conquest (although I have my doubts about some incidents), but they are not put together to form much more than arbitrary and loosely connected episodes. It's as if Maguire had randomly selected obstacles for her hero and heroine without considering how these roadblocks contribute to the unfolding story. One minute, Aelia and Mathieu are fighting against a disgruntled faction of Mathieu's Norman troops; the next they must contend against invading Danes. Even his relatives become villains in what can only be a misguided attempt to postpone the final outcome.
Similarly, while all these situations display the hero's military prowess and the heroine's independence, they don't highlight any serious character development. I am left with no real understanding of who Lady Aelia and Mathieu are. And I don't think it would be pretentious to say that as a romance reader, that's one thing I expect and even look for.
Coming to terms with a deep-seated internal conflict seems all the more important in a romance where the main parties are so obviously on opposite sides of the battlefield. Yet, Lady Aelia almost immediately falls in love with the invader and very quickly decides how honorable he is. She appreciates why he must take her little brother in hand and is grateful when he punishes one of his own rebellious soldiers who, as it turns out, killed her father.
Mathieu's act is honorable but highly implausible. While I don't claim such actions never happened or that they don't have their place in romance novels, I do think a little more foreshadowing, backstory and introspection are necessary to make them credible. The little we are given here sends us in a totally different direction.
Maguire tries to provide a sense of the period by interjecting medieval-sounding phrases. I quickly stopped counting the Gesuses, 'twases, and 'tises. I'm not sure people spoke in ballads during the Norman conquest, but I will accept such expressions in the characters' voice, if not overdone. When the narrator indulges in it, it is downright annoying. Then again, I'm hard pressed to say what in this novel isn't!