Not too long ago, just as I was looking for more historical romance set outside the Regency, someone recommended I try Kris Kennedy. I read Claiming Her (because that’s what my friend recommended), and I liked it. A lot. I proceeded to go through most of Kennedy’s back catalog, and I liked quite a few of those, too. So when our publisher mentioned Kennedy had a new book out, I raised my hand to review it. Forbidden Warrior is the first in the multi-author Midsummer Knights series (the novels are all set at a fictional tournament in England in 1193), and also the second book in Kennedy’s Renegade Lords series. I also belatedly realized I’d read the first Renegade Lords book, King’s Warrior. And why does it matter? Well, King’s Warrior wasn’t very good, and marked the end of my Kennedy binge. I liked the premise, but the execution was clunky, there was very little plot, and dare I say it? Too much sex. And instalust. Anyway, I hoped this second book would see a return to the Kennedy of Claiming Her, and unfortunately, it doesn’t. Forbidden Warrior lacks substance and likeable principals, and I can’t recommend it.
In King’s Warrior, we were introduced to a band of four outlawed princes (Tadhg, Máel, Fáelán, and Rowan) from Ireland, who, accused of assassinating the King of Jerusalem on behalf of King Richard, can no longer safely return home. Instead, they turn to a life of crime and make their home in Renegades Cove, on the western edge of Britain. Exiled and angry, they vow to Make the English Suffer; and if you have coin, these outlaws will do your dirty work for you. Fifteen years later, the boys are wealthy, powerful criminal warriors who still long to return home. Tadhg, tired of life as a criminal living in a cave, is first to strike out on his own. In Forbidden Warrior, it’s Máel’s turn at redemption.
After working as a messenger between groups plotting treason against King Richard, Máel thought he was inured to treachery. But after delivering the most recent message to Lord Geoffrey d’Argent, Baron Ware, Máel’s still caught unawares when the nobleman orders his soldiers to kill Máel and take his sword. Only a fortuitous interruption by a drunken reveler leaving a nearby pub saves life – but not before the men take Moralltach (a family heirloom with rumored magical powers), and leave him for dead.
Lady Cassia d’Argent has no illusions about her father. An inveterate gambler who nearly always loses, Baron Ware is nearly bankrupt. Only Cassia knows how dire their circumstances are, and since appearances are everything, she’s prepared to grin and bear his constant remonstrance to be proper. After all, she won’t have to listen to him for much longer. It’s midsummer, and time for the grand tournament, where her father has pledged her to one of six high bidders. When she leaves, she’ll accompany her new husband, who’s destined for disappointment when he discovers he’s inherited the vast, bankrupt barony of Ware. Cassia knows she’s merely a pawn, but since this is her only chance to break free of her father, she plans to make the most of it. Which is why she’s confused when she can’t seem to keep her eyes on the tournament, and instead finds her gaze constantly returning to the handsome and powerful stranger at the gate. The stranger who can’t seem to stop staring at her.
Oh reader, we all know the stranger is Máel (don’t we?). And when he finally makes his move – conveniently finding a way into the tournament, and facing off against Lord Ware – he’s the last person the baron expected to see. Panicked by what Máel might reveal about him, Ware agrees to allow Máel to keep Cassia as a hostage until he can return with moralltach. Poor Cassia. We all know Ware is a treacherous and deceitful slimebag; I had zero hope he was returning with the sword. And poor Máel. Even though he suspects Ware will abandon his daughter, he deludes himself with the hope he’s wrong.
But hold up! We have a brave, tough, chivalrous outlaw who clearly hates the English and Lord Ware, and a feisty, provocative, clever and loyal noblewoman who longs to be loved and valued by someone (her dad, but well, that ship has sailed). AND THEY’RE FORCED TO SPEND TIME TOGETHER. You should conveniently ignore that he’s a criminal and she’s a hostage. Just go with it. Because in Forbidden Warrior, a kidnapper and hostage in close proximity for a whole day is DESTINY. All caps. And even though they know basically nothing about each other and should be enemies, THEY AREN’T. Instead, they intuit all sorts of things about each other’s character based on a chess match, some wood whittling, a chase through the woods, a splash fight, and Máel’s amazing abiliity to make a great fur-lined bed. Truly folks, those things – along with a healthy dose of lust – substitute for actual character development. These two try and fail to resist each other, until they just can’t do it any more. (I think it was maybe eight hours after they met?) Cue the virgin who climaxes almost the minute our hero gets his hands on her. Le sigh.
Kennedy segues so quickly from enemies to lovers, I almost got whiplash. Basically, in the span of a day, these two decide they can’t live without each other (or keep their hands to themselves) even though they know THERE’S NO HOPE FOR THEM TO BE TOGETHER. But we know better, don’t we? I won’t spoil this ridiculously easy to predict plot except to say you can guess where it’s going. Our villain (that’s d’Argent in case you somehow missed it) behaves 100% according to type, and nothing improves as the novel winds its way to the inevitable happily ever after. The characters are wholly undeveloped, the secondary characters are plot conveniences that allow Kennedy to manipulate the story in the direction she wants it to go, and the whole thing is too long, and too predictable. Cassia deserves better, but who knows if she’s getting it with Máel – we barely know him. And Máel, who for more than a decade is convinced he can’t return home to Ireland, conveniently changes his mind with the love of a good woman. She probably is. Who knows? There’s simply not enough substance to this story in any way whatsoever, and it’s another disappointing addition to the Renegade Lords series.
Forbidden Warrior is a cliché driven, medieval mess, and I won’t be returning for more of these renegades or Midsummer Knights.