Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-57370-5
Historical Romance, 2001 (Reissue)
This book is formerly titled Brazen Whispers and was published by Avon in 1990. So if you have that one and accidentally buy this book all over again (the only thing new is the title, now Almost Innocent), you know what to do.
Almost Innocent is a medieval romance. Lady Magdalen is actually the daughter of the Duke of Lancaster and his French mistress-turned-spy Isolde. Lancaster murdered Isolde as payback in the prologue (cool), and when Magdalen was born prematurely as her mother lay dying, the Duke took her in and sent her to some lesser noble family. When Maggy is 12 (13?), she is taken to the English court by handsome 26-year old Guy de Gervais. She marries another but as she grows up, she will remain devotedly in love with Guy.
Guy was married at first to a woman he loves, but Lady Gwendoline is kind enough to die from a wasting disease, just in time for Maggy to step in. Aww.
Do be aware that (emotional) adulterous elements are present in this story, although supposedly Guy and Maggy’s True Love is so wholesome, so right, so preordained that it is okay. But if you don’t like this sort of thing, stay away.
Maggy is a realistic heroine who may be out of her depths when it comes to political games, but she learns fast to adapt and survive. She may be an innocent on her wedding night, but she has no sexual hang-up’s. In fact, she is refreshingly practical when it comes to matters of politics, her status as a woman (she really knows how to make the best of her powerless lot), and grabbing what she wants. Guy is a more typical medieval hero, but he loves his late wife, truly. Both Guy and Maggy are characters that ring true without resorting to character contrivances here. Some medieval romances try to be authentic but only end up making the heroine some twisted ultra-innocent, virginal healer heroine who speaks to faeries and a knight hero who acts like a brutal maniac. But not here. Her characters are human, with flaws and strengths. The history isn’t just wallpaper either.
But really, I just don’t get the romance. Maggy keeps insisting that Guy is her one true love forever and ever and ever and nothing in the story ever challenges her infatuation. I can accept May-December romances in historical romances, especially medievals, but Guy is a man who took her in from when she was 12 or 13 to the day she got married to some Other Man by arrangement. Guy even whipped her when she misbehaved. Hence, Maggy’s attraction to Guy is Daddy Dearest Electra Complex at its creepiest if you ask me. Making things more Freudian is how Guy and all the men in the story keep comparing her to her late mother and telling me again and again how nice that Maggy is not a lying harlot that Isolde was. At one point Guy even compares a potential new wife’s cellulite and sagging body to Maggy’s fresh, youthful, late-teens perkiness.
I will have loved it if Maggy falls for a young knight more closer to her age. Or at least someone who hasn’t followed her from her mouthy brat years to her nubile early-20’s luscious medieval nymphette years. Or at least have Maggy question her infatuation and have her fall in love with Guy after seeing what a man he is, flaws and all. Not this “You’re my true love, forever and ever, hallelujah!” thing.
In a way, don’t be put off by the horribly corny and pretentious “Dear Reader” author’s message at the back cover – this is a pretty good read. But the romance is shallow. No amount of intelligent, skilled, masterful storytelling could hide that.