Victoria Alexander
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Buy *Believe* by Victoria Alexander online

Victoria Alexander
384 pages
November 2009
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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I thought Victoria Alexander was a writer of Regency-era romances, but it turns out that Believe doesn't fit into that genre - it's a time-travel romance instead. I gather it's a reissue of a book published a while ago, but that doesn't particularly show; the prose feels fresh and up-to-date.

The story starts in the modern day with Tessa St. James, who works as a lecturer at a University, commenting that she finds the Middle Ages uninteresting and doesn't believe in the story of King Arthur and the Round Table, Merlin and the rest of it. When an unfamiliar man appears in her lecture, she has no idea that he is actually the wizard Merlin. Strange things start to happen to her, culminating in her being sent back in time to the Middle Ages to go on a quest with Sir Galahad. Being a traditional Middle Ages knight, he doesn't want a woman along on the journey but finds Tessa intriguing, not least because of her strange clothing and speech. But Tessa and Galahad are partly at the mercy of Merlin and his wife, and Galahad's honor may mean that they have no future together.

In some ways I enjoyed this book. The medieval setting is interesting if not particularly closely described. The action moves fairly swiftly, and the Grail hunt, which could have been long and drawn out, is swiftly concluded. However, I spent most of the book irritated with Tessa and the way she spoke - it felt completely unnatural. I've done a lot of travelling throughout Europe, and whenever I meet Americans on holiday in non-English-speaking countries, they adjust the way they speak to aid comprehension, as do I as a Brit. Tessa seems to litter every sentence with modern-day idioms and other phrases that a man from the Middle Ages wouldn't understand - and in fact a contemporary Brit wouldn't necessarily, if they hadn't been exposed to lots of American TV. This is all so unlikely and unreal, hugely detracting from the story and also making me rather dislike Tessa, who seems to revel in her cultural imperialism through language. Having myself read some medieval literature, I was slightly surprised she could understand what everyone else was saying anyway.

There is, of course, a love story in this book. The basis of the romance - that both are strong characters - does seem to work. The rather predictable ending doesn't. Believe is one of those books that it's hard to be sure of - in some ways I liked it, but it certainly isn't going on my keeper shelf. And I hope the author never has to travel to a foreign country, as she may never be understood.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Helen Hancox, 2010

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