In 1222, women had few options. They were completely at the mercy of their fathers to dispose of as they willed. But Lady Alys Delamare has finally convinced her parents to let her join a convent, where she will be able to pursue her true passion: writing chronicles of the adventures she wheedles out of everyone she meets. Perhaps as a ploy to be less attractive, perhaps because she’s so distracted by her inner life, Lady Alys seems to everyone to be a bit dim. Much to the surprise of Sir Padrig ap Huw–the man charged to escort Alys to her future home–there’s much more to his lady than he expected. Then, a raging storm sidetracks their train’s progress–and leads Lady Alys and Sir Padrig into an inconvenient romance . . .
I nearly gave up on this book by the fourth chapter due to author Sharon Schulze’s clumsy handling of the introduction of her heroine. First, the virginal and innocent Alys comes across a naked Padrig in a pond–and exchanges a few teasing words before falling into his arms (insta-chemistry of the very-forced variety). The few words they exchange are not particularly smart, yet suddenly Padrig is convinced that everyone has misjudged Alys and she’s really brainy after all.
Then, in the next chapter, Alys falls into Padrig’s arms a second time. By the fourth chapter, Alys has fallen off her bolting horse, gotten buried in rubble and trees, and been seriously injured in the process.
The final straw in terms of credibility–thought I–came when Padrig, panicked over having lost the lady he was escorting home, finds her and cradles her in his arms until rescue is possible. Here he is, a lowly knight whose charge may have a head injury, broken bones, and certainly a dislocated shoulder, yet he cannot help but be overwhelmed by sexual desire just from touching her. I don’t buy it. His career is at stake and his charge might easily die then and there. And he’s thinking of sex?
Fortunately, despite the clumsy exposition, I did not put For My Lady’s Honor down. I kept reading through Alys’s rescue, got to see her mettle in bearing the pain of her injuries, and learned more about who she is. She begins to realize she is not cut out for the convent when she recognizes her attraction to Padrig, and she herself requests to be taught about how to kiss . . . and so forth. All along, Alys is explicitly consenting and learning new things about her own character and the wisdom of her desire to retire to a convent.
She also makes discoveries about how her habits of questioning soldiers to gain information for her writing comes across as seduction when she’s talking to young knights rather than the old fellows she’s been accustomed to–a quite believable and embarrassing realization for a young woman.
As for Padrig, he struggles between his (somewhat formulaic) insta-desire for Lady Alys and their class differences and the tenuous future of his career should he not deliver Alys to her father as instructed. His dilemma is complicated when he learns that Alys believes she’s being sent to a convent–when she’s really being sent to her future husband, a bully and known wife-killer.
What makes For My Lady’s Honor good reading is the adventure aspects, which force Alys to fight hard for survival and come to some difficult conclusions about how to take control of her future. Additionally, the erotic scenes (especially the central sex scene) are among the most compelling I have ever read. Tender, sensual, consensual, and . . . well, sexy enough to reread over and over. I wish I had a xerox machine, since this is a library book.
As for character chemistry, the conceit of the book gives enough obstacles for Alys and Padrig to fall for each other, albeit in a very short time (under a week, I believe–and perhaps as few as four days!). Normally, I would count that against a book because I don’t think enduring love usually comes so fast. However, in this particular novel, external circumstances make their lightening-fast love more believable, and I can see them succeeding as a couple.
In other ways, Sharon Schulze has also done well with this book. Despite the clumsy opening, there is real chemistry here. Despite the short time frame, she makes the characters believable. The more minor characters are well fleshed out, especially Rafe and a scruffy little boy, Dickon.
Reading For My Lady’s Honor, one can feel the fact that this book is part of a long continuity–book number 7, in fact–and that many of the characters would already be known to some readers. Perhaps that explains the heavy-handed first chapters. If Padrig and Alys-as-scatterbrained-klutz have appeared in earlier books, their quick transformations and revelations about each other would make more sense (and so would Alys’s tendency to trip and fall over and over).
Authors should remember that–especially with Harlequin-style romances–the turnover for their books is very fast, and readers may often jump into the middle of a story (that’s happened to me at least three times since I started regularly reviewing books in June). There still needs to be enough of an introduction to the new focus-characters that we, as initiates, can comfortably enter the world of the book.
In conclusion, I must thank Schulze for writing what is the very first medieval romance that I’ve read. I’m looking forward to reading more of them, because it seems like some authors realize that sexual mores were actually more flexible then than after the Enlightenment.*
Besides, if Schulze can write such a great sex scene, that alone is reason enough to look at another of her books . . .
*I am not trying to give precise factual information here. My statement about sexual openness during various eras is from snippets I have learned over quite a few years, and I couldn’t call up a source right away.