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Monday, March 25, 2024

Review: Beguiling Her Enemy Warrior

I may drag my feet completing a series, but I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I do finish that final book. Bonus points when it works out to where I enjoy all the entries in the series, which has been the case with Lucy Morris' Shieldmaiden Sisters trilogy for Harlequin Historical. This has been a trilogy where each book builds on the next, with the final book, Beguiling Her Enemy Warrior, wrapping up events set in motion in the first book, The Viking She Would Have Married. The hero in that book was supposed to marry a Welsh princess to secure an alliance his odious father wanted. Instead, the princess ran off (with his help) and he married his one true love, the heroine. The fly in the ointment? The princess' brother, the hero in this final book - and y'all he is not a happy man.

Helga's mother and two older sisters are fierce shieldmaidens. Helga is not. Her talents have always been elsewhere, as a healer, a skilled archer, looking after the women and children while battles rage. Helga is also the family rune caster and fortune teller, firmly believing she foretold her oldest sister's marriage and her next oldest sister's reunion with her true love. She's walking through the market after her older sister's, Valda's, weeding - looking on as Brynhild bickers with Erik, when she is taken captive. The dragon, the rune that she cast on that long ago day with her sisters, has finally come calling. 

Lord Rhys is in the cursed Viking outpost of Jorvik looking for his missing sister. She was sent to this hellscape to marry the despicable Jarl Ulf's son Halfdan, who threw her over for some shieldmaiden. Another nail in the Viking coffin. Not only have they raided his lands, terrified his people, the men are so cowardly they let women fight. Now his sister is missing. Rhys will have his revenge and when he sees Helga he shoots his shot. Her uncle is Jarl Ulf, he takes her and Ulf will have no choice but to broker a hostage exchange. Assuming, of course, his sister is still alive. And if she isn't? Oh boy...

As readers of the first two books know, Rhys is so very, very wrong. Ulf is despicable and thinks so little of Helga's family they live in near destitution. The only thing Ulf is upset about is that no marriage to Rhys' sister means he's going to have to take Rhys' Welsh lands the hard way. Which he's more than happy to do.

Once they're away from Jorvik and he doesn't fear she'll escape, Rhys removes Helga's gag and she tells him how wrong he is. Still, it's not a disaster for Rhys.  Yes, Ulf is still going to raid his holdings, but Helga's sisters and mother will track down his sister and exchange her for Helga's safe return. That's really all he wants. He'll figure out how to defeat Ulf with limited supplies and men after that. Of course he didn't expect to fall under the spell of Helga, who quickly worms her way under his defenses.

The bulk of this book runs along a parallel timeline to the second book, Tempted By Her Outcast Viking.  That book finds Brynhild and Erik in a road romance, tracking down the missing princess, and making their way to Wales to rescue Helga.  Like that book, Helga and Rhys start falling in love on the road, making their way back to his land in Wales. However the love truly blossoms once they are there, as Helga comes to understand the enormous pressure Rhys is under to protect his land and his people, the incredible obstacles in his way and the emotional baggage he carries.  A big reason he sent his sister off to marry Halfdan? His beloved aunt was taken captive by Ulf's men. The marriage was to lead to her release, which is why he knows his sister didn't just "run off." She knew what her duty was and that their aunt's life depended on it.

The romance is a bit of slow burn early on but catches fire in the final third, with our couple consummating their relationship prior to the final battle scene with Ulf.  There's also a rather thrilling scene where Helga helps rescue Erik's aunt, along with several other hostages. 

Besides having a healthy dose of external conflict, there's plenty of internal conflict to prop up the romance. Rhys has serious trust issues and Helga has just enough vulnerability to soften his defenses.  I'll be honest, I always found Valda and Brynhild the more interesting heroines, but Helga definitely holds her own. She's no shieldmaiden, but there's a quiet strength to her character that makes it hard to take your eyes off of her - which Rhys quickly discovers.  Also, there's a couple of scenes where she truly dresses him down in such a quietly fierce way, it's really something to behold. 

This is definitely a trilogy where each book builds off the ones that preceded, so no I don't think they necessarily stand alone all that well - but the overall arch of the storytelling is well done and it's a trilogy that has everything from internal angst to thrilling battle scenes. Also the couples? Not a single dud in the bunch.  It may have taken me a little while to finish the entire trilogy, but it was time well spent.

Final Grade = B


azteclady said...

Oh, how satisfying! I love it when all the books in a series/trilogy are comparable in delivering the emotional punch.

Wendy said...

AL: Solid B reads, all of them. I did ding the first book with a B- mainly because the conflict between the romantic couple is wrapped up in their stupid, stubborn pride - but hey, 900-something A.D. Not having pride could get you killed...