Basic Plot: Simon of Beresford is a good soldier, loyal to King Stephen of England, and a widower as his grasping, greedy, witch of a wife died some years before. Lady Gwynneth also lost her husband, Canute, who was firmly in the camp of Prince Henry in this civil war that dragged on for years. For political reasons, the King wanted them to marry and literally forces both of them into it. Simon doesn't trust women, and certainly has no reason to trust a partly-Danish woman who only recently was his enemy. Gwynneth's husband was abusive, so the thought of being forced into another marriage with yet another big man who despises her is terrible, but she has no choice. Can these two find love despite their differences?
My Review: Right when I started this book, I was drawn into the story. I happen to love this period of English history and fortunately, the author doesn't waste any time in setting up the conflict. Literally, Simon is dragged from the training field, still dirty and sweaty to be presented to his future bride and within a few days they are married. Gwynneth is a beautiful, slender, blonde and Simon is attracted to her from the first time he sees her, but he is also wary. She is in the enemy camp, so to speak, and he doesn't trust her; neither does the King. Gwynneth is not particularly political, and she resents being used as a pawn in these king-maker games, but the two of them suit. She is feisty and, once she realizes he won't hurt her, isn't afraid to speak her mind. He is rude, crude, socially inept, and quite dense when it comes to the machinations of those around him. But he is kind to her and that gains him a lot of points in my eyes.
A spy is suspected in the inner circle of the King's court and Gwynneth is the first one under the cloud of suspicion, which leads to various misunderstandings between the two, including a near-fatal fight where her new husband could have been killed had she not acted quickly. I have a hard time (I swear it's a defect in my brain) following stories of political intrigue. So although I think the story presented them well, I often had a hard time understand who was on whom's side and where their loyalties lay. But the fault, as Shakespeare said, is in ourselves. I think most normal people would be able to follow that part of the story relatively easily. It's described clearly and succinctly enough.
I will admit that I don't like it when the plot of the story hinges on a "misunderstanding." It drives me crazy! In this case, the major "plot device" that keeps them from living happily-ever-after happened late in the story and was basically just Simon assuming something that would have been so easy for him to have asked about. That, to me, was sort of the major downfall with this novel. I wish Ms. Andresen had taken time to develop a more complex plot. She set them all up with political differences, cultural issues, status differences, abuse questions, and the ignores all that and goes for the simple "misunderstanding." Ugh. Because of that simple problem, it also was resolved simply enough, with just a few sentences at the very end of the story, when I had just about given up hope that it would actually happen. Pity. I really think there could have been so much more depth.
There's one more really odd thing about this story that made me shake my head in disgust/embarrassment when I read it. Though there is talk of the Danish gods (although Gwynneth is definitely a Christian) presented as sort of a cultural lesson for Simon to understand her, the book itself is not paranormal in any way. It's just a decent historical romance. So I fail to understand why the author would repeatedly mention both Simon and Gwynneth seeing a small boy flying around shooting them with arrows. This was so far out of the rest of the realm of the story that I honestly don't know why this was included. Did we have to be told that they were falling in love this way?!!! Soft glances and touches were not adequate? Strange, very strange.
Overall, I liked the romance in this story. They don't have long to get to know each other, but the description of the time they do have is almost half the book and it seems to be a slow build with both of them seeing good qualities about each other and realizing that the bad experiences of their other marriages will not likely be repeated. She feels desire for him, which surprises her, and he feels protective of her even though he is, as mentioned above, a rather socially inept man. Once they are married, their love scenes are very tender and he is able to teach her that submitting to lovemaking does not have to humiliating. Things are described quite thoroughly, but not crudely, and I thought Ms. Andresen did a good job of drawing me in to their intimate play.