Heart of a Lion
Heart of a Lion is a throwback of a romance, an old-fashioned book with flowery narration and a larger than life hero and heroine. Although the first half of the book is almost fatally slow, the pace picks up in the second half and brings the book to a satisfying climax.
Isabeau de Lyon is a child of eight when she gets swept up in the notorious Children’s Crusade and is kidnapped into slavery in the Middle East. Jared de Navarre, her betrothed, is only sixteen himself, but swears to follow Isabeau and bring her back, no matter how long it takes.
Sixteen years later, Jared is a hardened mercenary leader, and Isabeau has become a mysterious assassin known as Sayyed Al-Zul, the Shadow Hunter. They meet when Sayyed enlists Jared’s help in raiding Isabeau’s former master’s harem to rescue another female enslaved there.
I had a very hard time plowing through the first half of this book. The writing is of the flowery, pseudo-epic style that plagues older romance novels and some high fantasy sagas. Jared is frequently referred to as “the mercenary” and Isabeau as “the assassin” or “the renegade.” And there are vast stretches where literally nothing happens. The scene where Jared awaits his first meeting with Al-Zul, and Isabeau stands in the shadows contemplating facing Jared in her disguise, goes on for pages and pages of repetitive introspection, to the point where I was ready to scream at the book, “Do something, already!”
I was also dying to find out how Isabeau had gone from eight-year-old victim to terrifying assassin, and this story was withheld for a frustratingly long time. It was also improbable to the extreme; the author goes through mighty convolutions to keep Isabeau as a sympathetic character despite two professions likely to turn off many readers – concubine and assassin.
So what did I like about it? Once Isabeau is revealed to Jared, the story’s pace picks up nicely, and the climactic confrontation with Isabeau’s former master had me finally turning the pages at a fast clip. Despite the unbelievability of much of the story, the author does create a fantasy world unto itself; if you let yourself get drawn into it, it hangs together internally. And the setting was unusual and well-portrayed, and, although I’m not an expert in the field, felt fairly accurate historically.
If you like the settings and writing style of Bertrice Small but could live without the multiple “true loves,” high degree of kinky and/or skanky sex, you may want to check out Hillary Fields. Just prepare yourself to wade through the slow-paced beginning before hitting the real action.