I picked up this book one day, because of its cover. Yes, the enigmatic look of both man and woman, staring at something far into the horizon, told me they had a special story to tell. And they did.
The only reproach I have for the author, however, is the title. Saxon Bride is not about a bride, nor a knight in shining armor. It's about redemption, it's about salvation, but most of all, it's about forgiveness.
For those of you who found, in A Kingdom Of Dreams, some measure of atonement for being born, not on the wrong side of the sheets, but on the wrong side of the fence, then you will find the story of Maxen Pendery and Rhyannin, one of even greater truth.
She is Saxon, of modest beginnings, having lost all she holds dear to the battle of Hastings.
He is Norman, an infamous killer who had killed in ways that still haunt him. Upon the death of his brother Nils, where he saw how Normans such as he robbed the dead of their clothing amidst the clash of steel and the spilling of blood, he realized Normans were no better than Saxons. And with it, he lost the fragile justification for his own participation in the deed.
Both he and Rhyannin feel responsibility for the blood spilled by their countrymen and family, she by association, he by the thrust of his blade. To make amends with his conscience, Maxen seeks refuge in the monastic life, exchanging his sword for a rosary - until he loses yet another brother, this time to a woman.
Rhyannin was captured by Maxen's brother and betrothed to him as a tool for peace. She has been branded a whore by Normans and a betrayer by Saxons, yet is neither. While trying to run away from Maxen's brother, someone throws a dagger and kills him, leaving her to take the blame. Rhyannin accepts responsibility for the murder, believing that the Pendery's won't look further for revenge and let live what is left of her people.
But it is Maxen who is ordered back to reek justice, doubly enraged at being forced to relive the carnage and the guilt. So he begins Rhyannin's mental journey into terror. While in a dungeon, he has her blindfolded and bound with a rope to a stool, his words and his hate his only weapons. Yet, as much as the lust for a good kill returns, Maxen finds himself incapable of execution. It is not the fact that she is protecting another that unnerves him, but that she is willing to sacrifice her life for her people, for peace, the same elusive state of mind he seeks, and so, he begins to recognize her purpose.
So the love story begins, with Rhyannin looking for what's left of Maxen's humanity, and Maxen, lost in his own tortured world where his duty to find his brother's murderer will only be fulfilled by forfeiting one more life by his hand.
Except that it is the life of Rhyannin that is at stake. She, who stands erect at every cruelty being visited upon her, and despite it all, or in spite of it, beseeches him in silence, eventually yielding to him just to prove that there is love left in the world. And with that love, not only the forgiveness they can give each other, but most of all, the forgiveness Maxen needs to give to himself.
So when Maxen takes Rhyannin back to the dungeon of their first meeting, it is to replace a violent memory with a loving one; it is to give repentance for every hurt she was dealt. He wants to make things right for her. To that end, he gives her back the life of her people, the only true gift of power and trust, in payment for teaching him to love himself again.
It is therefore no surprise that the physical relationship of Maxen and Rhyannin is a special and binding one, and of the same quality as that of A Kingdom of Dreams' Jennifer Merrick and Royce Westmoreland.
Because it's about giving.
And in the end, you are left with that same yearning, not just to be loved but to feel loved.
And therein lies the difference.
And the truth.
Liana wrote this review before her very short stint as an AAR reviewer.
-- Liana LaRiccia
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