Quinn de Sayerne was a faithful knight during the Crusades. He's only just come home to the family estate he's always loved, after learning of his father's death. Quinn never saw eye-to-eye with his father, and that was the main reason he left for the Holy Land and has been away for many years. Even though he finds Sayerne in a pitiable state with all of the villeins long gone, he's excited to finally have something to call his own and is prepared to rebuild it stone-by-stone with his bare hands if he has to. But then he is summoned to the estate of his liege lord and told he will not be vested with Sayerne unless he marries the headstrong beauty whose family owns a neighboring estate. Quinn had always thought to marry someone of his own choosing, but he can't deny the attractiveness of his soon-to-be bride. Desperately wanting to reclaim his family's lands and with no other options, he agrees to the union, but because of her stubbornness, he believes it will be a hellish one. However, as they begin to find some common ground, Quinn is surprised to discover that he's falling for his new wife. But can she ever give up her stubborn claim to her own estate to be his partner in truth?
Ever since Melissande de Annossy lost her parents, she has been the sole manager of her family's estate. Her liege lord has generously allowed her to remain in that position, but not anymore. Not only is she angry with him for demanding a marriage match, but she doesn't trust the man he's chosen. Quinn's father was her worst enemy and she has no desire to be shackled to the man's son. As Quinn begins to show some glimmers of trustworthiness, Melissande can't help but admit that he is attractive. But her heart still belongs with Annossy and not Sayerne. When she makes a rash decision to return to her own home, will Quinn ever be able to forgive her? And can Annossy continue to stand against the marauders who have long been attacking it without a champion to be its protector?
I've had My Lady's Champion on my TBR pile for a really long time, since I belonged to the Harlequin Historicals subscription service over two decades ago. I'm glad to finally be reading some of these books and getting them off the pile. This one started out great. The first two-thirds of the book was awesome and definitely on track to make it a keeper. The heroine was a little prickly, but I felt like I understood why and she seemed to be softening as the story went along. That being the case, I couldn't quite figure out why the book has such a low rating on GoodReads. Well, I found out when I hit the final third or so of the book, because that's when it all started to fall apart for me. From that point on, the story was nothing but a series of misunderstandings, miscommunications, TSTL moments, and sheer stubbornness on the part of both the hero and heroine, as well as a couple of secondary characters. So, while My Lady's Champion started off with a great deal of promise, it ended on a very frustrating note for me.
Melissande is a fiery beauty who has been administering her ancestral seat of Annossy ever since her parents died. She has worked hard to make the estate prosperous and she hopes that one day her liege lord will see fit to invest the seal of the estate upon her, even though she's a woman. That's why when he instead makes a demand that she immediately wed the recently returned son of her former mortal enemy, she's spitting mad. Melissande doesn't want to like the knight, thinking he'll be just like his cruel father, but she can't deny his attractiveness and as he shows her some unexpected consideration, she begins to soften toward him. But ultimately, she doesn't trust him, and runs back to Annossy to make sure her legacy is protected.
Initially I wondered if Melissande would be too much of a spitfire for my taste, as she has a very sharp tongue and isn't afraid to use it. However, I was surprised to find that I understood her independent spirit and how hard it would be for a woman in her position. She was hoping for full control of her family's estate only to have it yanked away from her and then be forced into marriage with a man she'd barely met. Consequently my opinion started to change somewhat as the story went along, especially as she seemed to be coming around to the idea of being married to Quinn. But then she completely lost my respect when she stole away in the middle of the night, after deciding that Quinn's estate of Sayerne was a lost cause and that she didn't want to be a part of helping him rebuild it. Not only was it a TSTL move for a lady to be traveling alone at night, but she cruelly left right after Quinn had opened himself up and made himself vulnerable by telling her about his time in the Crusades, a story he'd never shared with anyone else. I felt like Melissande had absolutely no trust in her husband at all, even though he'd been nothing but kind and patient with her up to that point. I couldn't help feeling like she was acting rather spoiled and entitled. And to make matters worse, she never apologized for her actions even after she and Quinn reunited. Then in yet another TSTL move, she ran off into the night again after a misunderstanding, leaving herself open to the machinations of the villain. I just never developed much respect for Melissande and what little I did was pretty much destroyed and never recovered after her actions late in the story.
In contrast, I was actually very invested in Quinn's character. He's a knight who'd just returned from the Crusades upon hearing that his father had passed. He and his father had never seen eye-to-eye, which is why Quinn left in the first place, but he's very excited to finally be coming home to his family's estate. Even though Sayerne is run down, Quinn is a dreamer and a fighter who is ready to rebuild it even if he has to do it stone-by-stone with his own hands. Unfortunately his liege lord doesn't see fit to invest him with the seal of what should be his inheritance, unless he marries Melissande. Wanting Sayerne badly and seeing no other option, he reluctantly agrees. After being the recipient of several of her tongue-lashings, Quinn thinks it's going to be a hellish marriage, but as the lady slowly begins to soften toward him, he has hope that it will be a real marriage that blossoms into a love match. That all changes when Melissande sneaks away in the middle of the night. At that point Quinn feels understandably betrayed and isn't inclined to go after her until he hears that Annossy has been attacked by marauders again. Then he goes to pledge his sword as her champion, but circumstances change when he learns information that makes him distrust her motives.
I really liked Quinn for most of the story. He has the patience of a saint in dealing with Melissande's fears and distrust. He's kind and considerate of her feelings, never forces himself into her bed, and even when she's being something of a shrew, he always takes the high road. He's also a brave and skilled knight who isn't afraid to defend what's his. Quinn would have had a place among my all-time favorite heroes if not for him getting a personality transplant during the last fifty pages or so. At that point, he and Melissande suddenly and inexplicably switch roles with him believing things about her that aren't true and refusing to let her explain her side of the story. He also did a runner in the middle of the night just like she did. At that point, I basically lost respect for both of them, because they were acting so childish.
I'm giving My Lady's Champion 3.5 stars, because I genuinely enjoyed the first two-thirds of the story. I just couldn't help feeling like the contrived misunderstandings got way out of control during the home stretch of the book when it really should have been gearing up for a tense, engaging climax that never really materialized. During that time, the characters' twisted way of thinking was tying my brain up in knots, and I got to the point where I wasn't really rooting for their HEA anymore. Even when they finally reconciled, it didn't leave me with great amounts of confidence that they were going to make it for the long haul. They'd simply spent far too much page time arguing, mistrusting, and believing things about each other that weren't true, as well as communicating very badly. I just couldn't see how they could be happy when they couldn't trust one another. I also felt like the villain's role should have been drawn into the story more to give it a greater sense of suspense. Instead, he doesn't show up until near the end, is dispatched pretty easily, and his confession of all his evil plans to the heroine as though he honesty things she's going to go along with it felt unnatural. If the author had come up with a more organic and engaging ending rather than one that was weak and artificial, My Lady's Champion would have been a great read. It's the first in her Sayerne series that was first published by Harlequin, although it appears that she's now reworking and reprinting many of her older medieval titles (possibly including these) into a new series called Rogues & Angels. It appears that the heroine of Enchanted, the next book in the original Sayerne trilogy is somehow related to Quinn, although I'm not entirely certain how as she didn't appear in this book. Since I have the other two books of this trilogy on my TBR pile, I'm sure I'll give Claire Delacroix another chance. I just hope that she finds a different way to build conflict and reader engagement in her other stories.
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