Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58168-6
Historical Romance, 1999 (Reissue)
It took me two weeks to finish Isolde Martyn’s much-acclaimed The Maiden and the Unicorn. I can’t get into the story. I have no idea why really, probably because of the characters. There’s no denying, however, that this book better off marketed as historical fiction rather than historical romance.
Indeed, since I’m a total dunce when it comes to British political history, I’d have to accept Ms Martyn’s word that the main characters Margery and Richard Huddleston were actual people and the history weaved skilfully into the story was accurate. It seems at 1470, the British isles were in political turmoil as “Kingmaker” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and George, Duke of Clarence and younger brother of King Edward IV were waging a feud against the King. Caught amidst the whole fun was Margery, a ward of Warwick and once the lover of King Edward (or “Ned” as she called him). The story begins with Margery being kidnapped by Huddleston to the King where she is told to send some secret letters of possible reconciliation to her guardian. Sparks flew between Margery and Huddleston, but it’s more of the I hate you don’t come near me type of attraction. Margery sank deeper into political intrigue as she soon found herself wedded to Huddleston, who had a secret agenda in marrying her.
This book is really heavy with history, believe me. I’m totally bewildered in the first half of the book as Ms Martyn lets fly confusing titles of prominent Earls and Dukes and such that I keep turning back to the list of characters thoughtfully provided at the beginning of the book. Thank you, whoever it was that thought of putting the list. It spared me a lot of headache deciphering who Stone, Warwick, Clarence, Huddleston, Concressault and many more are.
Indeed, the writing is good, and the story is intriguing. But the fact is, I find myself glossing over the relationship between Richard Huddleston (there’s also a Richard Neville – the Earl of Warwick – pretty confusing) and Margery in favor of reading the tides of political intrigue, betrayals, and counter-betrayals that swept the story.
Maybe it’s because Ms Martyn never really developed the characters in tandem with the epic unfurling of the political power play taking place in her story. Margery is particularly uneven in her characterization. She veers from being dangerously naïve and stupid at times to a being a woman aware of and not above using her womanly wiles to get her way. Margery also has a distressing tendency to land herself into trouble, falling into the hands of lecherous men ad nauseum and had to wait for some men to rescue her. Not a very good start for a character who is supposed to hold the whole story together.
Richard Huddleston is better fleshed out, but again, his relationship with Margery is underdeveloped as they were stuck in the “I hate you, I love you, I hate you again!” rut for too long throughout the book. The sudden change of hearts seemed tad a little too abrupt to me.
But no matter. I doubt I’d be reading it again to be sure, because I’d need to be in the mood for something heavy in history and a little light in good romantic relationship thingies for that to happen!