Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29814-3
Historical Romance, 2014
The synopsis at the back cover of Meriel Fuller’s Innocent’s Champion gives this impression that Matilda of Lilleshall first meets Gilan, Comte de Cormeilles, when she bravely takes a bow and nearly kills him. This can’t be further from the truth – when they meet, she is trying to fend off some knights that are attacking her and her sister, and Matilda can barely shoot straight out of fear. Well, there’s nothing wrong with being out of one’s depths – medieval damsels all can’t be expected to be Red Sonja or Xena – I’m just letting you all know that the title is a more accurate indication of the story within. Matilda needs a champion because she can’t even reach for a cookie without being besieged by trouble.
The plot is basically a road trip where Matilda has to go from one point to another while being beset non-stop by all kinds of trouble. Rapists, villains, whatever – you name it, they are all coming after her. Even her sister’s husband is trouble – he wants to impregnate Matilda because his wife – Matilda’s sister – keeps giving him daughters instead of the son he wants so badly. Oh, and before you ask, yes, Matilda gets a boy in the end, because a real hero’s sperm always has the Y chromosome, compared to all those pansy useless males whose sperms are all tainted with the undesirable X chromosome. Romance heroes spell “virile” with a Y, and don’t you forget that.
Where was I? Oh yes, Matilda. Anyway, she’s always in trouble, Meanwhile, Gilan keeps coming to her rescue even as our gallant gentleman wonders why he doesn’t just ditch her and go on his merry way. He has, after all, more important things to do, like moping about his guilt and brother issues when he’s not skinny dipping with his BFF, Henry of Lancaster. Don’t worry, that last thing is totally not gay: both men know that it’s their responsibility to spread the Y chromosome as widely as possible.
That’s the plot, really. Throughout it all, Matilda and Gilan argue like children. Did too! Did not! Worse, many of the problems arise due to Matilda’s charming lack of sense of self preservation. Her brother-in-law threatens her with rape? Oh, he’s just drunk – don’t be silly, it’s not like he’s an unpleasant jackass all the time… oh wait, he is, but never mind, Gilan is such an ass to want to help her… that sort of thing. Every time he rescues her, she repays him by insulting him and insisting that she can take care of herself so he’s just being an unwanted presence in her life. This pattern continues throughout the story. Help, I hate you, ooh a kiss and a grope, I hate you, help – repeat and rinse every few pages.
With its paper-thin plot and its reliance on petty bickering to keep the story going, Innocent’s Champion is a story that is irritating as well as it is befuddling. It won’t be so bad if the only issue here is the plot boiling down to rescuing the damsel. Have that damsel in question constantly acting like a childish banshee and the hero reacting with equal childishness, and the whole story flushes itself right down the toilet.