Falling for Her Captor is Elisabeth Hobbes' debut novel, and helped her garner a two book contract with Harlequin Historical after it placed third in last year's So You Think You Can Write contest. Harlequin Historical is probably my absolute favorite line in the category universe - having seen me through some pretty lean years when one mere mention of Almack's was enough to make my head explode. So I was all on board to give this debut medieval a whirl. I wasn't entirely in love with it, but there's enough meat on the bone to have me looking forward to the author's next book.
Her father and brother both dead, Lady Aline is technically next in line for the throne. Technically because her grandfather has stipulated she must marry. A single woman running the show doesn't exactly instill strength. However the man has been indulging her, and so far Aline has turned away a number of suitors. Unfortunately her time has run out. She's been kidnapped and is to be taken to the Duke of Roxholm, a man who has designs on her family's land and kingdom. The fly in the ointment? Her kidnapper, Sir Hugh or Eardham. The duke's cousin, he is bound by a deathbed promise (of course!) and a loyalty oath - which means taking Aline to Stephen. A task that becomes much harder as Hugh finds his head getting turned by her fighting spirit, general feisty-ness, and the small matter that she ends up saving his life.
This was a second half read for me. The kidnapping and "road romance" portion of the story is for about a third of the novel, and was for me the novel's weakest point. As far as kidnappings go, Aline does try to escape, is a general pain in the butt, but quickly realizes that she's got no reasonable choice but to stay with Hugh if she wants to live. And, you know, to give her grandfather's army time to rescue her. Plus, Hugh, despite kidnapping her, is a nice enough sort and treats her well after they come to a truce. Saving his life eventually brings them closer together. By this point however, as close as they may have become, as much as they may be developing feelings for each other, Hugh is bound by his family ties and is unable, and unwilling, to throw that over just because he's smitten with Aline.
Complications ensue in the form of Stephen, who as far as villains go is one of the more memorable ones. This guy is nasty and vile without being over-the-top. Kidnapping Aline is all about a power and land grab - and if he can toy with his cousin at the same time? All the better.
Where this novel didn't quite work for me was with the history. Or lack thereof. This is a generalization, but when I pick up a Harlequin Historical I "expect" a certain amount of history. No, I'm not expecting a dry, dull info-dump. But I do expect some seamless weaving of historical fabric in with the romance. Harlequin Historical, generally speaking, is not a line where you find wallpaper. Not that this book is wallpaper it's just not quite as detail oriented as I've come to expect from the HH line. This is a medieval, but more so in tone than in time and place. In fact, there's no discernible year and setting. Europe - uh, sometime during the medieval period. The feel is there, but not that extra oomph to carry it over the edge. It's a nice romance and I enjoyed it - but compare it to some of the other medievals in the HH universe (Blythe Gifford's come to mind) - and they're operating on totally different levels.
Where the story makes a name for itself is in the second half, when Aline has to ascend to her rightful place of power. This is something we don't see in historical romance all that often. A woman who is in a position of power (as in, sitting on a throne), albeit things being a little uncertain. This was rather refreshing, especially when Aline has to make the hard decisions - as in, someone is going to have to die. War might be the only answer. Tell me the last time you read that in a historical romance? Yeah, me too.
I thought this was a pretty strong debut. I had my quibbles, but the voice was engaging, the story interesting, and it kept me humming along all the way to end. I also appreciated that the author didn't steep her story in a bunch of Sexy Times, which would have felt out of place. Yes, sex happens - but towards the end of the novel, where it felt appropriate for the story. I'm always happy to see new authors come to the HH line, and this debut is certainly worth a look.
Final Grade = B-
Note: This book is available in print - but, as far as I can tell, only through the Harlequin web site.