(See this review with pictures here
O hai! Meet Ceidre. She is a witch, and in the next 420 pages, there are no end of people on hand to tell you so. It's Ceidre's misfortune to have a knack with herbal remedies and also a wandering eye, which twists the superstitious knickers of those around her. Her eye is conveniently referred to whenever she needs to be an object of distrust or have her self-esteem crushed. There is nothing about her finding it a bit hard to focus on things or losing her balance at odd times because the eyes aren't quite working together. I know of what I speak, because I haz one. So the poor eye was trotted out to get the same convenient beating over and over, and then shut away in the author's Closet of Forgetfulness the rest of the time.
And who's that? Why, it's Rolfe! Or The Relentless, as his latest winning streak of rampaging and pillaging has earned him quite the fearsome rep. He's a tall boy, golden and glowing, a wencher and rogerer. He'll take you front, back, and sideways from dusk to dawn and his Little Rolfe will still be raring to go. A very tumescent shaft has he, and you will practically know its topography by the time you're done with the book. I would even go so far as to say that it is a character in itself, since it propels events as much as anybody else does and the very thought of it can completely confuzzle Ceidre. It has authoritah. Respect it.
Meet Alice, Ceidre's half-sister and a "Witch!"-spewing harridan of invective. She's not a very nice person, and if you turn her sideways, she's about as thin as a piece of paper. Or, in fancy talk, "one-dimensional." She has about one note that she plays on a screechy little instrument called her voice. She hates the physical side of sex, until Rolfe gives it to her rough, and then she taps into her kinky side, wanting to let her mean freak flag fly. She can scratch skin with her kinky little claws, but barely the surface of my interest.
These were the three main characters, and there was far too much of them as they circled each other in close confines. By about page 100, we had reached the height of their development and it was a slow circling of the drain from there on out. Rolfe and Ceidre were especially frustrating, as a cycle of betrayal, imprisonment, hate sex, love sex, betrayal, etc. was repeated over and over. Rolfe grows a little bit in his attitude towards Ceidre, but he regresses in a contrivance so he can be the rampaging brute from page 1 before snapping back to Good Rolfe for the last clinch. And the last 160 pages contained so much sex that I got bored, since the first 260 pages was packed full of sexual thoughts. In fact, the three main characters think of little but sex for about 80% of the time. Repetitive? Oh, a tad.
I've heard this 1990 book was a throwback to the old bodice rippers, and is quite controversial. I thought it was a mess of Old Romance Meets New Romance. The first chapter ends with Rolfe nearly raping Ceidre, and Rolfe is a total Alpha male, so the Old Skool stuff is well-represented. But Rolfe has that weird post-Heroine-meeting Revulsion of Female Flesh that drives him to jealous insanity. He must have her! No other! He sleeps with a peasant and also his wife, but it's the thought of Ceidre's sweet, tender flesh and those feelings he holds but can't name (i.e., Love) that turn him into a cartoonish Hulk Smash. It's that obnoxious priestly blue balls syndrome post-heroine that drives me loony in the new romance, because some authors practically fetishize it.
Maybe it was the over-emphasis on the sex that annoyed me. Everything else, plot and logic, took a backseat. For example - and I won't go into detail to spoil it for anyone - Rolfe proves himself a total imbecile of a jailer twice (TWICE!) and yet William the Conqueror remands Ceidre back into Rolfe's custody because "all my prisons are full." Sure! There was no other lord with a keep that had a spare room anywhere else in the kingdom? But Rolfe and Ceidre have to get back onto the same real estate for the sexual drama to continue unabated. Seriously, enough was enough with the leaky lady parts and exploding fruit imagery and the mental piledriving and writhing. I started out liking the book, but by the end they weren't a Norman lord and a Saxon wench but a walking penis and vagina. Not two brain cells between them to rub together, but they did plenty of rubbing anyway.
Blah. The more I think about it, the more annoying it was.
(Oh, and for all you squeamish ladies who hate those old clinch covers, how about some unsubtle symbolic penetration for the reissue?)