The world was a colder, darker place then. It was an axe age, a wind age, a time when men didn’t dare give mercy, and a time when the powerful exacted what they could and the weak granted what they must.EDIN’S EMBRACE
***Spoiler alert ***
Wow… What an experience! Edin’s Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw is a Zebra Lovegram romance published way back in 1989. With a shimmering Pino Daeni cover featuring a muscled guy who looks a lot like Fabio, embracing a blonde on a Viking ship (spot the horse on the cover!) this could just have been another ho-hum romance.
But it’s not.
This is how the tale begins:
“The world was a colder, darker place then. It was an axe age, a wind age, a time when men didn’t dare give mercy, and a time when the powerful exacted what they could and the weak granted what they must.”
Ok, that definitely piqued my interest.
The ominous effect is spoiled a bit in the next paragraph with a glaring misspelling, thanks to the ever so diligent Zebra editors (who were so lackadaisical that even I could’ve easily found work there ;-). There are a lot of typos in this book, which is a shame, as such a good book deserved more cautious editing. For example, the word hardier is used instead of heartier.
Crenshaw diligently tries to portray the authenticity of the Viking era and sticks to lots of historical facts. This book also borrows heavily from the Icelandic sagas… Setting the stage for Vikings as pitiless warriors. The heroine is a lady, not the clichéd young girl trained by her father as a boy in the arts of war. I’ve never read a Viking book with such authenticity, making sure that it was noted which helmets were worn when, the importance of bathing, the treatment of slaves. Slaves are to have their hair shorn and they are to be killed if they try to escape. So when Thoryn has neither of these things done to Edin, it is a cause of strife amongst his peoples.
Despite its authentic, violent, stark Viking feel, I do have to admit that there were a few anachronisms. The mentions of potatoes and squash threw me out of the authenticity for a moment. When a Muslim trader mentions that Constantinople was founded in the year 300 AD (Anno Domino, In the Year of our Lord Jesus Christ), I wondered why he just didn’t say it was founded about 600 years ago, instead. And as I said, there were a few typos. These are minor gripes, and I fault the editor in this. Crenshaw did try her best to make this as accurate as possible.
While the genuine Viking atmosphere is a major plus here, the real draw is the love story. Edin is Thoryn’s thrall, but he in turn is enslaved by her. What I really appreciate is that there is no other woman for Thoryn (except for a brief encounter with a prostitute), no other great love of his. He is a primal force of a man and love is not part of his mentality.
“What is love?” is a phrase often queried here. Sometimes this book gets quite philosophical about the nature of man and woman and their bonds together. Women are a biological need for Thoryn, but before Edin came along, they offered little in terms of mental stimulation and affection. With her he becomes a better man and a better lover.
There is a scene where Thoryn approaches a Viking friend and asks him if women enjoy sex, and if they do, how can men go about pleasing them? Despite’s his friend’s poor advice, Thoryn learns how to please Edin and he she in turn pleases him. Their passion however soon turns into what could be a doomed love.
There’s a lot of introspection than action here, far more than I usually enjoy; somehow in Edin’s Embrace, it works. Edin and Thoryn are two very deep individuals whose lives and souls are drawn together.
One thing I wasn’t crazy about was Edin’s failure to accept her place in the violent Viking world. In the end, Edin convinces Thoryn to basically say, “Hey, let’s eff this Viking pillaging stuff, and move to Constantinople to become merchants.” That might seem a bit odd, as I have no qualms when a gunslinger hangs up his guns and becomes a rancher or a pirate stops raiding and becomes a plantation owner. But when one of the most hardcore Viking heroes I‘ve ever read about hangs up his sword, it made me a bit sad. I knew it would ensure for Edin the stability she required, but it made the ending less perfect for me.
As a reader of historicals, I have always been searching for that great Viking romance. I still rate Johanna Lindsey’s Fires of Winter a 5 star read because, for that 13-year-old girl who read it, that was a 5 star read. I’m not the kind of reader who looks back at books I enjoyed and say, “Well, I don’t like them now, so that erases the past.” However, 30 years later, I’ve changed as a person and a reader. I need something different. Something more hardcore. Edin’s Embrace comes close; it’s not perfect, nevertheless, I loved it.
This is the scene that won me over in this book, and made me realize I was not reading another tame, ho-hum Viking book:
There he held her. She felt the sword point keenly. She became aware of her ribs beneath it, how delicate the bones were how easily they could be pierced.
“I’m waiting thrall! What say you know?”
She whispered, “I-I am free, a nobleman’s daughter.”
Why was she doing this? He had no scruples against murder—he’d already murdered Cedric before her very eyes!
“You suffer from unnatural belief in your own immortality,” he answered softly… Quickly another sword appeared. She looked from Thoryn to the sword Rolf held out to her.
“Take it!” The jarl stepped back half a pace, removing his sword point from her breast, yet not removing it… She took the sword from Rolf with both hands. Even so, as soon as he released it, its point fell almost to the floor. She struggled to bring it up again, but couldn’t raise it even to the height of her waist…
“Lift it!” he said. He waved his own weapon as if it were a twig. “All it takes is a good arm.” She saw the sinews in his forearm, the muscles rippling. “It’s Rolf’s own sword, a good killing blade… If you aren’t my thrall you’ll lift it and defend your claim. I say you’re mine, my property to dispose of as I see fit. Prove to me I’m wrong!” She stood as she was, her arms and shoulders and back trembling in effort of keeping the heavy sword point from falling to the floor completely.
“Well?” He was like a dragon in his fury, rending and unreasonable. Those who resisted, he would always mercilessly overcome, if not with his muscles then with the tremendous strength of his mind and purpose.
“You know I can’t fight you.”
“Come,” the jarl said dryly, lowering his sword. “Take it; charge me with it. I know you can kill if you want to.”
“You killed Ragnarr.”
He made a sound of contempt. “You are a race of slaves, you Saxons.”
Her gaze dropped to somewhere near his feet. She wanted to cry, but somehow kept the sobs held in.
“I’m challenging you—fight me, my lady!”
“I can’t fight you, Viking, as well you know.”
“Aye,” he said slowly, lowering his weapon at last, “as well I know.”
Her gaze lifted again, all the way to his face. “But I will never be your slave,” she said stubbornly.
This time he reacted with immediate anger, the most parlous kind of anger, the kind born of frustration. The jerk of his head told her of his ire, and her breath froze at the cold flare of temper in his eyes. In an instant, he became fearsome, furious mad. His mighty sword swung again, and he closed in. There was an ice storm rampaging in his eyes. The flat of his sword lifted her chin, until she was looking at him down its long gilt and silver length. All he said now was, “Slave or sword point?”
The flames snapped in the fire pit behind her. The cold, steel point pricking her throat never moved the slightest. For an immeasurable extent of time she stood perfectly still, living in a state of strain. She searched for an answer. And impaled on his gaze, feeling all those wild and hungry eyes on her, something of her pride broke inside her. In the end she could only whisper: “Slave”
What a great Viking romance, a rarity for me!