This is a novel that treads a delicate line between medieval romance and more modern themes. What starts out as a normal “Bastard son woos fair lady” medieval fantasy soon develops more psychological depth in characterization. While the desires for freedom of the ladies in most of these stories often sound a bit like the whims of the pampered elite, in this case the prospective bride’s aversion to the situation is rooted in deep-seated trauma revolving around her mother’s death.
Likewise the standard love story plotline quickly falls by the wayside, and the couple finds themselves married very early in the story. No real spoiler, here, because the actual conflicts in the tale are more important: social issues such as the treatment of the gay community and how to deal with a megalomaniac enemy.
And then there’s the main conflict, typical to medieval fantasy: good-vs-evil, aggressors-vs-defenders, hero (and heroine)-vs-villain, working at several different levels to keep us on the edge of our chairs.
Another strength of the story is the character development. The two lovers need to get over their childish egotism in order to create a strong marriage. Bain, the young hero, needs to get over his concern about his upbringing and heritage and learn to be the leader his kingdom requires and to dispense justice despite the hurt it may cause. This all happens in a natural and believable fashion, cementing our sympathies for the characters.
After this part of the story is over, the conflict in the last 11 chapters switches eras to something more typical of “Call the Midwife,” dealing with women’s and healers’ matters and the dangers of childbirth. Some of the philosophies and practices seem a bit more modern than the medieval setting might allow, giving the whole fantasy a feeling of unreality.
But it’s still powerful stuff intended for a modern audience, and I recommend the novel for old-style Fantasy fans and readers of better-quality Romance.(4 / 5)