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A variant reading of the Dixie Chicks’ “Hey Earl”—save that we’re in the medieval Welsh marches, not a trailer park, and the victim is of less noble rank.

Young Elise experiences visions that “came unbidden, mostly eluding interpretation” and “often featured absolute strangers,” which makes her husband, nasty old Maelgwyn, sorely wroth. He expresses his displeasure by beating her, which is a very bad idea: debut novelist Guill shows us straightaway that Elise is a survivor who knows her way around weapons. Maelgwyn thus finds his way to the bottom of a Welsh river, while Elise and her servant skedaddle. As befits good Celts, the two women are tough but tender and ever so resourceful; they survive a stalker, narrowly escape visiting the bottom of a river themselves, and live through assorted other torments, only to go into the boutique business—for, as Elise says, “My servant can’t speak, but she’s a wonder at diminishing pains of the head, at chasing wrinkles and women’s monthly complaints, and easing a hundred other ills,” while Elise herself is a whiz at whipping up wart creams, perfumes, and assorted home remedies. Alas, our heroine’s heart is wounded still. But it’s nothing another resourceful Celt, the dispossessed nobleman Gwydion, can’t cure: “I want you to need me, madwoman, as much as I need you,” he murmurs, and urgent kisses and bodices go a-flying. Guill’s confection is pleasant and mostly believable, even if her medieval women have unusually modern concerns and her characters are wont to break out into speech befitting Long John Silver (“But mayhap you yammer like a jaybird when you scrape jowls with fancier folk than me”); and as it progresses, the romance takes on some nice complications, for Maelgwyn is dead but not forgotten, and there’s lots of maiming, hacking, and other pastimes of the day to keep the narrative hopping.

A middling entertainment, with some nice passages to scare pacifists and arachnophobes.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-6479-7
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005