Desert Isle Keeper
Although Fearless is my first Helen Kirkman book, I have given her other books serious consideration in the past because of their outstanding covers vividly portraying Dark Age male virility. Now I am wondering what I may have missed by sticking to my rule of never buying a book based solely on its cover. Her latest not only provides the reader with another exceptional cover but offers a story to match every one of the promises made by that luscious cover.
The Dark Ages has to be one of the more difficult time periods for a romance setting. A comparatively uncivilized time in history, the Vikings conquered much of northern England during the ninth century and by 875 King Alfred of Wessex, ruler of the only land still free of Viking rule, is struggling with the Danes to retain control of his kingdom. The story of Alfred the Great is legendary and provides a rich backdrop for the author’s talent despite its challenging time frame.
Wessex needs naval support and King Alfred is willing to import expertise to provide a fleet capable of defeating the Vikings. Einhard of Frisia’s formidable fleet of ships is capable of turning the tide of the battle – so much so, that the side he chooses to support will likely be the victor. But Einhard, for reasons he will not share, refuses to be drawn into the war as his ruthless quest is for another purpose entirely. His single-mindedness has effectively cut him off from others for he believes his son still lives while those around him consider him long dead. Einhard is a stoic, hardened hero who truly refuses to deviate even one hair’s breath from his course and makes no apologies about it. This is one of the most realistic portrayals I have read of this type of character, yet it was one of the most poignant as well.
After seeing her land of East Anglica fall to the Vikings, Princess Judith swore to make a difference in the fight for survival and fled to Wessex to support King Alfred. She is convinced the trader, Einhard, is the key to their ultimate victory and is determined to convince him of the same. Unfortunately, Judith suffers from a royalty complex and when Einhard flatly denies her request, she can’t conceive how he could deny her. Judith reasons with Einhard, pleads her case, insults him, and when all else fails, determines to seduce him into action and plans a deliberate discovery of them together in his room. But Judith is stunned to see another side of Einhard when he enters his room, where, believing he is alone, he gives into his grief for a moment, allowing her to get a brief glimpse of the tortured soul beneath his strong façade.
Judith’s inability to see her attempts at manipulation as anything other than blinding loyalty to the cause, was a bit aggravating at first. She is a stubborn sort who is so determined to make a difference that she often fails to see the problem her presence causes to those around her. Einhard’s question of “Why are you here?” is one I came to savor as he asked it repeatedly when he found her yet again somewhere she should not have been. When he realizes the attraction he has for her is mutual, he clearly tells Judith that there is no future for them with a strong “go away” message beneath it all. Einhard is a man of few words, but is fully capable of raising his voice in command or at Judith as she aggravates him once again.
Einhard and Judith’s relationship is, indeed, multifaceted but most of all, it is extremely moving. Each carries a host of underlying fears and fight against an inner overwhelming sense of defeat that they recognize in each other and it serves to tie them strongly together as a couple. I felt an extreme amount of respect towards Einhard – he is truly a tortured hero who doesn’t ever once overplay his hand. And Judith needs to grow up and she does so believably as she learns to understand both her own motivations and failings as well those of others.
Fearless functions well as a stand-alone although it is the third in a series after A Fragile Trust and Destiny which features Judith’s brother, Berg. The author’s unique writing style takes an unusual amount of concentration in the beginning but, nevertheless, I was totally immersed in the story by page five. The long love scenes seem especially drawn out since every thought or doubt the hero or heroine could possibly have is not only stated, but mulled over as well. I found myself wanting to skim these scenes, but soon found it was to my detriment to do so. I advise against skimming any portion of this book because you are sure to miss one of the many jewels tucked here and there plus this plainly is not the type of writing to read at a glance.
Not many books bring me to the point of tears but this one certainly did. This compelling story contains a heartrending romance as well as evenly paced believable circumstances that drive an impressive ending in which the hero shows more class than I ever expected. And then it was time for me to just sit and stare into space – I didn’t want to remove this story from my mind by reading another book – no, I wanted to pick it up and start all over again. Now that’s definitely the kind of book I would want on a desert island.