Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20433-6
Historical Romance, 2001
Susan King’s The Sword Maiden again combines a hint of paranormal with the turbulent political situations in 15th century Scotland. But this one has one of my pet peeves in medieval romances: the heroine Eva MacArthur is like, in love with hero Lachlann MacKerron since, well, forever since she is a girl. Yes, it’s girly love hour once again. I keep waiting for a sign that Eva’s girly crush has blossomed into something more akin to a grown-up’s love but it never arrives.
Lachlann is, from all outward appearances, a mere blacksmith in Eva’s clan. Eva likes him a lot, sighing over his brawny shoulders and all the way young silly girlies in the first bloom of estrogen explosion would, but she, being the daughter of the laird, knows she will never have him. She will be married to some powerful man as arranged by her father. Things go wrong when the Hundred Years War sweep Scotland. Lachlann returns from the war in France a bitter, depressed man, which is poor timing as Eva needs his help. Her father was killed and her brothers are all either in jail or in hiding, and her hubby-to-be is going to seize her beloved home unless she invokes legend and myth to save it. She needs a Sword of Light (well, it’s a long story, really), and Lachlann, the master blacksmith, is the only one who can craft one for her. Right?
“Hic,” says Lachlann.
The usual romance-and-adventure thing ensues. Eva and Lachlann are pretty good characters, and Lachlann, while he could have been an irritating self-absorbed mule in the hands of the wrong author, is a sympathetic hero. He and Eva fall in love, of course, although Eva has fallen a long time ago even before. That’s my problem with this story. While the characters are fine in their own right, there is no satisfactory character growth. Eva starts out infatuated with Lachlann and her infatuation remains on the girly-first-crush level throughout the story, untampered or untainted by maturity or wisdom. She’s one veritable nebula of pure girly love, and I, for one, don’t like girly loves much. There’s no depth here; I want to read about a love that scratches at least a bit deeper than “He’s so handsome, and now he rescues me, so I looooove him forever, yes!” gushing. Lachlann loves Eva too, but since he is a man and hence have more room to grow in a romance novel, his love is more convincing. He, after all, is a man with demons and all compared to Eva who is just overly-patriotic and overly-responsible and overly-selfless just to make up for her lack of character depths. His love is more real, because he is more real.
Compared to the other books of this trilogy (The Swan Maiden and The Stone Maiden), it doesn’t have an obvious sagging middle. If the characters are less contrived and the romance more well-rounded, it could’ve been the best book and a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. Still, it’s a pretty good read nonetheless.