by Juliana Garnett, historical (1999)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-57628-3
The Baron is another take on the Robin Hood mythology, but with a twist: the heroine's Robin Hood's niece, and she's playing fast and loose with Tre Devaux, the Sheriff of Nottingham even as she has a plundering spree with the former members of Robin's Merry Men. Better still, the heroine Lady Jane Neville is no irrational, impetuous red-haired harpy with no common sense, she is in fact an intelligent woman who gives as good as she gets. Add in swashbuckling fun so potent I can almost hear the clash of swords on swords and arrows cutting the air, and I get one of the most enjoyable romances in quite a while.
Tre Devaux is not a happy man. His daughter is murdered as a result of foul play and he is a casualty of court politics. Stripped of the only thing he has left - his land - he is forced to take up the position of High Sheriff of you-know-where in order to prove his loyalty to the really repulsively vile King John.
He meets Lady Jane, who not only challenges his authority in most subtle ways and inflame his senses, she has the temerity to ask him to be lenient with the Saxon people. And when he ambushes the outlaws only to be thwarted by Jane (whom he recognizes), the fun really begins to start. Add in lots of court treachery and machinations and it's a at-the-edge-of-my-seat biting-my-nails read all the way.
What I love most is the fact that these two actually need each other. Not in a neurotic co-dependent way, but they bring out the best in each other and fill the emptiness in the other's soul. With Jane, Tre learns to look beyond the past and believe in hope again. He slowly relaxes his guard and lets himself to actually love Jane despite the risk of heartbreak over losing a loved one all over again. Now that's a real man. Tre hates his duty, but duty's a duty. However, when he risks everything to - I quote - save the woman "who had saved him not once, but twice", I can't help but to applaud. "Atta boy! Go get her!" I want to yell.
And Jane? She's good. No silly charging into woods on horse nonsense for her. She is a woman who actually thinks before she acts. Even more wonderful, she isn't afraid to risk all for the people she loves. She is competent and great with the bow. And with Tre, she finds her melancholic moods cast aside and for once, she is brave enough to embrace a chance at happiness. In the end, she too saves her man, and I can only punch my fist in the air and say "You go!"
The great reappearances of John Little, Marian, and Friar Tuck - and oh yes, the Big Guy Hood himself - are just desserts to an already yummy meal that is The Baron. Great lead characters who actually love and bring out the best in each other (instead of reinforcing each other's self-pity) and great supporting characters whose love and laughter have me all smiling and warm, and whose trashing of evil scum's butt have me cheering - now that's what I read romance for!
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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