Vikings and Regency misses who design corsets, Michelle Willingham is back with a new medieval new duet. I like the Vikings and the Regencies, but have to be honest - her Irish medievals are some of my favorites and Warrior of Ice is loosely tied to her long-running MacEgan Brothers series. I settled in for what I expected to be a good, solid read, and that's exactly what I got.
Lady Taryn survived an attack as a child that left her with physical scars on her face and body. This being medieval Ireland, many feel she is "marked" or "cursed" and needless to say suitors have not been plentiful. This is just fine by her and her father hasn't pressed the issue. She carries herself as a Lady should, but her self-esteem is essentially non-existent. She has resigned herself to the fate that nobody will ever look past her scars or want her. She is unworthy. Then her father is accused of being a traitor and taken prisoner by the High King. Her mother loathes the man, and has washed her hands of him. But Taryn cannot just let him die. She needs to find a way to gain an audience with the High King and beg for her father's life. To this end she decides to throw herself at the mercy of the man's betrothed.
What Taryn doesn't know is that the High King's betrothed, Lady Carice, is basically on her deathbed. However her time too, is running out. The High King's men have shown up with orders to drag Carice to the wedding, by her hair if necessary. Killian MacDubh cannot let that happen. Born a bastard, it is rumored that the High King is his father. Everyone knows the man's reputation, Carice is petrified, and Killian will not throw the one person who has ever been decent to him to the wolves. So he promises her that he will help her escape. Then, like manna from heaven, Taryn shows up and a plan is concocted. Of course it all goes completely off the rails, but not before Taryn and Killian find themselves falling in love.
If this sounds a little convoluted that's because it kind of is. To be honest it took me a few chapters to find my sea legs with this one. But once Taryn and Killian meet, and once they begin their travels together (yippee - road romance!), the story settles in at a nice clip. Carice sticks around long enough to set the stage for the follow-up book in this duet (Warrior of Fire), and then she's dispatched off-page and we're devoted to nothing but Taryn and Killian traveling together and trying very hard to not succumb to temptation.
This story is billed as a Beauty and the Beast tale. Killian is the breathtakingly handsome "beauty," while Taryn's scars and low self-esteem make her the prickly "beast." On a superficial level, at any rate. What makes this romance work is that Taryn and Killian both think they are totally unworthy of the other one - albeit for completely different reasons. Killian is a bastard - back in a time when being a bastard meant you might as well be Satan. Sure he's hot and manly and is a great fighter. But he's a bastard. Taryn is a Lady. Which makes her so far out of his league that she might as well be on the moon. Taryn is a Lady, yes - but living with her scars has not been easy. She has a certain amount of protection because of "who she is" - but this is a girl who actually had suitors turn away in disgust because certainly she'd pass those scars on to her demon off-spring. I mean, of course!
The story moves along at a good clip, although the middle sags a wee bit and the ending, while exciting and fast-paced is a bit too fast-paced. I also wasn't completely in love with how some of the secondary storylines wrapped up. The whole business between Taryn, her father and her mother was too Rosy Mary Sunshine for me (I get it, this is a romance and the author was likely wanting to tie things up in a pretty bow - but would it have been so wrong for Taryn to have her moment in the sun and RAGE at her parents?). Also Killian's relationship with the head of the clan that raised him. I get it - Killian is a bastard. He's going to get treated like horse dung. But Carice's father treats Killian in a manner that smacks of "vendetta" - and none of that is really explained. Yes, he's a bastard - but really, the man is pretty awful to him.
Willingham has tied this book into the MacEgan Brother series, but it's basically a stand-alone. The MacEgan's play a role in this story, but they don't dominate it - and timeline-wise it probably falls somewhere around Her Irish Warrior (Connor and Trahern aren't married yet). I've hop-scotched around Willingham's Irish medieval world, not reading books in order, and kept up just fine. A good, solid, entertaining read that delivered what I've come to expect from this author.
Final Grade = B