I've read nearly everything that Mary Jo Putney has written, and her work is always intelligently crafted. When you pick up an MJP, you're guaranteed a good story peopled with complex characters and highly imaginative plot development.
For some reason, though, I shied away from reading 'Uncommon Vows' for a long time. I suppose because it was a medieval and I've always been more partial to regencies. Boy, was I stupid! In MJP's hands, the period comes to life. Simply put, I was hooked from the first page and finished the book in a day.
The storyline in a nutshell- Lady Meriel, an ex convent novice and now chatelaine to her brother, chances to get lost in the royal forest and is apprehended on suspicion of poaching by Adrian, Earl of Shropshire. They had a brief encounter 5 years ago when Meriel was still at the convent, and Adrian has never forgotten her. He doesn't recognise the novice and lady as one and the same, but he is strongly drawn to Meriel and decides to order her taken back to his castle for further questioning. He knows he's being unreasonable, but he's helpless. Adrian is a powerfully drawn, complex character- originally a younger son, he was jolted from a monastic life at an abbey when he was 15 years old, when his family was slaughtered by Guy de Burgoigne. Needless to say, he has sworn vengeance. Guy is the story's evil presence and he's a nicely fleshed out character, too. Meriel is a fascinating character- she has a purity and joy for life, as well as a love of freedom and a strong intellect. She refuses to bow to Adrian, and needless to say, the sparks fly. Adrian vows to keep her imprisoned until she consents to be his, and Meriel refuses to bend to his will while he keeps her imprisoned. A real battle of wills ensues. But it's a realistic battle, not a hackneyed and slightly fluffy series of sniping encounters that are neatly wrapped up when the heroine succumbs to the hero's masculine allure (that plotline is so tired.) Nope, MJP handles things realistically and as a result this is a very emotional, captivating rollercoaster of a story.
Unlike many historical novels, MJP has a very light, deft touch when it comes to incorporating details of the period into the development of the story and its characters. You never feel bogged down with too much information; but, at the same time, she gives an incredibly vivid taste of medieval life and the everyday concerns and values of the time that have shaped the characters. She also has a really beautiful style of writing, very subtle and poetic in parts, but never too slow or precious. All in all, she's just about a perfect writer. Great pace, plot, characters, detail, and a highly sensual and intensely emotional love story.
I wouldn't agree with some reviewers who've said it's too dark or disturbing. It's intense, yes, absolutely! But it's not gratuitously dark or oppressive; the characters don't act like modern day people (thank god) and bearing in mind the medieval setting, it's not surprising that there is going to be more violence and less social niceties than you'd find in a regency. And, personally, I really do love an intense, slightly dark love story. Fun romps are great, sure, but the most memorable stories are usually more emotionally intense and a little darker.
Anyway, it's a great read, so don't be put off by other reviews. I have about 500 historical romances, and this is easily one of the best that I've ever read. Mary Jo Putney is quite possibly the best in the business.