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Review: The Lily and the Leopard, Susan Wiggs

Or, the problem with older romance novels.

Belliane, better known as Lianna, is a Frenchwoman determined to keep her castle in Normandy at all costs.  But Henry V is invading, and he wants to marry her to Enguerrand of England, both to promote his friend and make life easier for himself.  In protest, Lianna marries a Frenchman, but meets Rand not knowing who he is.  Lianna and Rand both lie to one another and begin to fall in love – until Lianna’s husband dies and marriage goes on as planned.  Both betrayed in the midst of battle, Lianna and Rand must decide what really matters to them, love or country.

I almost gave up this book on every other page.  I don’t honestly know why I kept going.  It has all my least favorite aspects of a romance novel.  These two lust after one another and suddenly decide it’s love.  Their lies are the foundation for almost everything bad that happens to them, and they don’t forgive one another even though of course they have to sleep with each other all the time.  Because when you’re furious with someone, you really want to have sex with them.  Yep.  And Lianna is almost too unconventional to be true; how many noble ladies went around in the smocks of poor women with their hair down and learned to shoot newfangled guns?  Sure, it’s a war, but I just found it very hard to believe.  Besides that, she’s too stupid to live.  She doesn’t realize the French guy she’s marrying is a slimeball, she walks straight into at least two traps, and she leaves her baby in the care of the wife of slimeball’s son.  She’s basically the cause of ALL the relationship problems as Rand is completely lovesick.

The love story was the most disappointing one I’ve read in a long time, and the characters had dialogue I couldn’t imagine anyone saying.  It’s too corny, too impassioned, too ridiculous.  Very few romances are historically accurate in this respect, but I have to at least believe in the chemistry to put all that aside.  And here I did not.  Reading this book helped me realize how people could easily disdain the genre.

I do have to give the author a little respect, though, because her history is largely accurate.  All the hallmarks of Henry V’s campaign and Agincourt are here, and all in all once Lianna and Rand are married and stop stripping every five seconds the book doesn’t suffer quite so much.  The only part that annoyed me with the history was the constant mentions of chivalry, and it’s clear that the author doesn’t quite understand that chivalry == war for medieval knights.  It’s not the Victorian always-be-nice-to-ladies idea.  That’s only a tiny part of it.  Being violent is being chivalric.  That’s the point.  All medieval romances aren’t this bad; I just read Scoundrel’s Kiss and enjoyed it a lot.  The Lily and the Leopard just reinforces all the stereotypes.  When you seriously hope there isn’t going to be a happy ending because you hate the characters, you know you have a problem.  Yuck.

No Amazon link; the book is out of print. And that’s a good thing. I bought this one so you don’t have to.

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