In Camelotís Shadow by Sarah Zettel
(Harlequin Luna, $13.95, PG) ISBN 0-373-80204-8
****
In Camelotís Shadow is a sure bet for readers who like intelligent, historically accurate romantic adventure, and if the reader has a familiarity with the Arthurian legend, itís going to help. Good as the story is, though, the steep cover price may be a challenge to justify.

In the prologue, Lord Rygehil is traveling in a rainstorm with his very pregnant, and very beloved, wife Jocosa. They take shelter in an abandoned monastery, where they meet a sorcerer named Euberacon. He will save Jocosaís life if Rygehil promises to give the child to him when she is of age. Desperate, Rygehil agrees. A daughter is born.

Eighteen years later, Lady Risa canít understand why her father turns away every suitor for her hand, with no explanation. When she overhears her father confessing to her mother the bargain he made all those years ago, Risa decides to run away. She runs smack into Euberacon, who is coming for her at last, and in the struggle to escape, she is aided by Sir Gawain, nephew to the High King, who manages to drive Euberacon off temporarily. Gawain is on his way back to Camelot to warn Arthur of a plot against him, and he takes Risa along.

Risa believes that Camelot will be a good place to hide from Euberacon. However, sheís unprepared for court intrigue, and is soon caught up in events over which she has no control. Gawain finds himself drawn to this sparkling young woman. Her deadly skill as an archer, rather than putting him off, delights and amazes him. As their feelings deepen, Risa must find a way to break Euberaconís hold over her. Yet, Risa is bound by the customs of the age, and she has no real power to choose her destiny when her father decrees otherwise.

Thatís a short overview of a complex plot with many, many characters. Most of the familiar names of Camelot make an appearance in the book, be it Morgana, Sir Kai, Gawainís meddlesome brother Agravaine, Guinevere, Merlin, and many others. Sarah Zettel keeps the story tightly focused on Risa and her predicament, allowing events to unfold around her and push the story forward, but not claim center stage as they do so. Itís a top-notch piece of storytelling.

The many characters may confuse readers who arenít familiar with Camelotís inhabitants. Some of them are introduced with little explanation of who they are, and itís left to the reader to try and put the pieces together, which can be distracting when trying to enjoy the flow of the story.

The romance between Gawain and Risa is appropriately slow-building, and their growing bond feels genuine. Some readers may be disappointed that, with such a strong build-up, all the sex takes place off-stage. It felt unnecessarily awkward, as if the author was shying away from it.

That said, In Camelotís Shadow is a strong entry in the Luna line. An engrossing story with a tender romance at its core, this will catapult readers back to the age of Camelot and leave them hungry for more.

--Cathy Sova


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