Ciaran Tamberlane is a fearless warrior with the Order of the Knights Templar fighting in the Third Crusade. After witnessing years of bloodshed including that of innocent women and children, he begins to question his faith and his mission. One day, when his conscience can take no more, he dares to take up arms against his fellow Brothers of the Order to save the life of a wounded Saracen woman and her baby. Afterward, he walks off the battlefield shedding all vestiges of war as he goes and refusing to fight any longer. His compassion gains him naught but disgrace, excommunication from the Order, and virtual isolation at a remote, insignificant holding in northern England.
Amaranth de Langois is a sweet angelic beauty who was orphaned at a young age and placed under her uncle's guardianship. The uncle, deeply indebted and eager to be rid of the responsibility as soon as possible, sells her in marriage to the first man who comes along. The husband turns out to be an ugly, lecherous man at least three times her age who severely abuses her until he dies. Amie's uncle, still in debt, sells her a second time to Odo de Langois, a younger and more handsome man, but one who unfortunately treats her no better than her first husband. After he rapes her on their wedding night, she becomes desperate. Knowing that she cannot bear another marriage like her first one, she beats him soundly over the head with a candlestick while he sleeps. She then escapes from his castle with the aid of a kind priest who had accompanied her there. They are caught in a rainstorm which causes Amie to develop a fever, so the good friar seeks refuge for her in a nearby peasant village.
Amie's brutal, bloodthirsty husband is not dead though, and he will stop at nothing to find, torture and kill her for her insolence. He has his mercenaries raze the village and murder all of it's inhabitants. As it happens the village is on Tamberlane land. Ciaran and some of his men are out hunting when they see smoke in the distance, and ride to the rescue. It appears that they are too late to save anyone, but manage to drive off the evil knights in spite of the fact that they are outnumbered. In the aftermath of the battle, Ciaran finds Amie, but she is barely alive. She begs him to end her misery, and even though he knows that her wound is probably fatal, something prevents him from granting her plea. Instead he takes her back to his castle where he places her in the hands of his seneschal, Marak, who is a gifted healer. Through Marak's kind and gentle ministrations, Amie eventually recovers, but Ciaran thinks that she is just a peasant girl and is perplexed as to why anyone would attack his village unprovoked. The truth comes to light very quickly when Odo lines up his men outside the front gate of Tamberlane's castle. Ciaran's compassion for Amie's plight and his strong sense of justice outweigh his legal obligation to return Amie to her husband. He instead pledges to protect her, and so begins an adventure in evading her nefarious husband while falling in love, that ends with a bit of royal intrigue.
This was the first time I had read a novel by Marsha Canham, and although there were, in my opinion, some weaknesses in the story, I was not entirely disappointed. The historical settings, including the brutality of medieval warfare, are described in rich detail, including the appearance of some real historical figures and the use of some medieval terms and dialog. I have a great appreciation for history, and it is clear that Ms. Canham did her research well. In fact, I came away from reading this book with a desire to learn more about certain aspects of the history described. However, for all the depth contained in the history, I felt that the characterizations were rather lacking. I would have liked to see a deeper exploration of the characters and what made them tick, as well as more back story. For instance, at the end of the prologue, we see Ciaran apparently being accosted by two Saracens after walking off the battlefield and fully expecting to be killed, but the author never clearly resolves who these men were or how Ciaran got out of this situation. Another aspect I would have liked to see more deeply explored was the lengthy and loyal friendship between Ciaran and Marak. We are not given much insight as to what sparked that friendship, or what made it so long lasting.
I think that perhaps the best drawn character in the book is Marak. I found him to be an intriguing and romantic character in spite of his physical flaw, indeed he was a joy to read, but sometimes it seemed like he nearly overshadowed Ciaran. I thought that Marak had more and better dialog with Amie than Ciaran did. Also, in general, the dialog seemed a bit unbalanced. In places, it was so beautiful in its raw intensity as to be poetic, and yet in other places, I felt the story and characters would have benefited from the use of more dialog. For example, the author gives us a look into both Ciaran and Amie's thoughts after they make love for the first time. Both seem to harbor some insecurities at this point, and I felt that their relationship could have been deepened considerably by a bit of dialog expressing their thoughts and feelings to each other. Another mild disappointment for me was that although Ciaran and Amie obviously develop a deep and abiding love for each other, it is never really expressed in words. I suppose to some extent the dialog deficiencies could be chalked up to Ciaran being a man of few words, but still I've read other introverted heroes who have more to say while still maintaining their brooding state. I was also disappointed that Ciaran and Amie basically had an affair while she was still bound in marriage. While I certainly didn't feel any sympathy for Odo after the way he had treated Amie, I just found myself wishing that the author had waited until Amie was free of any legal obligation in that regard. Lastly, I felt like the emotional problems that Ciaran and Amie both faced were resolved a little too easily. I have a personal preference of watching characters like these work through the issues and grow throughout the story. In my opinion, this type of interaction can really help to flesh out the characters. Also, while the early parts of the book were rather slow, the ending seemed a tad bit rushed. As I got down to the last few chapters, I started to wonder how the author was going to resolve the story in such a short space, but it did ultimately have a reasonably satisfying ending.
While it may seem that I have a lot of criticisms of this book, I still found My Forever Love to be an enjoyable and worthwhile read. I certainly did not come away feeling that I had wasted my time like I have on occasion with other books. Ciaran and Amie were both very likable characters. While Ciaran is not a particularly dark and brooding hero, he does harbor a lot of psychological pain (PTSD) from his time in the Crusades. Although some might disagree, I found the fact that Ciaran was not a lust-crazed hero and had maintained his celibacy for such a long time to be rather refreshing and irresistible, though I have to admit a little disappointment over the circumstances in which he gave it up. I had expected something completely different. I also loved his compassion and the fact that he chose to do the right thing even if it went against the laws of both man and church. (By the way, for anyone not familiar with Gaelic, his name is pronounced like our more modern day name, Kieran [KEE-uh-ran]). For all the suffering and abuse Amie endured, she still did not become bitter or loose her sweetness of spirit, and yet she was also a woman of strength and courage. A great balance that is difficult to strike in a heroine. I also appreciated the forthrightness of the hero and heroine. There were no lies, games or silly misunderstandings. Granted Amie initially tried to conceal her identity, but only briefly, and after that they were completely honest with each other. There was also a very romantic though minor plot point that I liked in which the relationship between a pair of secondary characters is revealed. The overall storyline was enjoyable and engrossing. Prior to reading this novel, I was not even familiar with Ms. Canham's name, but I liked the book well enough that I would be open to reading more titles by her in the future.
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