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The Angel and the Sword    by Cecelia Holland order for
Angel and the Sword
by Cecelia Holland
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2000 (2000)
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Cecelia Holland has returned in this novel to that chaotic period, between the fall of Rome and the rise of modern nations, in which she set her earliest and most powerful works. The Angel and the Sword is based on a legend of medieval Europe, the story of a young knight called Roderick the Beardless. He is handsome, fearless and devout, but hides an extraordinary secret. Roderick is in fact the persona adopted by a maiden princess named Ragny, the only daughter of the last true Queen of Spain.

The Queen of Spain unwisely married her war chief, Ragny's father. On her death bed the queen calls on the powers of Heaven to help her daughter and protect her from her father, who in his mad ambition seeks to marry her and inherit her kingdom. Ragny flees into exile, assuming the disguise of a young warrior to enable her to escape. She is helped reluctantly by Seffrid, one of her father's aides.

Ragny rides rashly to the aid of a group of travellers, who were attacked by bandits. She is helped by one of the powers of Heaven and drives off the attackers. The travellers are led by a knight, Leovild, and include two priests - all three to have great influence on Ragny's life, for good and for evil. She and Seffrid join the party as it continues on the journey to Paris, where the Emperor Charlemagne's irresolute grandson Charles the Bald is trying desperately to save the city and his kingdom from the Viking hordes attacking it.

The increasing conflict between the deadly young warrior Roderick, good comrade to Leovild, and the maiden Ragne, who kills reluctantly and is in love with Leovild, is well handled, as are the complexities of light and shadow in the subsidiary characters such as Seffrid and Charles. This book does not have the raw elemental force of the author's early works Firedrake or Rakossy, but it tells an exciting story extremely well.

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