Nothing brings me out of a book slump like a good medieval romance and HER NORMAN CONQUEROR has a truly unique plot with a great cast of characters, powerful storytelling, and very real emotional stakes. After floundering through several paranormal romances, I decided to give myself a break and go back to basics-- and I am so glad I did, because this book knocked my socks off.
The beginning of the story kind of starts out like a less problematic version of Johanna Lindsey's PRISONER OF MY DESIRE. Aleene is the lady of what used to be dower lands, but she is of Spanish descent and her English citizens stopped being quite so trusting of their ladies when they started marrying outside the blood. Now, she is going to be forced to marry her loathsome stepbrother unless she can take matters into her own hands.
When her people arrest a developmentally disabled poacher on the premises, Aleene decides he is the perfect target for her scheming. Due to a childhood filled with abuse, she is terrified of men, and the inequality in the man's agency and social standing makes her feel like she might actually be able to be physical with him enough to get with child. I know, it's super problematic, but Aleene is working through incredible psychological trauma and given the time and her circumstances, I could kind of see why she felt the way she did.
Since her new husband appears to be mute, she names him Cynewulf. Cynewulf is incredibly attractive and also supremely cheerful. He's basically the sun emoji and the puppy emoji combined. Aleene quickly becomes affectionate towards him and protective of him, and starts to feel guilt about using him ill and being so cold to him. Gradually, she even begins to love him. But obviously, this would be too neat a story if it were as simple and straightforward as that. IT'S NOT.
I don't want to say too much more because there are some really great twists in this book, but HER NORMAN CONQUEROR ended up being the perfect blend of angsty and sweet, with a huge cast of interesting side characters, realistic problems, a great villain (well, villains), a headstrong and determined heroine, and a surprising hero. Martin did such a good job showing the complexities of war, the politics of running a household, and how divisions never run neatly or evenly when lines are driven down two sides in opposition. I thought this might be a cheesy bodice-ripper but it actually ended up being one of those hurt/comfort stories, like Sarah Brophy's MIDNIGHT EYES.
I will definitely be checking out more from this author!
4.5 out of 5 stars