Berkley Sensation, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19103-6
Historical Romance, 2003
Historical accuracy is sketchy in Marliss Moon’s By Starlight. I’m no stickler for historical accuracy, but in this case, all the contemporary elements in this author’s book stick out like sore thumbs. The characters speak like twenty-first century people and they espouse decidedly un-medieval philosophy and principles. Worse, the author isn’t above using modern phrases in her twelfth-century characters’ conversations.
Here’s a sampling. The hero Sir Luke le Noir (with obligatory scary nickname “Phoenix” and obligatory bastardy) describes his sojourn in the Crusades as a “peacekeeping effort”. One day, he and his men stop at a nunnery for some rest and B&B where he stumbles upon the evil S&M-inclined Mother Superior about to burn our heroine Merry Duboise for witchcraft. This prompts our hero to lament the power of the Church over the people.
Merry agrees – the common will should prevail over the church, surely! And as Luke saves her and takes her to safety, she admires the way his men’s horses form a line, commenting that they seem to be “choreographed”. And “choreograph” is a word that came to use only in 1943, according to Merriam-Webster. At one point, Luke tells Merry to stay away from rough men because these men are “uneducated”. The word “educate” came to use only in the fifteenth century. And that’s just the etymology. I’m not sure about anything else, as I don’t really know medieval history well. But if the language is enough to unsettle me and make me look into the dictionary just to check the etymology, I think people that know more about history will really have a hard time with this book. I suspect the book will go flying across the room when Luke and Merry start discussing how the common will should take precedence over the Church when it comes to everyday matters.
There’s nothing really going on in this book. Luke takes Merry to her father, only to learn that the father doesn’t want her. So he’s basically stuck with her. Along the way, Merry proves to be a headstrong idiot, running away when it’s safer to stay with Luke. In spite of being almost burned for being a witch, she still goes around asking people to let her cure them. Luke is almost too perfect, a twenty-first century Sensitive New Age Guy transported to the twelfth century. He and Merry have sex, and only after it’s done do they think about the potential consequences. Like he remembering that he’s betrothed and she wondering about her reputation. I wonder what reputation a woman accused of witchcraft has left to care about, but hey, that’s just me. And I’m amused that after a night of hot sex, Luke disappears the next morning so that when people come to check on Merry, her reputation will not be ruined. I guess they can’t smell or see the wet spots on the bed. Then again, judging from how authentic these characters are, why am I even wondering about these things?
The history in By Starlight is like a castle drawn on a piece of paper to be set up as a prop in a grade school play about King Arthur. Maybe if the story is interesting enough, I may overlook this problem, but alas, with this story’s thin plot and slow pace, “interesting” just doesn’t cover this book.