It's hard to think what word to apply to Catherine Coulter's The Valcourt Heiress (Putnam, 2010). "Shallow" is about the closest that comes to mind, or possibly "superficial".
The Valcourt Heiress is a romance novel set in the thirteenth century that hovers uneasily between history and fantasy. Not only is there the predictable feisty heiress as the heroine and brave knight as hero, but also an actual witch and a black knight who bills himself as the Black Demon. The hero's castle is looted and dependents ravaged at the beginning by this Black Demon in what he (the Demon) calls the Retribution. This might have been a workable setup for some sort of fantasy; "the Retribution" sounds all dark and dangerous and significant, like it's about to turn into a mystical thriller with a plague of demons or something. But it's really just a petty villain being weirdly grandiose, like a two-bit evil overlord wannabe. This doesn't fit the realistic tone of the setting. It might work if the story were consciously set in an Arthurian fantasy world where people with colorful epithets show up in castles all the time, or in any well-written fantasy world with more of this kind of thing built in. But this guy is a bizarre outlier among an otherwise entirely mundane population, so the sudden shifts into fantasy-melodrama and high-flying language just don't work. And the witch seems to have parachuted in from some other story entirely. Coulter needs to decide what kind of story she's thinks she's writing.
As far as the standard romance stuff goes: the meet-cute setup is not remotely believable: a mysterious noblewoman shows up at a ruined castle and convinces the servants to pretend she is the dead priest's bastard so she can take charge of cleaning it up? Um, sure, that would work. This is after the hero has saved her life by rescuing her from being kidnapped. But she was dressed as a boy, so he doesn't recognize her when she turns up in his castle. This gives her a chance to punch a bad guy in the nose and otherwise prove her super-feistiness. The hero is, romantically, more passive than usual, but that's okay; did I mention that the heroine is extra-feisty? She's entirely up to doing all the seducing herself.
Some of the dialogue appears to have wandered in from a bad RenFaire script. There's lots of bawdy humor and off-color insults. I've never seen the word "cockhead" used so many times outside a p*rn novel. Or even in one. Is that supposed to be shocking or titillating or something? Is it even actual medieval slang? I can't summon enough interest to go look it up.
Coulter doesn't write badly, and she's obviously read up on life in a medieval castle, but, sorry, this novel just doesn't work. It's just...dumb. It's a fast read, but don't waste your time.
Shopping link, in case you want to ignore me and read it anyway: