THE LION AND THE LEOPARD by Mary Ellen Johnson


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Johnson's first novel has all the earmarks of genre historical romance: a Medieval English setting and a lady fair torn between two lords, whose passions and peregrinations involve her in just enough of the gist of early 14th-century English history--in this case, the abdication of King Edward II--to keep things marginally interesting. . .except that the facile characters and unexciting prose may send a reader packing it in first. When the story begins, Maria D'Arderne is but a blushing maid who impractically loves cuddly bunnies more than her vitriolic mother's falcons; when she lets the nasty falcons out of their mew, mama dishes out punishment in the form of a marriage contract with a toothless, lecherous widower. Fortunately, just in time Maria meets a knight. Phillip Rendell (vassal of King Edward's bastard brother Richard). He and Maria run away together, and marry, protected and dowered by Richard; but no sooner do they settle down than Phillip--an old crusader--gets the wanderlust again, leaving his wife and liege lord to try to resist the temptation they present one another. For a time Richard avoids Maria while busying himself trying to keep the King from squandering the exchequer, alienating his vassals, and displaying his homosexual preferences too blatantly--all to no avail. The ""marcher lords"" under Thomas Lancaster and then Roger Mortimer rise up, finally capturing and killing both the former King and Richard. Phillip arrives back from the Holy Land, having been born again there, now ready to stand by his wife, only to find her seven months pregnant with Richard's child (they couldn't resist). But after Maria does public penance at Canterbury for her adultery, phillip takes her back to pass their twilight years together farming quietly in the south of England. The author goes astray, above all, in failing to create a vivid, sympathetic character in Mafia (instead, she's whiney and ever-jealous), and the narrative jumps disconcertingly from one character's point of view to the next, leaving central questions of motivation--for instance, which man Maria truly loves--far behind. The result? An all too forgettable, anemic historical, somehow slight despite the tumultuous years of English history it covers.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Crown