Hearts of Fire is a more satisfying sequel to the first installment of Anita Mills‘ medieval romance series, Lady of Fire, than its second outing, Fire and Steel was. Fire and Steel saw Catherine de Brione, the beloved daughter of Lady of Fire‘s Roger and Eleonor, find love with Guy of Rivaux. Guy was the pure-hearted bastard son of the demonic Robert of Bellesme. Bellesme was the unforgettable charismatic villain of the first two books who had an obsessive but somehow noble love for Eleonor. Bellesme stole the show in those novels, so magnetic was his character.
In Hearts of Fire, the male protagonist is Richard of Rivaux, grandson of Robert Bellesme and his beloved Eleonor. Richard is a fascinating and complicated hero. He has his grandfather’s darkness but is not consumed totally by evil. He kills for his woman, yet he’s a tender lover. In another book Richard could have been a villain. In this story he’s the hero and a wonderful one at that.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills”
Books like Jo Ann Ferguson’s An Offer of Marriage suffer from being published during a time of change. When Kensington’s Zebra historical romances died, they didn’t go quickly (actually, Zebras are still around, but they’re not the same as they used to be in the 1980s and 1990s). Before their Heartfire and Lovegram lines ended in the late 1990s, the iconic, colorful covers became dull mockeries of the past, with no lush illustrations, just cheaply photo-shopped images of flowers or castles. In many cases, the covers were nothing more than the title and author’s name.
Zebra dumped most of their best authors (some briefly moved on to Dorchester, which had their own problems) and churned out new lines like Zebra Ballad, Splendor, and Precious Gem Historicals, all of which folded quickly. An Offer of Marriage is a romance from his era.
I acknowledge that not all readers can tolerate a cruel, rapacious hero in their romance; that’s why I gave a rare warning for this book. It’s fair to compare So Speaks the Heart (which should be subtitled: Medieval Norman Psychopath Falls for French Co-DependentandFellow Anger Management Classmate) to another of Johanna Lindsey‘s works, A Pirate’s Love, which had a similar captor/captive trope.
However, So Speaks the Heart is IMO better than the latter because: 1) This heroine is not a spineless jellyfish, fights back, and is strong in her own way; and 2) The hero is more than just a good-looking rapist who eventually falls in love with the woman he’s been tormenting. Ok, he’s as deep as a crack in the sidewalk, and, yeah, he’s still a bully and a douche. But his background is fleshed out a lot more; therefore, we understand why he’s such an arsehole. So I can sort of forgive this hunk of a warrior for his caveman behavior.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: So Speaks the Heart by Johanna Lindsey”
A Five-Star Book, Albeit a Rating I Give Reluctantly
After deliberation, I decided to give Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri five stars, although I do so with some high degree of reluctance. The explanation why follows.
The Story: Part One
This Zebra Lovegram begins with the hero of the book, Freya Jorgenson, being born. Her father, Thorfast, is a warring Viking who wanted a son. He orders his man, Sven, to kill Freya. Sven, however, being a kind soul, chooses not to and, with the help of a captured English slave, raises Freya as his daughter.
Earlier, Sven did a similar thing. Years earlier, when Thorfast and his men went a-Viking–i.e., murdering, pillaging, and raping–they sacked an English village, killing all the males and raping the females. One of the women, Wilone, wife of the head of the earldom whom Thorfast killed, offered herself as a sexual slave to Thorfast in exchange for sparing her life and the life of her unborn child. Thorfast raped Wilone and ordered Sven to kill her and her child, which he did not do.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri”
The first book in Roberta Gellis’s Medieval Song trilogy, Siren Song, takes us to 13th century England.
Lady Elizabeth is not a beauty, but she is intelligent, capable, and now heiress to vast lands, with her brothers and father recently deceased. Elizabeth is married to Mauger, a cruel, murderous lord who wishes for nothing more than to aggrandize himself by whatever means necessary. Mauger has the looks of an angel yet the disposition of a demon. There is no deed too vile for him, as he eagerly breaks every Commandment. It is no mere coincidence that Elizabeth’s brothers conveniently died, leaving her, and thus Mauger, quite wealthy.
Years ago, Elizabeth had been in love with Sir William of Marlowe, and he with her. But parental manipulations led to them being forced to wed others. Now, William is a widower with a daughter of soon-to-be marriageable age.
“I had a long row to hoe before I could plunge my spade into Mellusine’s earth and plant a seed there.”
FIRES OF WINTER
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Told through alternating first-person perspectives, Roberta Gellis’s Fires of Winter starts with a bang.
In the first chapter, we experience young hero Bruno of Jernaeve’s life as his castle gets invaded. As an illegitimate child, he is overlooked and left uncared for. He and his sister must hide from the marauders. Later on, it switches to heroine Mellusine of Ulle’s more placid point of view as a child. Although I enjoyed the different perspectives, I found Bruno’s side more interesting than Mellusine’s.
As Bruno matures, he becomes a master in the arts of war. His success earns him Melusine, as a “spoil of war,” for Bruno to wed. Despite their differences, Mellusine and Bruno forge a strong relationship built on sexual attraction, companionship, and trust.
I’ve read Mary Jo Putney’s Uncommon Vows several times and have always loved this passionate medieval story about obsessive love.
Lord Adrian was set for a life of priesthood when a family death changes his destiny. Lady Meriel seemed fated for a life in a nunnery. But twists and turns made it, so neither of these things came to pass. Instead, Adrian becomes the Earl of Shropshire and Meriel renounces her calling to live under the protection of her brother, a knight.
One day Adrian comes upon Meriel in a field and believes her to be a commoner. Adrian becomes so fixated with Meriel’s stunning beauty. He takes her captive. Meriel, who is half-Welsh, deeply values her freedom and cannot understand how Adrian supposedly loves her if he keeps her prisoner.
Lovespell is yet another great romance by the eclectic Deana James, who wrote wonderful, complex novels like Captive Angel.
Gillian is an English fletcher who poses as twins, the male Gil & female Gillian. A Norman knight named Brian is badly beaten and his armor has been stolen by an errant squire. He is rescued by Gil who cares for him and helps him heal. Brian is a man often too proud for his own good. His honor demands he must pay recompense to Gil for saving his life so he helps him/her make arrows. To satisfy his life debt, Brian must help Gillian bring the arrows to arm the English, the enemies of his people.
In due time Brian figures out Gil’s true identity. He falls for her, as she does for him. This is just the beginning of their love story.
There are many misadventures along the way, as a cast of multi-faceted secondary characters soon takes the stage, adding more drama, romance, and tragic elements to this story. The man who stole Brian’s knight returns, and he’s not quite the evil character Brian first thought he was.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Lovespell by Deana James”
Anita Mills’ Lady of Fire is one of my most beloved historical romance novels. I fully admit that it has its flaws, especially toward the end; even so, I adore it.
Lady of Fire takes place in Normandy, not long after William the Bastard has conquered England. Eleonor of Nantes is a renowned beauty, hungered by many, and bartered as a political pawn. William’s son Henry desires her as his wife, but it’s the man she believes to be her half-brother, Roger Fitz Hugh, for whom she’s destined.
Roger knows Eleonor is not his sister and has always loved her. Eleonor doesn’t know, yet she desires Roger. This fact may be off-putting to some. But, knowing from the outset that they’re not siblings, it was easy for me to overlook this semi-incest.
Forced into marriage to the English nobleman Stephen Montgomery, Scotswoman Brenna MacArran, the leader of her clan, vows to make his life miserable.
While Deveraux’s heroes in the Velvet Series had their bad moments, particularly Gavin, and to a lesser extent,Miles and Raine, in Highland Velvet, Stephen Montgomery was the stuff girlish dreams are made of.
Stephen was kind and loving to his sister-in-law, Judith, always taking her side whenever Gavin preferred his evil mistress. He stayed by her bedside during her painful miscarriage and supported her throughout.
When Stephen saw Bronwyn for the first time, he fell instantly in love with her. He worked his butt off to get the approval of the men in Bronwyn’s clan and had to fight that creepy Roger Chatworth for her hand in marriage, even though they were already betrothed. Heck, he even changed his last name so that her MacArran family name wouldn’t die out. And he was no wussy male, but a deadly soldier willing to work hard and rethink his value system when faced with contradictions.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Highland Velvet by Jude Deveraux”
Like in all Bertrice Small novels, the history in Enchantress Mine is richly detailed, the villains are just whacked-out, and there’s a lot of WTF situations that make you shake your head, blink and wonder, “What just happened?” But, I don’t know… I guess I just don’t enjoy some of Bertrice Small’s books as much as I do other bodice rippers.
A Too-Perfect Heroine
Enchantress Mine is set in the Middle Ages, during the height of the Byzantine Empire. The heroine, Mairin, is a foundling raised by adopted parents.
Oh, Mairin, how to describe her? The cover art is the best thing about her. I both hated and pitied the poor girl. So many horrific things happened to Mairin, but I didn’t care because she was SOOOO perfect, SOOOO beautiful, SOOOO resilient!
Mary Gillgannon’s Storm Maiden was a novel I was excited to pick up. The blurb told of an intriguing Viking historical romance with plenty of conflicts. Fiona, an Irish lord’s daughter, is dreading marriage to a man she hates. In her father’s dungeon is Dag Thorsson, an injured Viking captive. Fiona sneaks in to see him, cares for his wounds, and tries to seduce him so she’ll be ruined for marriage. But Dag is too wounded and delirious and can’t or won’t do the job.
Soon after, Vikings led by Dag’s brother, the chieftain of his people, come to Dag’s rescue. Despite his hindering injury to his sword arm, Dag takes Fiona as his captive.
This seemed to be a primal captor-captive relationship. Too often in Viking historical romance books, the hero speaks the heroine’s language because her people captured him as a youth! Here, they cannot understand one another but can communicate in other ways…
A medieval romance that takes medieval life seriously is usually one I enjoy, but Denise Domning’s Winter’s Heat fell a bit flat for me.
Rowena is forced into marriage with Lord Rannulf of Graistan. After a quick consummation, Rannulf leaves Rowena at his castle to deal with his surly servants, evil sister-in-law, Maeve, and his young son.
After more than 30% into the book, I realized that the hero was nowhere to be found, and I was ok with that. I enjoyed reading about Rowena’s attempts to turn Rannulf’s pigsty into a livable home.
Unfortunately once Rannulf re-enters the picture, the book doesn’t get better. Rannulf mistrusts his capable wife and only believes Maeve’s ridiculous lies. This book reminded me of the worst of the worst of Johanna Lindsey’s romances, with the hero and heroine bickering for no real reason, refusing to engage in basic communication, and making lots of love even though they hate each other.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Winter’s Heat by Denise Domning”
Beloved Captive…To be a knight, chivalrous in deed and courageous in battle, was all that Drue had ever wished for. Dubbed Sir Drue, she had sworn to serve her king and seek revenge against her enemy, Connaught. She had vowed to slay the treacherous knight, yet one look into the depths of his fire-blue eyes and she knew she could never kill him… Though she had captured him fairly on the field of battle, it was Drue who was completely in his power, and she shuddered to think what the proud Connaught would do when he discovered that the ‘lad’ who had defeated him was nothing more than a woman.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
To Touch the Sun is an older Harlequin Historical by Barbara Leigh. This is the unique tale about a woman in Medieval England who is raised alongside her brother as a boy and eventually becomes a knight. Not just any knight, but one of the most virtuous, valiant, and admired knights in the kingdom.
Tara’s Song by Barbara Ferry Johnson is yet another middling Viking romance that disappoints. Written in the late ’70s at the height of the bodice ripper era, you’d expect this Viking romance to rapacious and fun, but I found it rather ho-hum.
Having been betrayed by love in the past (the heroine is not a virgin, if it matters), the blonde, Irish beauty Tara enters into a convent. Despite what the book burb claims, Tara is actually not a novice, but a full-fledged nun who has taken all her religious vows. Yet for some mysterious reason some of her fellow nuns ensure that Tara studies the pagan Nordic runes. Obviously, the elder sisters knew their convent would be overtaken by a horde of ravenous Vikings and runic readings would come in handy for protection later on.
For a while–except for maybe Jude Deveraux–there was no other mass-market romance author in the 1980s to 1990s whose prolific writing achieved such commercial success than Johanna Lindsey. Lindsey reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list with Defy Not the Heart.
During this time period, Lindsey was at her peak, and in a span of 10 to 15 years put out book after book (with the best covers ever!), that, for but a few exceptions, were all fun reads or even rank among my most beloved romances.
For sure, they were not always the best written, often rambling on about unimportant characters and telling more than showing. Often, I wanted to strangle the heroines for their stubbornness and TSTL tendencies.
Even so, I loved her plots involving kidnapping and forced marriages. They featured overbearing, handsome men who would treat their heroines like crap one minute, and then made passionate love to them and would brush their hair as after play. I ate Lindsey’s books up like candy and have the emotional cavities to prove it!... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lindsey”
When Alanna sighted a blond giant of a man bathing in a nearby stream, the Irish maiden guessed he was one of those dangerous raiders she’d heard tales of. Though she should have fled, Alanna could not draw her eyes away from his bronzed muscles, long sun-gold hair, and piercing blue eyes. Before she knew it, the Norseman had captured her…. Outraged, Alanna planned her escape; yet when his rock-hard arms enveloped her and his demanding kisses set her pulse on fire, she marveled that a man from a frozen land could evoke such a rapturous heat in her own blood…
HE WAS A FEARLESS VIKING RAIDER
Intent on scouting the alien country for his Viking raiding party, Storr had no time for a furious Erse maiden! Yet, he could not let her sound an alert, so he took her captive. And what a choice beauty he’d gotten! Her lush curves, cocoa-colored eyes, and dark auburn-streaked hair made her a prize beyond compare, But it was the brave but gentle spirit in this fair rose of Erin that finally made the fierce warrior wish to brand her as his alone.
It was a bad sign that Bertrice Small’s The Innocent features one of her dullest covers ever. The lone positive was that it was designed as one last covers created by legendary artist Elaine Duillo, for her dear friend Bertrice.
Taking a break from Small’s usual romances where the heroine is captured by some salacious sultan and enslaved in his harem, The Innocent is a rather ho-hum medieval. The heroine is a former nun named Eleonore, who goes by the ridiculous name Elf. Elf is a paragon of virtue, saintliness, and sweetness and is totally dull. She is made to marry Ranulf, an equally boring character who patiently introduces Elf into the arts of love.
There’s an evil villain, a hired killer, who falls in love with Elf for her purity and goodness, but all I could wonder was WHY? She, like most Small heroines, is perfect beyond belief.
Ok, I lied when I said the reason behind the cover was the sole positive aspect of this book. The villainess, Isleen, is such a caricature of slutty evilness, she’s hysterical. She hates Elf and is her total opposite: a cruel, bitchy who-ore who will stop at nothing to have Elf killed.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Innocent by Bertrice Small”
Mark this down as one of those books where the hero first catches sight of the heroine bathing.
Ruy and Mirjana are from two different cultures: she is a princess from Al-Andalus, while Ruy is a knight for the kingdom of Castile y Leon. She will become his captive, but will he become the captive of her heart? For despite their great disparities, the pair quickly bond and engage in a forbidden romance.
No matter the obstacles that fall in their way, the betrayals, lies, and tragedies, they still love each other. Ruy’s and Mirjana’s relationship is intense & steadfast.
For that reason, let me get this right out of the way: the ending is not a conventional one. Even so, I was satisfied with the conclusion because there is no denying Ruy and Mirjana desperately love each other and will do their best to succeed.
Despite the unorthodox-yet-still-happily-ever-after ending there is no denying Ruy de Bivar’s and Mirjana’s deep and abiding affection for the other. You know they will make it through together until their deaths.
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.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
***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.”