Desert Isle Keeper
Don’t you love finding a new author to glom? I haven’t read Kris Kennedy’s first two books, but now that I’ve read her latest, I’m definitely going to shop for her backlist. I stopped seeking out Medieval romances a while back because the plots all seemed so hackneyed. Not so with Ms Kennedy’s medieval. You won’t find a single enemy soldier taking over the heroine’s keep and forcibly seducing her. Nor will you find a knight-poet seducing a brutalized heiress with kindness. In Defiant, the hero and heroine seduce each other – and you. You’ll find interesting and different characters who actually communicate very well, a plot that moves rapidly along logical lines, and a great romance that develops beautifully.
The book opens with the hero and heroine both hiding in the shadows outside a marketplace, each alert to the other’s presence, equally curious about the intent of the other. The hero, Jamie Lost, is pretending to contemplate the theft of a beautiful rooster; the pretense is his cover for his actual activity of watching the people on the street. He soon realizes that the heroine, Eva, is using the same cover for the same activity and becomes intrigued. Jamie leaves his post to sneak up behind Eva and accost her, thus beginning their strange and intricate romance.
From the outset, Jamie and Eva seem to understand each other instinctively. Eva speaks to Jamie in half sentences that he never has to question. They have entire conversations with their eyes. They predict what the other is going to do as if they’re telepathic, and once Eva gets the better of Jamie one time, he never underestimates her intellect or strength of purpose again. Unfortunately they’re both after the same goal for very different reasons, and their relationship is necessarily adversarial.
The setting is during the reign of King John, brother to Richard the Lionheart. England’s politics are a mess, heirs of great houses have been kidnapped and held for ransom or surety by John and his courtiers, and the king is nearly bankrupt. Rebels who want to dethrone John have taken London and are ready to go to war with those nobles who are still loyal to the throne. Into this mess steps Father Peter, the guiding force behind the Magna Carta, and great friend and mentor of Eva.
Eva, Father Peter, and Roger, heir to one of the great houses, have been hiding in France for years. Eva and Roger have been in exile since witnessing King John murder Roger’s father, and Father Peter is hiding to keep King John from learning about three missing heirs, who, if they claim their birthrights, would have enough power to take the throne. None of the three have seen England in years, until one day Father Peter leaves a terse note for Eva stating that he’s going to England and telling her to take Roger and fly south. Since she has knowledge of a plot between the English rebels and the French king, Eva instead travels to England to warn Father Peter and to bring him back to France.
Eva and Jamie Lost both learn that Father Peter is to rendezvous with a co-conspirator in the marketplace, and this is where they tangle for the first time. Eva gets to the reverend first and absconds with him. Jamie is preparing to follow when Eva approaches him to ask for help in retrieving Father Peter from the nasty, squint-eyed men who have kidnapped him. They work together to free Father Peter this first time, and Eva is once again able to flee with Father Peter, after first arranging it so that Jamie gets in trouble with the law and cannot follow them. Unfortunately, the boat that is supposed to take Eva, Roger, and Father Peter back to France never shows up, and the squint-eyed men get to Father Peter and kidnap him again. When Jamie and his companion catch up with Roger and Eva, the four join forces in the quest to save the reverend. Much excitement ensues.
Where to begin with the compliments? First, Eva. What a great heroine! She is so funny and gutsy and smart and determined, but also tender and vulnerable and frightened. In short, she’s no super-woman, but she keeps struggling toward her goals. Her philosophy is that you aren’t gifted with an easy life, you are gifted with a life and it is what you make of it. She’s hopelessly enamored of Jamie, not in a you’re-so-hot-it-makes-me-stupid way, but in that she recognizes his abilities and his nobility even though he is her nemesis for most of the book. An excellent illustration of Eva’s thought processes occurs at one point when Jamie tells her to hide from certain danger. She’s no fool; she hides. But while she’s alone and the menfolk are in peril, she realizes that they’ll die under torture before revealing her location and she just can’t let that happen. So she reluctantly leaves her hiding place with a pounding heart and legs like jelly to see what she can do to help. You’ve got to love her.
Jamie has to love her too, although he really, really doesn’t want to. Since being picked up as a child off the streets of London by the rebel leader, he has been trained to make choices and stick to them. Some of his choices have been very difficult indeed. But Eva makes him question everything. From the very first her wit makes him smile, and he’s a man who smiles very little. Her courage and intelligence impress him, even when her actions make his quest difficult. He freely admits to himself that Eva has “ruined him for ruin”. Towards the end, despite the world-shaking situation in which they find themselves, his attitude is that he would take Eva and everything else could go to hell. How can you not enjoy a hardened, stalwart warrior brought low by a winsome woman?
There is one aspect of the love scenes between Jamie and Eva that set off my squick-o-meter. For the most part the love scenes are tender and fun and very readable, but I found Jamie to be a little too…handy…for my taste. I know we’re supposed to suspend disbelief, or whatever, but he kept putting his dirty hands and fingers in places where clean hands are very much required. Aside from the dirt factor, the hand action just didn’t seem very loving to me compared to the rest of their intimacies. Otherwise, the love scenes are just that, loving, and they are satisfyingly steamy.
The plot is tightly written without a bit of drag anywhere. Every detail is relevant, every conversation is entertaining, every character is well fleshed – from the main characters down to the extras, bar patrons and such. Three secondary characters, Ry, Roger, and Angus, another of Jamie’s old friends, all deserve their own story. The insight into the thinking of the main characters is priceless. The interplay between the hero and heroine is reminiscent of Loretta Chase, an author noted for her dialog, without being derivative in the least. I could go on and on.
Defiant’s a damned good book, y’all. Find it, read it, fall in love. Then you’ll be pining for Ms Kennedy’s next one, just like me.