As the title implies, Shari Anton’s Lord of the Manor(1998) is a historical set in the Middle Ages. England in 1109, to be precise, and in this case the precision is important. Henry I’s problems with Normandy at this time provide an authentic background for the story, and the relationship plot develops in parallel with a political plot based on a property dispute between Normandy and England. Henry even makes a cameo appearance, bringing our couple together (a literal divine intervention, at least to a monarchist such as myself).
Our hero Richard is a bastard, but established as lord of small manor he received from Henry for his service helping defeat the disloyal and cruel Lord Basil. Richard carries scars from Basil’s attempt to kill him, and the manor is one of Basil’s former holdings. Richard’s keen to marry well, primarily to gain greater financial security, and meanwhile enjoys the passing company of lower class women though he would not dream of taking advantage of a noble woman. While riding through the country, Richard’s party comes across a woman leading a mule with a child. The mule is startled and runs off, the woman sprains her ankle in pursuit, and Richard gallantly comes to the rescue. He invites the injured woman to join his party for the remainder of the road. He finds her attractive, and is intrigued by her combination of Norman aristocratic bearing and English peasant appearance. A few days later, he witnesses her audience with Henry.
Lucinda is the widow of Lord Basil, and she asks the king to appoint a protector for her son, hinting that it is better for all present that her son be raised a loyal English subject rather than be raised by his father’s Norman relatives. Her son is also entitled to the income from his father’s properties in Normandy, which the king notes would be a reward for raising the boy. Some nobles who suffered under Basil, including Richard’s brother, are keen to exile the boy to Normandy. When the matter is settled, Lucinda’s son is a ward of Richard, and Richard is also obliged to maintain her for two years, in consideration of the youth of her son. Thus are the couple brought together, uneasy in each other’s company, but both gaining security. Richard’s attraction to Lucinda considerably increases when he learns the full extent of her resourcefulness and her son’s rightful holdings.
Lucinda is as strong and independent as a woman in her position can be. She does not need a man, but as their relationship grows she enthusiastically enjoys Richard’s company. Their relationship, and a possible marriage between them, is socially acceptable, but she is aware of resentments against her former husband, and questions about her loyalty, by the villagers and members of Richard’s family. Having survived an abusive marriage she is reluctant to become involved again, and even after some exposure to what true affection can be, she is afraid of being eventually rejected out of political necessity. Her son is secure, but her own fate is uncertain when the two years are up. When claims are made on behalf of her son, her Norman relatives by marriage seek to bring her to Normandy, by force if necessary, making her continued relationship with Richard seem even less likely.
This book is similar to Lion’s Lady. Good characters and a good story, and in Lord of the Manor there is a little more of the sexual equality between characters that I wanted. However, as in Lion’s Lady, the reading pleasure is spoiled by excessive archaic language. Once again the dreaded mayhap rears its awkward and anachronistic head. The contractions ’twas, ’twill, ‘twould, and the like come up repeatedly, even outside of dialogue. Characters including Lucinda, a refined Norman lady, say “aye” and “nay,” again anachronistic, and very English. There’s also anachronistic use of the word noon, which I probably only noticed because of awkward constructions like “after nooning on the morrow.” Afternoon is a relatively modern expression, and at the time this story takes place, noon actually referred to 3:00 PM. Why not just say “tomorrow?” Finally, although the sex scenes are relatively well written, descriptive without being clinical, “manroot” strikes a jarring note. I’m not sure if it’s too euphemistic or too archaic, and given the context a blunter word would have been more effective. Perhaps not cock – a little too English. There are many other possibilities.
Like an episode of Star Trek, there’s some fighting, loving, and adventure, and sometimes the effects are a little cheesy, but it’s enjoyable and comfortable. There’s even a lighthearted tag to wrap things up. If only we didn’t have ’tis, ’twill, and ’twas in the final sentences.