The ProtectorIn The Protector by Madeline Hunter, we have a heroine who is skilled with the bow. This is quite a reasonable talent for a medieval woman to have. Women had to protect their homes and acquire food just as men did. A bow can be customized to the wielder, and women can be just as accurate as men can be.
Anna has a tenuous hold on her family estate while black death kills off half the land and warfare claims the others. She knows her position is tough. She's lauded as a saint - one wrong turn and she could be stoned as a witch. Having a woman in charge wasn't odd at this time - the two leaders of the opposing sides in her region of France were both women.
Into this situation rides Morvan. He and his knights have been exposed to the plague and need to be tended to, until it's seen if they are carriers. Anna tends to Morvan through his illness, and the connection is made.
I like the storyline. I like the integration of the plague and of how women could be held up in the angel / devil role. I enjoy her skill with the bow and how her strength is lauded for a while.
Then, for me, it all goes sour. Morvan turns into an obnoxious jerk. One could claim that "most men in medieval day were abusive rapists" - but first, I don't agree with that, and second, even if some were, I would not want to read about those men. You could as easily say that most women were quiet milkmaids who spent all day with eyes lowered. I'm not interested in reading about their stories either. Surely, since men desired Eleanor of Aquitaine, there were men out there who appreciated a strong women who could lead the troops. Those are the heroes I want to hear about.
So Morvan's constant squashing of Anna, and his spanking her, just wasn't enjoyable to read.
The priest is a great minor character, but there are not really any female characters (besides Anna) to relate to in the story. I found that disappointing. A good story should have both great main characters and also great secondary characters, both male and female. Anna's sister is a mere shadow.
I found the prolonged farce that she was profoundly ugly to be silly. Surely at some point she would have recognized that she was not hideously ugly. She's an intelligent woman.
Finally, and this part baffles me, somehow the wedding seems to have been skipped! You begin a chapter by reading about the wedding dress being prepared, her thoughts about the upcoming wedding, and what she's thinking. Then - without any break at all - they are in the hall and she's being taken upstairs for the wedding night. I was completely baffled and read it again to try to figure out what I'd missed. Even now, while writing this review, I went back to read it again in case I'd missed something obvious. I just can't see it. Where is the wedding scene? Did it just get skipped without any warning? Talk about a key scene to include!
Still, my primary issue comes down to Morvan simply not being a hero I am fond of. I adore Anna and the insight into the difficulties she faced. If anything, the priest should have ended up with her. I don't feel at all that Morvan deserved her, or that she should have been drawn to such a character-destroying person. There were surely other men who would have appreciated her just the way she was.
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