I don't read a lot of medievals. Just don't. I suspect it's because I've never been a huge fan of the time period. My interest in history pretty much starts with Henry VIII and goes forward from there. Yet whenever I pick up a medieval I usually find myself enjoying it. Such is the case with Michelle Willingham's latest Harlequin Historical, Her Warrior Slave. One of these days I'm going to get a clue.
Kieran O'Brannon wasn't cut out for life as a slave. He's too head strong, too stubborn, and keeps getting the crap kicked out of him by the slave traders. So Davin O'Falvey, the son of a chieftain, buys the man because he doesn't like to watch suffering. He brings him back to his village, and to the woman he's betrothed to, Iseult MacFergus.
Iseult is no blushing virgin. Two years ago she succumbed to passion and got pregnant. After the rat bastard unceremoniously leaves her at the altar, her heart is further ripped in two when her son is kidnapped. She is now set to wed Davin, who is hopelessly and mindlessly in love with her. She knows he'll make a good husband, even if he thinks she needs to "forget the past" and give up the search for her son, Aidan.
Kieran sold himself into slavery with the hopes of saving his brother's life, and failed in that mission. He doesn't care if he lives or dies, until he meets Iseult. She is beautiful, but there's also a sadness there that causes Kieran's protective instincts to kick up a notch. When Davin finds out that Kieran is an excellent wood carver, he orders Kieran to produce a likeness of Iseult, which means he'll have to spend time with her. With chemistry crackling between them, Kieran's slave status, and Iseult's desire to find her child, it all soon becomes very complicated.
I'll admit, I thought I would have a hard time overlooking the fact that Iseult is engaged. I do not like love triangle stories, and when there's another party involved? Yeah, that pretty much means the Other Guy or Other Woman has to be the raging asshole villain. Not so in this case. Davin, despite his unwillingness to help find Aidan (which is pretty scummy), is a fairly decent guy. He's not a total doormat, but he's also not a one-dimensional Grade A asshole either. There were times I wanted Iseult to treat him a little better - but their relationship is fairly complicated. He doesn't really love her - he loves the idea of her. Meanwhile, she's still in mourning over the loss of the child she refuses to give up hope in finding. Chalk it up to two people who don't realize...yet anyway...that they shouldn't be together. Oy, and haven't we all been there?
Kieran is a fine, upstanding, Romance Novel Alpha Hero. Even when he wants to roll over and die, he just can't make himself because he's got too much pride. He's the sort of guy who will fight until he bleeds out. He's headstrong, he's determined, and he's got more baggage than Chicago O'Hare the day before Thanksgiving.
I'll give some of you a moment to wipe the drool off your chin. Yeah, you know who you are.
I thought the Irish setting was particularly well done. There's a nice middle ground here - it's neither wallpaper nor peppered with mind-numbing dialect that is hard to understand. I also enjoyed the palpable chemistry between the romantic couple, which practically leaps off the page. I can't believe these two managed to keep their clothes on for as long as they did. Just saying.
It did take me a little while to get into this story. Willingham uses the first half of the novel to set the stage and for her characters to reach their "breaking point." It didn't really start to cook for me until after Iseult realizes that her feelings for Kieran cannot be swept under the rug, and she must make a decision regarding her betrothal. I was also happy that the author tied up all her loose ends, which means even poor hapless Davin gets some resolution. Yippee!
As someone who doesn't read medievals all that often, I found myself enjoying this story. Makes me glad I have a couple more of Willingham's Harlequin Historicals keeping company with my copious collection of cowboys. Hope they're all playing nice in my TBR pile when I'm not around to keep an eye on them....
Final Grade = B-
Note: This book goes on sale November 1, however it can be purchased now at eHarlequin in both print and electronic formats.