Monday, August 5, 2013

To Sin With A Viking

I've never bought into the concept that characters tell authors what to write: "I had other ideas but Hunky Hero spoke to me and started behaving in a way I hadn't planned!"

I'm not a creative-type (at all) - but seriously?  Spare me.

Authors make choices.  Certainly they create characters out of whole cloth, and certainly I want these fictional people to "feel real," but the author is still in control of the ship, says me.  Please don't try to tell me, as the reader, otherwise.  It just makes you sound like a flake.

Michelle Willingham makes a choice in her latest, the first in a duet, To Sin With A Viking.  It's a really interesting choice, and very different from what we typically read in the romance genre.  How many books have we all read about arranged marriages, marriages of convenience, and mail-order brides that turned out swimmingly? Tons, right?  What Willingham does here is give us an arranged marriage that is in the midst of falling apart.  And while in the process of the final death throes, the married couple falls in love with other people.

Styr Hardrata has sailed to Ireland with his wife and his men looking for a fresh start.  His marriage is not good.  They were childhood playmates, a marriage was arranged to unite their clans, and while he worked to provide and she settled into the role of being the perfect wife - they have not been blessed with children.  Their childless state is starting to wear on Elena, who has begun to spurn Styr in the bedroom.  He's hoping a move, a change of scenery, will help to save his marriage.  What he didn't plan on were the starving locals to overtake them and kidnap Elena.

Caragh Ó Brannon is slowly wasting away.  In the midst of a famine, her older brothers have left the village to find food, leaving her and her younger brother to fend for themselves.  She tries to stop him from attacking the Vikings, but he does anyway - taking the woman hostage.  Fearing for her brother's life, Caragh does the only thing she can do - she beans Styr over the head and takes him captive. Needless to say when he wakes up, to find himself in chains and his wife missing?  Yeah, not a happy guy.

What follows is Styr and Caragh slowly making their way to each other.  He's duty-bound to find Elena and is determined to cut her brother's throat if any harm comes to his wife.  He doesn't feel this way out of love - but more out of a sense of honor, duty, and shame for not being able to protect her.  If a man cannot protect a woman charged in his care, what good is he?  However he is also drawn to Caragh.  He helps her find food and eventually they decide to sail together to track down her brother and his wife.  They're powerfully attracted to each other, but nothing can ever come of it.  Styr's marriage may be in trouble, but he is still married.  And where exactly is Elena?  Will they find her?  Dead or alive?

This is a solid, well-written Viking story.  The author does a nice job with the time period, and it's got all the necessary grit you would expect in a book set during this era.  It's dark and passionate, with plenty of angst to keep the romance humming along to it's final conclusion.

The problem is, of course, that initial choice the author makes.  Yes, it's evident very early on that Styr's marriage is not good.  That both he, and Elena, are not happy people together.  You also know, going in, that this is a romance - so the author is going to right the ship and make sure these two people find the right partners, for them.  They'll make a good husband and a good wife - just not for each other. That still doesn't negate the fact though that Styr IS married.  And for readers, like me, who throw up a big ol' mental road block over such a state - this is an issue.  It's not the author's "fault" or even the way she writes it.  It's just the simple fact that I, as an individual reader, would very likely have a block to this sort of plot development no matter who was doing the writing.

Which makes this a very hard book to assign a grade to.  I initially thought of slapping it with a C - which is my catch-all for "average" or "it didn't work for me but I recognize that may be because of my personal reader baggage etc."  But this story is better than average.  And hell, it does what all good first books in a series should do - and that is make a reader desperately hungry for the next book. I want Elena's story, due out in January, like yesterday.  Or, you know, right now would be good.  So while it made me uncomfortable at times, and I found myself saying, "But, but, but - he's married!" in my own head?  Yeah....

Final Grade = B-

P.S.: For those of you who are interested in trying this book - it's currently available for $1.99 in digital.


azteclady said...

I was the wife in this particular hell, and yet I am very intrigued to read this book.

Of course, it's been almost 20 years since the divorce, and the setting also helps distance myself from the situation--plus, an arranged marriage? I have always thought that about nine out of ten should by rights make both parties miserable, so that helps too.

Either way, you finished selling it to me. Thank you, Wendy.

Carole Rae said...

Mhmmmm I'm very intrigued.

Wendy said...

AL: I will say that Willingham writes this scenario as well as can be expected. It's certainly a tightrope given, you know, the fact that the hero is already married. And yes - the time period and the arranged marriage angle DEFINITELY help!

Carole: Well if you read digitally, the price is certainly right :)