My Beloved, by Karen Ranney

>> Monday, August 18, 2003

My Beloved (excerpt), by Karen Ranney was a loan from a friend. From the back blurb, it didn't really sound like my type of book... too much political intrigue, basically. However, it's one of my friend's keepers, so I decided to trust her judgement and try it anyway.

This is the story of Juliana and Sebastian of Langlinais and two secrets he must keep. One could change the world as he knows it; the other will prevent him from ever touching his bride. But above all, it's a love story that transcends boundaries.

Juliana had spent most of her life at the convent of Sisters of Charity waiting to be summoned to her husband's side, only to be offered a strange bargain when she arrived at the castle of Langlinais. What he proposed would allow her to perform the work she loves. But will that freedom be enough to overcome the mystery of her husband? Why does he dress in a monk's robe? Why does he forbid her to ever touch him?
I'm glad I listened to my friend. While this one was not a keeper for me, I enjoyed it quite a bit. A B+.

Though I really liked the characters and the love story (more later ;-), the most amazing thing about this book was the atmosphere. History was very definitely not of the wallpaper variety here. I tend to prefer MedievaLand when it comes to Medievals, since those that have a good sense of the times tend to emphasize the grit and violence more than I like, but here it wasn't like that at all. It was rich and exotic, and I almost felt as if I were there.

I also thought the author did an excellent job of showing how religion permeated almost every level of life at the time. Sebastian and Juliana are practically heretics, if one considers the way they don't bow to Church dogma (a fact they recognize), but religion is still important to them and a big part of their lives.

And the history! The first 50 pages alone sent me running for my computer to do some research on things like the Cathars and their fate. Really fascinating.

As for the romance part of the story, it was really good. Throughout most of the book Sebastian is sure that he'll never be able to have Juliana (trust me, he has good reasons to think that), and his feelings of anguish about that and about what's happening to him are wonderfully conveyed. He was a lovely character, a strong warrior who, nevertheless, was always kind to Juliana.

Juliana I liked, too. At first, she seems almost too innocent and naive (something understandable for a woman who's lived all her life in a convent), but even then she shows lots of inner strength. This strength really comes through later on.

My only qualm was how the way the main, seemingly insurmountable conflict is resolved. It was too easy. I mean, I don't know how Ranney could have solved it, but please, not this way! At least, this happened after hard choices were made by the characters.

The suspense subplot was interesting. It disappeared near the end of the book, but this was something I liked.

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