Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80590-1
Historical Romance, 1999
To me, medieval times never really get fair justice in historical romances. Few medievals ever bring out the richness of those times. After all, we have the Plague, knights on religious Crusades, religion and superstitions at their zenith and existing easily side by side, then there’s the music so intertwined with religion… and many authors are content with the same old “He kidnaps me because my Da murdered his family and we make wonderful lurve together in his olde castle!” or “That Norman scum will never get away with possessing my Saxon castle… oooh, kiss me darling, kiss me (PS: I hate you) kiss me (FOREVER!)” plotlines. But when a book does contain all the rich elements that make the medieval times so vibrant… ah, the pleasure of reading it!
For once, we don’t have the healer heroine with psychic powers. We have shy, timid Juliana who has spent most of her life in a convent. Betrothed to Sebastian of Langlinais since she was a child, she awaits with trepidation and anxiety for the day she will be summoned to his home to be his bride. When the day does arrive, she is confused when Sebastian tells her she must help him keep up a charade: this marriage is to be in name only.
Sebastian isn’t your usual tortured I saw my family die by her father’s scummy hands hero. His reason for keeping the marriage platonic is very real and very legitimate. Ransomed from capture during the Crusades, he has only a limited time to repay the Knights Templar for his ransom. If he fail, he would be made to reveal a secret that only he knows, that may rock Christianity’s foundations terribly if not destroy it. It is a secret he is determined to carry to his grave.
Mind you, the first few chapters of this book are very slow, excruciatingly slow as Juliana and Sebastian circle each other like two wary hawks, skittish upon close contact, coming close then retreating. It’s frustrating to see these two like that, especially when I have an uneasy – and accurate, as it turns out – impression of the nature of Sebastian’s secret (an old pro at watching old TV shows like Robin Hood can’t fail to guess the significance of Sebastian’s clothes).
It is Juliana’s stumbling upon Sebastian’s prayer session that sparks off the subsequent poetry of the story. Sebastian’s prayer opened my eyes from lethargy of the slow pace to the beautiful lyrical grace of Ms Ranney’s writing:
Sustinui qui simul contristaretur, et non fuit; consolantem me quaesivi et non inveni. Intellige clameoren meum.
My Latin is rudimentary, but the translation, kindly provided, is: “I hoped that someone would weep with me, but there no one. I sought someone to comfort me, but found no one. Know the cries I utter.”
Hence the reason I am totally absorbed and enthralled by this story – the writing sings with magic and beauty. Ms Ranney takes everything that makes the medieval times fascinating – the music of prayers, the poetries of Ovid, the gentle, beautiful side of religion – and weaves them all into a tapestry of sensual poignancy. Every touch made and every word spoken between Juliana and Sebastian vibrates with passion and desire that are forever forbidden, and the sexual tension, stretched taut and tense with need and love, moved me to tears more than once. How many romances have you read where the excuse for not touching is so real?
Oh, I may as well get it out in the open. Sebastian is a leper.
There. Maybe now I have made it clear why these two can never touch, much less love.
It is painful to read about these two wonderful people’s growing affections. When Sebastian cried out her name in anguish amidst stormy winds, helpless as Juliana lay abed, injured, I actually sob a bit and hug my teddy bear close as I read. Everything works in this book. Every beautifully written scene that highlights the passion humming between them, every scene that demonstrates their willingness to live and die for each other… I can’t take it, you know, books like this that throw so much emotions of mine into turbulence. They turn me into a watery mush and I love it!
Oh, glory glory be the day I picked this book up. I’ve never read a book that throws me out of my equilibrium for a long time. Sure, the first part of the book is slow, but for making me feel, for the many lyrical elements of this book that made me feel as if I’m there, right there in the book, and for making it all special, this book’s getting the four oogie treatment.