Isolde Martyn – “The Maiden And The Unicorn”

4 Mar

GENRE: Romance / Medieval
PUBLISHED: Bantam Books, 1999

The back blurb:
“The year is 1470 and the legendary Wars of the Roses threatens to tear England apart. In the middle of the conflict is a most unlikely heroine. For Margery, the beautiful and spirited ward of Warwick the Kingmaker, freedom is the only prize worth having. But it is a prize that could cost her her life. Sent to France on a mission for King Edward IV, she finds herself the target of a man who may be one of the king’s most dangerous enemies. Sir Richard Huddleston is bold, enigmatic, and devastatingly handsome. He is used to getting what he wants, and he wants Margery to be his wife. But what else does he want? Margery suspects that Richard has abandoned the king and the house of York and is conspiring with the rebel queen and the traitorous house of Lancaster. Caught between her role as a spy and a fierce passion that neither she nor Richard can deny, Margery finds her heart exposed to the ultimate danger: falling in love. Yet she cannot admit her real mission to Richard. For if she stays true to her noble cause, she’ll save many men … and lose the one that matters.”

The Maiden and the Unicorn is the second book by Isolde Martyn I read. My thoughts about this novel are nearly the same thoughts I had after finishing the first one (The Knight and the Rose): The Maiden and the Unicorn is a historically very detailed romance novel (no wallpaper history here), but the main characters seemed not developed enough in contrast to that.

Martyn weaves the story of Margery and Richard seamlessly into “real” history – nearly all characters (and there are many) are people who actually lived. The historical details are correct, as far as I can say (which is, admittedly, not very far). And her reasoning for historical events – why did this happen? / why did they do that? – seems plausible and shows political machination at work. In short, Martyn makes an interesting part of history come alive and understandable.

I can’t say the same about her main characters.

Richard is the standard “I won’t say a thing” character. Margery is intelligent, so she should be able to figure out what Richard is about. But most often that is not the case. Yes, sometimes she acts rather intelligent and level-headed which is, after all, better for her with all the political intrigues going on around her, but then there are times when Margery acts rather dense. So she’s rather one of those heroines who (sometimes) contradict their intelligence with their doings.

Then there is my problem with their (initial) motivations. I found them unbelievable (Richard) and out of the blue (Margery – just why does she want her freedom?). And later on, it was a constant struggle for me to remember why they were supposed to act the way they did and what exactly the problem was in one of their many misunderstandings. Think a popping up “Huh?” in my mind.

For me, the main characters are defined by their “hate-hate-lust/love-hate-hate-…-ups, the end = love” relationship and nothing more, making their love not convincing and the couple rather annoying. They never get over their “I hate you – I love (lust for) you” characterisation. Combined with Martyn’s good depiction of history and political actions, the rather cardboard characterization is even more obvious and emphasizes the description of historical developments more than the description of the characters’ development. Maybe just a few sentences here and there would give more “meat” to the main characters and their relationship.

Like The Knight and the Rose, Isolde Martyn’s novel The Maiden and the Unicorn offers a rich, intriguing and interesting view of an important part in English history. It shows what is possible to do with history in romance novels and is a nice change from the often mere wallpaper history in historical romances. If there would be just as much emphasis on the characters as on history, then Isolde Martyn might turn into one of my favourite authors.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes, but with reservations; for fans of a story with rich historical background and a stomach for love-hate relationships.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 3,5 / 5


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