Plagued by an evil dragon, the medieval villagers of Markesew annually send a virgin to Devil's Mount, the dragon's home, as a sacrifice to appease the beast. This year, Alizon, a plucky orphan, has been chosen as the next victim. However, she has always thought it to be a barbaric practice and will not go quietly. Through her own ingenuity, she manages to escape her fate and become mistress of Devil's Mount. Alizon spends the next twelve years secretly carving out a new life for herself and the other young maidens who have been sent to their doom. Although the girl's manage to live well, the dragon's continued presence and the inability of the villagers to believe that they could have survived, makes their castle home little more than a prison.
In the present day, George is a professional wrestler known to his fans as The Saint. After two young boys were injured while trying to imitate his signature move, he finds himself being fodder for every tabloid newspaper in the country. George truly feels terrible about the whole incident, so his sister, Athena, a New-Age guru, suggest that he try guided meditation as a way to conquer his internal demons and feel better. One minute George is staring into a purportedly ancient crystal, and the next he finds himself in a medieval barn with a young woman who says she summoned him to slay a dragon and save her daughter. Thinking the dragon is a metaphor for all his troubles, George decides to play along. When he arrives at Devil's Mount, he discovers a prickly woman, poorly disguised as a crone, who doesn't seem to want him there. He finally convinces Alizon to allow him three tries to kill the beast, but the more time he spends at the castle, the more he begins to believe this is all somehow real. His feelings for Alizon certainly are, but even if he can physically free her from the dragon, will he ever be able to free her heart from the prison of her own making?
George & the Virgin is a book that rather deftly crosses many of the sub-genres of romance. I suppose it is primarily a historical time travel with the hero going back in time to a medieval castle, but having a dragon terrorizing the nearby villagers also places the story squarely in the fantasy realm. The humor had me grinning like an idiot until my husband asked what was so funny, and that alone gives it a firm standing as a romantic comedy too. Additionally, it had a light paranormal element in the way in which the time travel took place, and tons of action and adventure as our intrepid hero sets out to slay the dragon. All of this made for a pretty fun read, but I still couldn't help feeling like there was something missing. Since I was enjoying most of the story, it took me a while to figure it out, but when I did, I sadly realized it was the romance itself that was rather lacking.
Alizon was a complicated young woman who was somewhat difficult for me to relate to. She begins the story as a fourteen year-old orphan girl who is trying to loose her virginity so she won't have to go to the annual virgin lottery and possibly be sent as a sacrifice to the dragon. She has reluctantly chosen an unkempt, callow youth who had been pursuing her, but he has no idea what he's doing. It was a pretty funny scene, but at the same time kind of sad because of her reasons for doing it. In the end she bravely goes to the lottery and eventually the dragon. Once we find out how she avoided falling prey to the dragon and had saved many other virgins lives over the years, she seemed even more courageous, but at the same time, she had been pretty selfish. Alizon is also way too stubborn and independent for her own good. In her mind, she laments her lot in life, how she is stuck in the castle with no conceivable means of escape, and seems to want someone to free her, but when George comes along to save her, she allows her fear to take over to the point that she literally tries to sabotage her own potential HEA. It was amusing that during Alizon's twelve years as the dragon's keeper she had become a pretty horny virgin, fantasizing about finally being deflowered the right way, but again, when George begins to show sexual interest in her, she wants to be in control of everything which only leads to further disappointment for her. I also felt that her lack of trust in George suppressed any intimacy between them. I really wanted to like Alizon and can't necessarily say that I disliked her. I did feel bad for all she had been through in her life and understood her actions on some level, but wish she would have lightened up a little sooner. Unfortunately, her quick turn around at the end wasn't entirely believable to me.
George ended up being a pleasant surprise for me. Not being a fan of professional wrestling, I wasn't sure if I would like him and thought he might end up being a cheesy character. I couldn't have been more wrong about him though. In spite of his profession, George was a real softie, much more of a beta hero than the chest-beating alpha I was expecting. He truly cares about people and has used the wealth he has earned to take care of his family. His opening scene where he is playing with his little niece was positively adorable. I liked how after traveling to the past George was able to manage cooking, cleaning, laundry and basically shocked Alizon with his ability and willingness to do "women's work." George was also a very intelligent man whose hobby was studying medieval history. He had a love of all things from that era, so much so that he had built his own castle in the present day. I thought it very clever of him that he was able to decipher middle English to communicate with the people when he went back in time, and it was refreshing that he wasn't fooled by Alizon's crone disguise and recognized it for what it was right away. I did start to wonder when he was going to figure out that he had really time traveled and was no longer just in a guided vision, but I have to admit that his use of Jungian psychology to self-analyze this crazy "dream" he was having could be pretty hilarious. George was an extremely patient and forgiving man when it came to Alizon's shortcomings, more so than I could have been, brave to go up against the dragon, especially once he realized it was real, and just a fun, all-around great guy.
For a large part of the book, I felt like there was something missing. As I mentioned earlier, I came to realize it was the actual romance, but more so than that it was a lack of sexual tension, relationship development, and emotion in general. I understood on an intellectual level why Alizon was so stubbornly independent and even a little prickly. I do think that her situation warranted sympathy, but in spite of that, I never really felt much for her even when she was telling George the whole sad story of how she came to be mistress of Devil's Mount. What passed for sexual tension felt more like mere lust. Alizon had been feeling the stirring of desire for quite a while, so it wasn't too surprising that she was very attracted to George's masculinity. However, at first she only wanted to use him to finally rid herself of her virginity. George for his part, knew that Alizon was much younger than she pretended to be, but he doesn't even get to see her face until over a third of the way into the book and even then he still thinks she's just part of his dream world. Granted he did several kind and thoughtful things for her and was brave enough to attempt to slay a dragon for her with few weapons to hand, but I just didn't feel a deep emotional connection between them like I would have preferred. Even when they finally consummated their relationship, I was disappointed, as the setting just wasn't very romantic to me. In fact, it seemed downright uncomfortable. Not to mention, there had been so much teasing and build-up to it that I was expecting something explosive, but it was all over in a matter of a couple of pages with minimal details.
I may have been dissatisfied with the romance element, but I do have to give Lisa Cach a few extra points for basing her story on the actual legends surrounding a real place, St. Michael's Mount, a tiny island off the southern coast of England which really is connected to the mainland by a causeway at low tide. The village to which it leads is also the village in the book. Additionally, Ms. Cach took the time to thrown in a bit of Middle English, much like an author would do if they were showing that a character speaks another language. In essence they did speak another language in the middle ages, so I thought that little touch added a bit of authenticity to the novel as well. Overall, George & the Virgin was a cute, playful, lighthearted concoction that was a fairly enjoyable read in spite of its weaknesses. The action, adventure and humor helped to make up for some of the other deficiencies. After reading two books by Lisa Cach, I'm starting to see that she is a little better at creating swashbuckling daring-do than tender romantic relationships, so she'll probably be an author to look to whenever I'm in the mood for a breezy escapade rather than my usual more serious-minded fare.
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