Joanna and her father, Solomon have been working as alchemists to Bishop Thomas for several years. Now, the bishop has imprisoned Solomon until Joanna can produce an elixir for eternal life and must change regular metal into gold. Most think Joanna is the bishop’s leman and she has been taken to his bed but not by her choice, not that it matters!
Imprisoned with Solomon are two other men. One was brought in with some thieves but as he was garbed in fine clothes the bishop figures he can hold him for some sort of ransom, if the fellow could ever remember anything. The other is a Templar knight. The bishop is positive that he has hidden some holy relics and he’s not letting the knight go until he has them.
The Templar knight, David Manhill has a younger brother, Hugh. Hugh is furious that the Templar order had not fought to get David released, though he’s resigned that their father did not make the effort even though he lives nearby. Determined to obtain his brother’s release, Hugh offers the bishop a large amount of gold, only to be turned down.
This does not detour Hugh and he seeks an opportunity to find a way for David’s release. He thinks he has found it when he comes across Joanna saving a young boy from drowning. Surely the bishop will trade David for his leman!
As Hugh learns Joanna’s story, she becomes more than his captive. Joanna is initially scared of this big warrior but enjoys the safe feeling she has when she’s around him. Can they figure out how to get their family released from Bishop Thomas’s prison or will the task prove too hard? What about the attraction they are finding for each other?
This interesting and complex historical is set during the reign of King John and after one of the crusades. Many historical facts are intertwined throughout the story giving you a history lesson that doesn’t feel like one. It is immediately obvious that Ms Townsend has done her research and has done it well. Better still, instead of sharing dry facts, her storytelling abilities give the facts a fresh feel and life.
Some of the facts that are important to the story are social factors. Jews were not seen in a favorable light. They were not wanted in towns and many were forced to convert. The fact that Joanna is from a Jewish family puts an interesting twist to what could have been a conventional love story. The life of a landless knight was also incorporated well into the story. Hugh is one of these knights and that was a world that Joanna had never experienced. She learned quickly that it isn’t for the faint hearted!
The characters were different. Besides Joanna being of a Jewish background, she had a skill in a little known realm. She also could read which was not a common ability. Hugh wasn’t the typical son of a peer. He was making his own way without his father’s backing or support. In fact, his father didn’t care about Hugh. The secondary characters were equally well defined and their backgrounds and personalities as unique and interesting as the primary characters.
Though I was expecting some paranormal twist due to a blurb on the cover, “He has the magic to win her heart…”, it was missing. Okay, it wasn’t paranormal magic but the magic of love. I didn’t miss it but with all the paranormal romances out there, that did mislead me.
I found myself being drawn into this story and wondering frequently where it was going. Yet, I never got bored with it and found myself wondering about several of the characters. I’m still wondering about a few and would truly love to see more of them! There were so many unique aspects that I believe Ms Townsend has raised the bar for this era for many of her fellow authors. I truly love a well written, well researched romance that lets me visualize what’s happening as I actually learn something. Great job!