Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lady's Minstrel by N.J. Walters

TITLE: Lady’s Minstrel
AUTHOR: N.J. Walters
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 10k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $2.49

For six years, Alicia has waited for her husband to return from the Crusades. In his absence, she’s done everything she can to preserve his keep, to help it flourish, so it’s strong when he comes home. Nobody she’s asked has been able to help her, so when a minstrel arrives asking questions about her and the keep, she fears the worst—that the king is about to marry her off to somebody else…

I knew going into this that based on its length and where it was published, the focus wouldn’t necessarily be on plot or world building. But in the end, I enjoyed this for reasons entirely separate from those.

Alicia has been waiting for her husband’s return from the Crusades for six years, running the keep in his absence. She’s done a good job of it, and over time, has become loved and treasured by the people she takes care of. When a minstrel arrives, asking questions about her and the keep, she fears that the king has decided it’s time to marry her off, regardless of the fact that no word has ever come about her husband, or maybe, because of it. Unwilling to show weakness, she summons the minstrel to get the answers she wants from him. If she doesn’t like them, she’ll send him along.

The blurb at EC’s website gives away more, so I guess I can’t be accused of spoiling if I say the minstrel is actually Alicia’s husband Reys. Therein lies the emotional tug of this story. Alicia has missed and mourned him all this time, faithful to his memory, foregoing her own needs in order to save as much money as possible in case she ever had to ransom for his release. Her grief is palpable, her devotion endearing, and through it all, she remains strong and graceful, likeable in a sweet sort of way. Her reunion with Reys is predictable, but the raw emotion from both of them—Reys has been tortured and missed her just as much—compensates greatly for that expectedness. I’ll admit I teared up a little as they each stripped down and bared themselves to the other for the first time in so many years. I believed in their love, even as short as this story is, and fell for the story in spite of its other shortcomings.

Because it’s not perfect. Reys is too romanticized to be much of anything but a stereotype, even though the tragic hints of what he went through would have been wonderful if the length had allowed them to be explored. Historical detail is glossed over, with just enough there to let the reader know it’s a historical, and doesn’t shine in anyway. The prose itself is simplistic, too, and while the first sex scene is hot, the latter is lost in the anguish that preceded it.

Is it for everybody? Probably not. Sticklers for historical detail will be disappointed, and the sex doesn’t stray too far from vanilla. But I felt for these two people deeply, and rejoiced in their reunion. When it comes to short story romances, sometimes that’s all you need.


8/10 – Simple and emotional, but exactly what I needed


6/10 – The bones of an amazing hero are there, but for a story of this length, he’s too romanticized to be much more of a type


7/10 – Shows startling grace and strength that I eagerly responded to

Entertainment value

8/10 – The emotional tug of this is what got me

World building

5/10 – Only sketchy details to paint some background, that’s not the focus on this at all



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