A Twilight Clear
by Linda Cook, historical (2002)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7343-7

When I first started Linda Cook's 12th century medieval England romance, I made some quick notes in my head. This is not the usual Saxon/Norman arranged marriage plot and the heroine is not a healer but a true chateleine who actually behaves like a lady of her land (ie no fake contrived humility or bonding with her nanny - she's virtuous, of course, but she behaves like a lady aware of her station in life). The plot is rather unusual in that this is something I don't encounter everyday.

I give this book a tentative score of 94 because I really enjoyed what I am reading so far. We'll see how it goes and ends up eventually.

William de Macon and his wife Catherine barely know each other when the story starts. They are married, yes, and they have done the kazoongs and all that, but he left for war for three long years, missing the birth of his daughter Alflega in the process. Now he is back, and he intends to start all over again with his wife who he is actually quite fond of. There is just one problem: King Henry Plantagenet has charged William on taking care of Henry's pregnant mistress, and there is no guessing what wifey will do if she finds out about the woman.

Catherine has very good reasons to be concerned if her husband has taken up with another woman. A man can discard his wife very easily in those times, do they not? Catherine's father tried to kill the king in a failed coup, and she married William in hope that her standing will rise somewhat in the king's eyes. With her marriage barely started, if she is abandoned by her husband, she will not only lose her home but also any chance for her daughter's future.

A good plot, isn't it? It's a nice change from the usual tomboy hellion knight, martyr healer heroine, Norman/Saxon hate-sex-fest, and other typical plotlines of this medieval subgenre, and best of all, Catherine is so refreshingly sensible, practical, and mature without coming off like a transplanted 20th century fifteen-year-old girl looking for love.

But the plot is basically a Big Misunderstanding plot, and William's reluctance to trust Catherine for so long causes quite a lot of tedious stallings and stonewallings from each of these two characters. It's not Catherine's fault because she doesn't have any information to work on, and it's easy to assume that the other woman is his mistress given the circumstances. It is William's fault, and while Catherine gently rips him a new one when he finally tells her the truth, it is still tedious getting to that point.

Since our two characters spend so much time trying to second guess or outplay the other, there are very few moments of genuine tenderness between these two. These few moments work quite well, however. Let's just say despite all his faults, I am convinced that William does care for his family and he will make a good father to his daughter. Now if only he can work on his communication skills and Catherine on her listening skills.

The author loses her chance to revitalize the story by inserting the typical villain-kidnaps-her-hahaha thing instead of spending time to work on the relationship between William and Catherine.

In the end, I want to like A Twilight Clear more than I do. It has everything going for it - a little-used plot, likable characters, so much potential for powerful drama, and even a very beautiful cover. It seems like a criminal waste that the execution doesn't live up to the promise.

Rating: 82

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