Lesbian protagonists. GLBT negative; gender issues.
Riannon of Gast, Knight-errant of the Order of the Star, is a fearsome warrior who has besieged castles and triumphed upon the field of valor. Soldiers willingly follow her sword into battle, yet when the fighting is finished and the prizes of war are bestowed, these same men recoil in horror upon discovery that Riannon is a woman.
Riannon is not noticeably feminine. The battle in which she won her spurs also took half her face. She is tall and strong and her voice is deeper than a woman's wont. She could pass for a man in her armor, but to do so would be a lie, and Riannon's honor is sacrosanct. Thus she lives a half-life—that of a hero who is both respected and outcast.
Plagued by old injuries, Riannon takes refuge in a Grove House dedicated to the Mother Goddess. Riannon has long worshiped the God of War, but his Paladins have refused her a place among them due to her sex. An ambitious Sorceress/Priestess gives Riannon a magical sword and in return Riannon swears an oath to serve the Goddess.
Eleanor of Barrowmere is twice widowed. Widows enjoy special prerogatives unknown to maidens or wives. Widows control their own estates and are not beholden to their fathers or husbands. Yearly, Eleanor pays a heavy fine to the Crown to remain unwed and maintain this independence.
Eleanor's niece, a novice of the Mother Goddess, has been ordered to marry and must leave her vocation. Eleanor accompanies the girl to her future husband's castle and gives her comfort and counsel. While the girl has no choice but to wed a man she has never met, Eleanor—who has been twice married to strangers—can help her accept and endure her fate.
Riannon is escorting the wedding party at the request of the Priestess. She encounters Eleanor and what follows is a delightfully intricate and passionate romance.
Make no mistake—this is a romance novel in a fantasy setting. But the fantasy setting is meticulously researched and an accurate portrayal of medieval Europe. The background and tone of the novel are so realistic I wish the author had dedicated more pages to the secondary plot lines of Holy War and theocratic politics. The few glimpses I had of the enemy infidels were fascinating and stood out sharply. When Riannon fights a duel against an infidel, the language barrier prevents her from accepting his surrender. Thus she must kill him instead of allowing him to yield—a consequence the honorable Riannon regrets.
There were a number of unexplored story threads that begged for more attention, but the focus of this novel was the rebellion of two women in a society where women are the property of their nearest male relative. This was rendered so successfully that I'll forgive the lack of detail about the Crusades.
The ending was rather abrupt and left me with questions. I could not tell if the author was laying the ground for a sequel or if perhaps the uncertainty of the resolution reflects the insecurity in the lives of the protagonists. There can be no guarantee of either safety or happiness for social misfits like Riannon and Eleanor.
But I'm going to hope for the sequel.
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