If You Dare
If You Dare is the first in a trilogy about three Scottish brothers living under a deadly family curse. Kresley Cole tries to capture the feel of those old-school historical romances, full of sweeping adventure and larger-than-life passion, but annoying characters and a shallow storyline drag the book down.
Courtland McCarrick is a Scottish mercenary working for the ruthless General Reynaldo Pascal. A deserter from the Spanish army, Pascal is determined to take control of the principality of Andorra by whatever means necessary, including terrorizing the locals to bend them to his will. Court and his men have been a key part of this mission, but when Court realizes they’re not going to be paid, he turns on Pascal and the general orders him killed. Badly beaten by Pascal’s gang of assassins, Court barely manages to escape by jumping into a river and allowing the water to carry him away from his pursuers.
He washes ashore downriver, where his body is discovered by Annalía Tristan Llorente. The Andorran beauty has no use for Scotsmen, knowing that the only reason a Highlander would be in Andorra is if he’s working for Pascal. Her beloved brother Aleix is away fighting the general’s men, including the Scottish mercenaries. Common sense says she should leave this particular Scotsman lying where she found him, but if she did there wouldn’t be much of a story. Just in case this is somehow the only Scotsman in Andorra who isn’t a mercenary, Annalia takes him home with her and nurses him back to health.
Of course, when Court is well enough to speak, she learns that he is, in fact, one of the hated of the Scottish mercenaries. She immediately wants him out of her house, but he refuses to leave. In the grand tradition of old-school romances, he’s generally obnoxious and rude, insulting her and treating her like garbage. This is somehow a huge turn-on for her, causing her to desire him as much as she hates him. Then Annalia receives a letter from Pascal, informing her that he has captured Aleix. Annalia has ties to royalty, and Pascal wants to marry her to cement his claim to the throne (or whatever) of Andorra. If she doesn’t marry him, he’ll kill her brother.
Desperate, Annalia tries to hire Court and his men to help her save Aleix. Naturally, Court acts like a horse’s ass, sneeringly informing her that the price for his help is her body. Even his men are disgusted that he would treat a woman like this, but Court is unrepentant. Ever the noble martyr, Annalia decides to turn herself over to Pascal in order to save her brother, leaving Court no choice but to go after her. I think we’re supposed to believe Court knows Pascal will kill her brother even if she does marry him, but his motives seemed more basic – I thought he just didn’t want anyone else to touch Annalia’s hot body before he did.
This book moves at a good clip, but it never really managed to capture my interest. The characters are shallow. If I were generous, I’d say they were two-dimensional, though it’s actually closer to one-and-a-half. They each receive a tiny bit of character development. Court won’t let himself get involved with a woman because of the curse. Annalia’s mother was a wanton woman who abandoned her family for her lover, and Annalia is afraid of her sexuality as a result. We don’t learn much about them beyond that, except that Court is obnoxious and Annalia is feisty. I thought Court was a charmless jerk, and at first I enjoyed the way she got the better of him more than once. But after a while, Annalia crossed over into stupid territory and I got tired of her too. Readers of this book should have a high tolerance for characters who bicker and squabble and fight for most of the story. The love story’s only real saving grace is the effectiveness of the lovemaking scenes, which are scorching hot and very well done.
I liked the Andorran setting, which was nicely different (and the reason I chose this book for review in the first place). However, the plotting felt sprawling and uneven, the story development was shallow, and it never came together for me. There’s a secondary romance between Aleix and Pascal’s daughter that’s intriguing at first, except it’s barely developed. Most of it happens in scenes we aren’t shown, so it isn’t very convincing and I’m not sure it counts as an actual romance. Pascal disappears for a long period in the middle of the book, and it’s easy to forget he’s much of a threat for long stretches of the plot. The climax with his inevitable reckoning felt rushed. We’re introduced to Court’s brothers, and this book sets up the next brother’s story. I don’t feel the need to rush out and get it when it’s released.
If You Dare is a not quite average read, and terrific love scenes don’t make up for its shallow storyline and annoying characters. If you’ve got a nostalgic fondness for boorish heroes and the fiery, slightly dim heroines who love them, you might like this one, but as that is hardly a ringing endorsement, others may wish to take a pass.