by Sara Bennett

March 2002
ISBN: 0-06-000269-7
Reviewer Graphic Button Avon Books
Mass Market Paperback

Oh good a new voice with Avon. Sara Bennett comes praised as a voice strong enough to equal Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and her fellow Aussie Stephanie Laurens. She might be a debut writer with Avon, but Harlequin Historical devotees will recognize in her Deborah Miles. So it is no surprise to have her voice so assured but it is definitely a pleasure to behold. Here is a writer that worked to constantly improve her craft, a writer that now has found her way into writing single titles, a writer that readers will adore.

The Lily And The Sword is set during a time of upheaval in English history. Some years after William the Conqueror and his Norman army succeeded in invading England there are still nobles unwilling to bend to his law. Lily's Norman husband is one that just recently died in an ill-fated attempt of rebellion, leaving her behind to face King Williamsí mightiest warrior, Radulf, the king's sword! Radulf is a battle scared man, weary of women and love, believing Lily to have been the driving force behind the rebellion. Finding Lily in an abandon church he takes her in custody and falls under her spell, ignoring his doubts about her given identity. In Lily, Sara Bennett created a strong heroine who doesn't whine about her misfortunes, but sadly seems to repeat her mistakes. She is dangerously attracted to her enemy, but previous experiences with a cruel husband and a jealous admirer has her weary. Caught up in an all consuming desire for Lily, Radulf, upon discovering her real identity, asks for her hand to protect her from the king's wrath, never really trusting her and always annoyingly seeking to catch her in another betrayal, another lie.

Surprising to me were the story's early love scenes. Not that I'm complaining, quite the opposite. It is a nice change for characters to act upon their attraction without any hesitation. The issue of it thankfully not talked to death and/or problemized. Powerful, mesmerizing, passionate are a few key words that are needed to describe Sara Bennett's style. A style that is very lush and very intense, giving the story a dark and sensual feel to it. Very much like being draped in a heavy, dark-red velvet curtain. She does fit the Avon Publishing House perfectly, but the darker undertones and the often clearly more realistic approach will have her stand apart as a talent worth watching, reading and following. Let's just hope that the editors at Avon know what a treasure of a writer they have unleashed upon the highly critical and demanding romance community.

My one small complain would be the pale characterization of the secondary characters. They only seem to have little space allocated to them and then to disappear without a trace. Still, one character stood out and the question to be asked is, will we see Lord Henry's story soon? Problemized as a dashing figure not always likeable but powerful, he might only have made a short appearance but definitely a lasting one, leaving me in hope for his own story, his own book.

I did sorely enjoy The Lily And The Sword, especially the comfortable and old fashioned feel to it. Not dated at all but familiar. So if your are waiting for K. E. Woodiwiss and Stephanie Lauren's newest you could do far worse than shortening the period by indulging in Sara Bennett's debut novel!

Reviewed in March 2002 by Kris Alice.

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