Saxon Bride by Tamara Leigh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is my first time reading Tamara Leigh's historicals, and I was impressed. Although this is not a quick read, it's worth investing time into reading it. I felt the setting was very authentic (which I really like in a historical), the characters were intense and multi-dimensional, and the relationships complex.
The Norman conquest of England under Saxon rule was a defining point in English history. It affected the country profoundly and led to much bloodshed. One of the things I really love about historical romance is the duality of having a great history lesson with an engaging romantic story. I think that Ms. Leigh did a great job of doing both of these. You get to see the human element, and how the everyday person was affected by the Norman conquest in this story.
Another thing I liked about this book is that the heroine Rhiannyn is not a lady. She was the daughter of yeoman farmers. The Norman conquering lord, Thomas Pendry, sees her and takes her into his keep, makes her a lady, and decides to marry her. She doesn't want to marry him because he's a Norman, and she was promised to marry the true lord of the keep, Edwin. Edwin is a fugitive, who should have died with his overlord (as is the custom of Saxons), but was brought back to life by an old witch. Rhiannyn was treated kindly by Thomas, but never grew to love him. But when he is murdered by an unknown Saxon rebel, she is accused of the crime. She actually takes the blame because feels her actions of running away lead to the murder. Even though she could have ran away, she stays and holds Thomas while he dies. Thomas curses her because she doesn't love him, also because fleeing after her leads to his death. He calls to his brother for vengeance and curses Rhiannyn to never to know love and to never marry and have children unless she belongs to a Pendry.
The instrument of vengeance is Maxen, Thomas's brother who was called the Bloodlust Beast for his many kills on the battlefield of Hastings. He has retired to a monastery to repent of his sins. When he gets a message that his brother has been slain, he comes to wreak vengeance. I found Maxen to be a very complicated, and initially not very likable character. He was a very angry man and seemed to let his anger control him too much. Although he spent two years in the monastery, he still seethed with negative emotions, the root of which are revealed as the story continues. He wants to destroy all those culpable for his brother's murder, and Rhiannyn is at the top of his list. However, when he sees her, he finds himself drawn to her in ways he doesn't like. Initially, he perceives this as the trap she set for his brother.
Rhiannyn is a complex character as well. She is completely torn between her loyalties to the Saxons, and the desire to do what is right and fair. She doesn't care for the Normans, but she wants peace, and she realizes that peace will come when the Saxons accept Norman rule. She is also conflicted because she is very attracted to Maxen, despite his anger and perceived ruthlessness. She is treated terribly by her people because they think she is a traitor, but she does do what she can to help them, even though it makes trouble for her with Maxen.
Maxen wants to be cruel to Rhiannyn, but he finds himself incapable of doing so. First and foremost, I think deep down, he didn't have it in him to be a cruel person. He might have been afflicted by bloodlust while on the battlefield. Also, his father trained him from the time he could pick up a sword to be focused on being a warrior. That kind of training is hard to turn off, even for a person that despises killing. That war rages in him. The desire for peace against the violent nature that was fostered in him by his sire. But it is clear that he would never hurt someone more delicate and helpless. Even when the Saxon rebels are captured, he spares them out of the desire to see no more lives lost. Ultimately, Maxen won my respect although he could be a hard person capable of harsh words, and initially he doesn't have honest intentions towards Rhiannyn. He swore he wouldn't marry her because of what she does to his brother. But he does want her and has intentions to make her his leman (mistress). Maxen is shown to be a very tortured character, but you can see how he heals because of Rhiannyn's gentle regard and acceptance over the course of this book.
Rhiannyn feels desire for Maxen that is difficult to resist. She is drawn to Maxen in a way she never felt for Edwin or Thomas. She knows that Maxen won't marry her, but the needs of her heart tell her to yield to him. There is a tug of war inside of her, and Maxen tests her willpower, although he also forces himself to hold back until she is ready. There was good tension and dramatic emotion between Maxen and Rhiannyn in this book that kept me reading to see what was going to happen.
I liked Maxen's younger brother Christopher very much. He is fourteen in this book, yet very mature. He was physically disabled, with a bad leg, but with an incredible brain and heart. He was the healer for the keep, but also very wise. He saw much and managed to probe deep into the hearts of Maxen and Rhiannyn and to help them see the truth about themselves and each other. He was quite the matchmaker for the couple, in fact. I hope that Ms. Leigh wrote a book about him before she stopped writing historicals, because I'd like to see him find happiness when he gets a little older.
There were times I had to put the book down and read something else for a little bit. I think it's because this is a serious book. Sometimes you want to read something quicker and light. This won't fit the bill when you're looking for a light read. But it definitely will fulfill a historical romance fan who likes an intense story that shows history from a personal perspective. All the characters are shown as humans, with good and bad urges. Edwin is the enemy to the Normans, but he is merely a man who wants back what was stolen from him. He is a man of honor, and that is made clear. His honor is questioned on a personal level in a way that really adds another layer to this story.
I will add Saxon Bride to my keeper shelf as another very good historical romance, highlighting the Normal Conquest Era. I was glad to read this book, and I look forward to reading more by this author.
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