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Holland, Cecelia. The angel and the sword.

Tor, Forge. 304p. c2000, 0-312-86889-8. $14.95. SA*

This retelling of the French legend of Roderick the Beardless has many features of a successful YA novel or a classic fantasy tale. The story begins ominously, with the death of the queen, the horrible threats of the king, and the escape of their only child, Princess Ragny. This young woman is an accomplished hunter, and so her transformation into a young man riding through dangerous territory to seek refuge with the Holy Roman Emperor in Paris is believable. (No pampered princess here.) She is accompanied by her father's aide, Seffrid, who risks his own life by helping the princess escape, an act of betrayal. What follows is constant battle action, as "Roderick" and Seffrid attack bandits threatening some monks on their way to Paris. These two monks and the knight, Leovild, are also central characters in this legend. They only know Ragny as Roderick, a young man who possesses extraordinary courage and strength in battle. One monk John soon discovers that she is a woman, but he keeps silent. The other monk is the villain, who is jealous of Ragny's charisma and success and plots her downfall.

Most of the plot centers around the defense of Paris, then located on the main island in the Seine where Notre Dame cathedral was later built. King Charles is under siege by Vikings and his future and that of Paris is uncertain, almost surely doomed. Roderick devises brilliant defenses and after several decisive battles (well described by Holland), the king makes a bargain with the Vikings and Paris is saved. Roderick is offered the hand of the daughter of King Charles as a reward, and the two "marry" even while Roderick is pining away with love for the knight Leovild. Accusations of witchcraft, the revelation that Roderick is a woman, and the hope of true marriage between Ragny and Leovild provide the dramatic final scenes.

Ragny-Roderick is the crucial character here, of course, and her confusion over her identity, her quest for safety and meaningful love, and her courage as she faces her many enemies will resonate with most every reader. Holland is brilliant at historical fiction, and this one combines the power of legend in its appeal. Claire Rosser, KLIATT
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Rosser, Claire
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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