Robyn Stafford knew flying unannounced to the English Cotswolds from Hollywood to surprise her British lover on his birthday was the kind of move that would either cement or destroy their relationship – she just didn’t realise there was only one way it could go. Well, at least not until she realised the impossibly beautiful woman who answered the door of Greystone, Collin’s ancestral home, was his wife, and the mother of their three children.
The saving grace of an otherwise humiliating and heart-breaking act was meeting Collin’s sister, Jo. Lovely, gracious, warm and welcoming, Jo and her daughter Joy took her in to their far less grand home. Hiking along the Anglo-Welsh boarder the following day, Robyn crossed paths with a handsome youth astride a truly magnificent mount. Dressed, authentically as far as her untrained eye could tell, in a knight’s armour, Edward Plantagenet believes it to be 1459 and mistakes her pant-clad self for a lad. Certain that the poor, but assured and attractive, boy is deluded, Robyn is stunned when his pursuers emerge – three armoured men ready to do battle. When Edward first puts himself between them and Robyn, and then dispatches two or the men leaving the third to flee, Robyn is less certain that Edward is touched. He gives her the white rose from his cap, and leaves.
Returning to Jo, Robyn discovers her hostess is a witch and member in good standing of the local coven. As, it turns out, is Collin’s wife Bryn. The women agree to meet and try to help Robyn work out what happened. With an anchor to each world – her mobile phone and the rose Edward gave her – in each hand, the coven begin to cast their spell. Had Robyn turned off her phone the spell may have had a very different ending – as it rang, Bryn said tartly, “That will be for me,” and snatched the phone from Robyn’s hand. And, unanchored, Robyn was sent back to the Middle Ages.
Robyn is surprised to find versions of the family she left behind in the mid-1450’s – now Sir Collingwood Grey, her Collin is apparently unattached but has no knowledge of her. She meets him, though, after being thrown into a cell for witches, where she discovers nine-year-old Joy, daughter in this world as well as hers of Jo. Joy tells Robyn that witches are immortal – their bodies may die, and they have no memories of their old lives next time around, but they are guaranteed to be reborn, apparently in the same physical form and with the same familial ties.
As Robyn tries to return to her own time she also seeks Edward, whose youth decreasingly seems an obstacle. Fleeing one countryside setting for another, Robyn and her hosts are pursued by the forces of their political foes, and after Greystone is attacked and set afire in the middle of the night Collin and Robyn and separated from Jo and Joy. They head for a secret friend of Collin’s, over the boarder to Wales – to a woman Robyn has met before, or hence. Once again, Collin is wed to Bryn, though this time secretly.
There were many things I liked about Knight Errant – Robyn is not only navigating the differences between her modern sensibilities and life five hundred years earlier but also the contrast between American and British traditions. The political turbulence of her new here and now (a phrase used with irritating frequency) makes it an interesting, in the Chinese sense, time to live, and Robyn finds herself and her allies on the under dog’s side. Robertson described the deprivations of the time vividly, and overcomes difficulties in the evolution of language by including an understanding of fifteenth century Saxon, French, Latin and Welsh in the spell.
But after an engrossing and interesting first third I found myself less and less engaged with the characters and the text. I’ve tried to work out why this is, and have not yet had success. There were certainly a couple of details that jarred, like Jo’s coin-operated shower taking shillings in decimalised England, and Robyn’s electronic journal retaining battery power a month after her last charge. These were so few and niggly, though, that I suspect I’d barely have noticed had I been more involved in the narrative.
I read about two thirds of my way into Knight Errant, long enough for Robyn to be reunited with Edward but not yet able to see how the tale ends. There are, of course, only two ways it could go – either Robyn returns to the twenty-first century (where she may leave Edward behind, somehow bring him with her, or he’s unexpectedly a witch and she meets up with his modern day incarnation), or she stays in the past, dead or alone or with Edward. I’m sorry I so completely lost interest that I care not at all which of these it is, because I did really enjoy the first third of Knight Errant very much, and may try Robertson’s other works, but not before a breather. – Alex