Heart of Courage
The setup of Kat Martin’s Heart series already made my eyes roll: A Viking civilization on an island north of the Orkneys was cut-off for several centuries, but somehow some of them wound up in Victorian London, full-blooded warriors and all. Heart of Courage, the third volume, tells the story of Thor Draugr, the younger brother. Still, as I started, I felt happy to give the book and its premise the benefit of the doubt. To my considerable amazement, the Viking background proved to be the least of the novel’s problems.
The daughter of a baron, Lindsey Graham edits the women’s section of a society magazine. When two prostitutes are murdered in Covent Garden and her brother is the main suspect, Lindsey decides to investigate to prove his innocence. After her first foray into Covent Garden accompanied by only a footman almost ends in disaster, she agrees to allow Thor, her employer’s brother-in-law, to act as bodyguard during her detective work. Lindsey and Thor have known each other for some time and have always squabbled. Now that they are thrown together much more, they discover a very strong mutual attraction, which they should not act upon due to their differences in social station and character.
In spite of the silliness of his background, I grew to like Thor. He is described in great detail and repeatedly as larger-than-life in every respect, but once the author permitted me to ignore this, he turned out to be a lovely man with unusual attributes for a romance hero. He is a worker holding two jobs and a plain man with a smattering of education, but a great deal of native intelligence, a lower-class man with absolutely no interest in the pursuits of the nobility. While Thor does have fits of strong-man-must-protect-weak-little-woman syndrome, he is quickly open to reason, and changes considerably his vision of what his perfect woman should be. If you want to use labels, he is a beta hero in the shell of an alpha male. That is, until page 300, where he acts dumb in a scene that I have read in about a hundred romances, after which he needs to grovel and turn himself into a gentleman. So much for originality.
Lindsey is far more difficult to like throughout the novel. She is opinionated and used to getting her own way. Her ability to learn from her mistakes and agree to compromises save her from outright feistiness, though. However, she completely lost my sympathies over her treatment of Thor. We have a role reversal here: It is the woman who initiates the sex but shies away from commitment and the man who is more perceptive about his emotions. And just as I dislike commitment-phobic rake heroes, so did I dislike Lindsey when she treats Thor with little more consideration than a toy.
In addition, I was not happy with the plotting of the book. During their search for the murderer, Lindsey and Thor discover remarkably little by themselves and mostly depend on anonymous notes that send them on scavenger hunts. Besides this plotline, there is also one about a mistreated horse and another concerning some broker who may be cheating Thor.
All in all, Heart of Courage appears to be the result of a survey of romance readers’ perceived tastes: Sexually adventurous heroine – check, Viking hero – check, mystery reminiscent of Jack the Ripper – check, mistreated animal – check, fertile couples – check, horsebreeding – check. This novel was too uneven and too obviously calculating in its projected appeal to please me and came dangerously close, on page 300, to becoming a DNF. So I recommend you give it a pass.