Book review · historical fiction · Impressions · medieval romance · Reading · Uncategorized

A review of Tamara Leigh’s “Lady At Arms: Book One”

I have long enjoyed reading Tamara Leigh’s contemporary romances, but I had not read her historical ones – and she’s written quite a few now. I wanted to go back to her beginnings and read her first works of historical fiction. I learned those were the “Bride” novels (no longer in print) rewritten as the “Ladies” series and standalone novels.

“Warrior Bride, published in 1994, is now “Lady At Arms: Book One,” which I just finished. I thought back to medieval shows and movies to cast the main characters/love interests as I read. Ginnifer Goodwin became Lady Lizanne Balmaine of Penforke because of her role as raven-haired warrior, Snow White in TV’s Once Upon A Time. I cast Chris Hemsworth as Ranulf Wardieu based on my memory of him in another Snow White retelling, “The Huntsman.” Action-packed from the beginning, the plot drew me in with bloody fight scenes, twists and turns I didn’t see coming, sets-ups and rewards that kept me reading, and dialogue that left me tearful or downright laughing out loud. And one or more of the characters had a faith in God, the best of stories, in my opinion.

Opening the tale, a gang of men descended on the dowry wagons of Lady Lizanne. She and her brother Gilbert Balmaine traveled with their men on her way to wed Sir Philip Charwyck, so right away, Leigh plunged her characters into deep trouble. A vile, yet attractive man named Darth dealt a terrible blow to Gilbert, leaving him for dead. And then he turned to Lizanne to finish the job. Sir Philip declared her damaged goods, despite her escape from the brigand. He called off their wedding.

When she saw the almost colorless, blond-headed warrior, Baron Ranulf Wardieu, Lizanne thought she saw Darth and finally would get her revenge for all he took from her family. Using her skills as a warrior and healer, she kidnapped and kept him doped up enough to transport him to her lair…uh, excuse me…the castle at Penforke.

The baron had been on a mission for King Henry to resolve a dispute between Lord Langdon and one of his vassals, Sir Hamil. He first saw Lady Lizanne as she berated a servant and asked Lord Langdon about her. Ranulf had no prior knowledge of the woman beyond that exchange. I thought, “Did she kidnap the wrong guy?”

The ambiguity continued because those serving at Penforke appeared to also not understand why Lizanne imprisoned Ranulf. Some only partially followed her orders. When Ranulf would ask her what crimes held him there, Lizanne refused to tell him the full weight of his wrongs. That infuriated me probably as much as it did Ranulf. (I realize though the story would have been over sooner.)  

These questionable and reckless actions made me worry for Lizanne and had me turning pages. And I learned the trauma she experienced that night blighted every happiness. Penforke almost seemed like a cursed castle, or one frozen in time like Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Lizanne trained for four year, preparing herself for the time she could repay the villain who stole years from her. She became consumed by revenge to the point she warred within herself where madness fought with her reason.

The Penforke servants saw that light snuffed in both siblings, but they were more perplexed that their lady acted more like a warrior. She wore men’s garments more so than gowns, and her brother taught her to fight to protect herself. Gilbert would realize too late he had given in to Lizanne’s demands instead of placing healthy boundaries. And the moment would come when he feared he would fail her again.

In a turn of play, the captor became the captured and a new study of revenge began. This time the captor had a Christian counselor, Sir Walter Fortesne, a voice of reason eventually for both Lizanne and Ranulf. Sir Walter knew about Ranulf’s captivity. A woman bested him and held him prisoner. She just about killed him. He understood the knight’s need for justice, but not revenge. He knew Ranulf to be a man of faith, honor, and of good character, so he didn’t understand Lizanne’s desire for revenge. Despite refusing to pray about his next steps, Ranulf did listen to Sir Walter, who saw more than revenge. He saw the desire in his lordship’s eyes. He made it clear more harm would come were he, a knight, to make noblewoman Lady Lizanne his leman, or mistress. The    

Revenge or vengeance? Is there a difference?

I found myself debating the meaning behind those words while reading this medieval tale. I did wonder if Leigh asked that as she was writing. I felt like I was reading an allegory, as if she had written this book in the 12th or 13th century. I did a search on revenge vs. vengeance. Several sources declared “revenge” as more personal. Some people saw “revenge” as petty, the desire for revenge coming from mere perceived wrongs and slights. Still another source said revenge is the verb and vengeance the noun. Revenge is the act of retaliating for an offence, while vengeance the actual injury given.

Vengeance had a more positive, if not righteous, meaning. In Romans 12:19, those words are used in scripture together like this,

19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

I won’t give away the answer I gave to that question. I’ll let you read the novel and decide. When I realized who the true villains were in this story, I admired the plot structure Leigh created. Just because this is labeled a “clean read” doesn’t mean she watered down fight scenes, the savage word-play between characters, or life in medieval times. She didn’t use curse words or sex scenes. Leigh gave her readers credit for having an imagination. I wish more writers thought like that.

In fact, if anything, this story made me want to research more about medieval times. I look forward to reading “Lady of Eve: Book Two,” a rewrite or “Virgin Bride.” She added standalone novels 3-6 below. These works are located under “Clean Read Medieval Romance” novels:   

  1. Warrior Bride (1994) now Lady At Arms: Book One 
  2. Virgin Bride (1994) now Lady of Eve: Book Two
  3. Pagan Bride (1995) now Lady of Fire, standalone
  4. Saxon Bride (1995) now Lady of Conquest, standalone
  5. Lady Undaunted, standalone
  6. Lady Betrayed, standalone

I should include here the full list of Leigh’s books. I followed her on Facebook after reading all the “Southern Discomfort” novels and the “A Head Over Heels” single title collection. I learned she writes her novels in longhand first before typing them, which I love. And she usually writes at a favorite coffee place. She has the cutest dog named for “Maizy Grace,” a character in her book, “Faking Grace.” I hope you will consider reading one of her novels, and when you do, drop me a line to tell me your thoughts.


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