The Maiden and the Warrior
by Jacqueline Navin
(Harlequin Historical #403, $4.99, PG-13)
ISBN 0-373-29003-9
****
There's nothing particularly original about The Maiden and the Warrior; it's pretty standard romance fare. However, it's also pretty good, pretty fun, escapist reading. First-time author Jacqueline Navin does justice to the formula-romance basics by providing a well-researched medieval background for a well-matched hero and heroine who battle each other for that most precious of all prizes: love.

The year is 1180, King Henry II is on the throne and Lady Alayna of Gastonbury has been made a widow before she ever truly became a wife an occurrence for which she is profoundly grateful, as she was tricked into the marriage in the first place. Lady Alayna is more than ready to go home to her mother, but Lucien de Montregnier won't let her go.

Lucien has waited a long time to avenge himself against the man who sold him into slavery when he was sixteen, Edgar du Berg. Dreams of killing du Berg and regaining his family's land have been the driving forces behind Lucien's existence for the past eleven years. Now that du Berg is dead, he will do anything to keep the land and possessions that formerly belonged to his enemy. And, as far as Lucien is concerned, Alayna is one of those possessions.

Although Alayna assures Lucien that she has no interest in Gastonbury and that her only desire is to return to her mother, Lucien is not convinced. Besides, he knows that his best chance of having the King's justiciar award him all rights to Gastonbury is to have the Lady of Gastonbury in his possession. Lucien foils Alayna's attempt to deny her marriage to du Berg by placing his own blood on the marriage linens. Incensed by his deceit and furious at being made his prisoner, Alayna tells Lucien him that he will regret making her his enemy and a battle of wills between the two ensues.

As I said before, this is all pretty standard stuff; that is, we have a dark, brooding hero going one-on-one against his match, an intelligent woman with pride and a warm heart. It's Ms. Navin's thoughtful insight into her characters and their development that raises the level of this story. Lucien is a man who has lived for revenge but now, on the brink of attaining all that he ever wanted, finds that he is still not happy. In fact, he feels more than a little empty.

Alayna is now the biggest challenge in Lucien's life and he finds his skills as a warrior woefully inadequate to the task of dealing with a woman who refuses to submit. Nor, in his heart of hearts, can he truly blame Alayna for her wish to be free. A wish he, as a former slave, understands better than most. As Lucien struggles with his feelings about attaining his revenge, his desire for Alayna and his conscience, Alayna struggles with her own inner turmoil.

Although she admires the way Lucien justly and fairly handles his responsibilities as the new Lord, Alayna has difficulty reconciling this man with the often boorish fellow who treats her with little, or no, courtesy. Convinced that Lucien despises her, Alayna finds his unwillingness to let her go impossible to comprehend. The author writes convincingly from both the hero and heroine's perspective, you understand their feelings and their mutual frustrations.

In addition, Ms. Navin weaves some nice little historical tidbits into the plot. For example, when Alayna decides to help the peasants by giving them some of Edgar's clothing, she realizes that she must take into consideration the sumptuary laws. During medieval times, these laws prohibited peasants from wearing certain colors or materials reserved for the nobility.

My one bone of contention is that although the author used this historical fact concerning the clothing laws of the time very nicely in Alayna's plot for a little vengeance against Lucien, she never followed through with any consequences, or at least an acknowledgement from Lucien, concerning Alayna's actions. Since Ms. Navin took the time and the trouble to set up the situation, it seemed odd that she just let it fizzle out.

However, for the most part, Ms. Navin's fine attention to details was evident throughout the book details concerning the characters and their development as well as details concerning the historical period. And it's this kind of attention to details that raises an average story to a higher level. Actually, I was debating between giving this story a three-heart rating and a four-heart rating so I reread The Maiden and the Warrior, and found that I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, the second time around.

--Judith Flavell


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