This book really had me hooked for the first 2/3rds - we're talking 5 star material - and then the author messed it up.
It's 1069 and Lady Alysaun Meau is about to be bartered off to nice and dull Kyrre Magnusson. This future is wiped off the map when the Normans swoop down and seize her father's manor, imprisoning him. Alysaun doesn't stick around, fleeing with a family retainer and living a precarious hand-to-mouth life on the road. A chance encounter with a traveling troubadour, Brand de Raynaud, puts her on a safer-of-sorts path, though William the Bastard's England is a far cry from a safe haven if you're Saxon. Alysaun has to deal with rampaging Normans again, and her love for Brand keeps her spine stiff and her pride unflagging. Brand, meanwhile, finds himself becoming quite taken with the feisty Saxon maid and has no end of his own troubles, as he is the object of a lust-fueled revenge plot by an old family friend of Alysaun's.
This part of the story had me clambering for more. I loved Zide's language and the way she evoked that distant medieval world, with just enough detail to make the scenes very realistic and clear, but not inundating the reader with her research. Alysaun was a very admirable character, and the one scene between her and the Norman Sanson de Bourney (who seizes her second home) was packed full of zingers, medieval-style, that had me grinning from ear to ear. It was beautiful, brilliant and witty. The romance between Alysaun and Brand was enduring and their relationship affectionate and not bi-polar like what can happen in some books. The story wasn't about them alone, but the effect the Norman invasion had on various people. The prose wasn't modern, but had that semi-formal style one would expect from the era. Lots of stuff happened and unfolded in a way that kept the time period in place. It was a bit of a time machine.
The certain defeat of any rebellion leads Brand and Alysaun to relocate to Constantinople, where Brand serves in the Byzantine emperor's Verangian Guard. And here is where the story declined. The third act was utterly botched, and "typical" romance plots/cliches intruded, jarring considerably with what had come before. As with The Black Swan's interlude on the voodoo island, it just didn't fit. Not to give much away, but I'll just let drop the word "amnesia." Brand's character had always been a bit on the thin side compared to Alysaun, and even if amnesia is a bit overused, at least it might have given Brand some depth. However, Zide just leaps ahead two years and throws our hero and heroine together with Brand acting so unlike himself and Alysaun bizarrely unbothered by torment that she's now the harem slave of the man she was married to in another life. In fact, both of them were two totally different characters, and only one of them had the amnesia excuse.
Did I spill too much? Well, it doesn't matter, because the whole third act is a mess and left me disappointed and baffled that a wonderful book could turn such a sharp corner into slapdash WTFery. There were so many gaping holes and flapping wires that begged to be connected that, by the end, I had to force myself to finish it.
There are some positive elements that might be of interest. Brand is an alpha hero without being abusive (pre-amnesia), and he does do some groveling at the end. If that is your ideal hero, it might be worth your while to read it, and the England portion of the book would be a bonus. 3 1/2 stars.