Some romances are like a two-humped camel. They start off on a high, sag in the middle, improve again at the end but all the while they move at a rather predictable pace. Such was the case with Shana Abé’s Intimate Enemies.
Lauren MacRae is de facto head of the Clan MacRae on the Island of Shot. Her father, who had been laird of the clan, was recently killed by Northern invaders, and her cousin, the new Laird, is in a coma from wounds suffered in the same battle. Her clan has been at war with the English residents on the other side of the island, now led by Arion du Morgan, for as long as anyone can remember. It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys. But now there is a new enemy who threatens them both – Viking invaders – and the two sides are forced into an uneasy alliance. Unfortunately, the only ones who see this clearly are Lauren and Arion (of course), who must work hard to convince their people that a treaty is the only answer. Needless to say, things get tricky as they also are fighting their own attraction to one another. Into the mix is thrown a long-standing betrothal of Lauren to a mainland Scotsman she’s never met – a marriage that her clan is counting on to strengthen their position on the island.
Intimate Enemies started off well with a gripping action sequence and intriguing backstory. We begin when the MacRaes capture Arion du Morgan after inadvertently coming to his aid during the latest Viking attack. Flashback to 12 years earlier when a prepubescent Lauren is herself a prisoner of Arion’s uncle until Arion helps her to escape. So far so good: intrigue, action, past history – sounds good to me. Unfortunately, the book no sooner grabbed my interest than it began to lose its way. Flash forward again as the tables are turned and Lauren goes to visit the prisoner at her castle. No sooner can you say “forced sexual tension” than sparks start flying. That was my first warning that this romance was going to go downhill. I generally get very skeptical when the principals immediately fall in love at first sight. You know the drill: they take one look at each other and feel themselves drowning in amber eyes, or they touch and feel a frisson of excitement even though they barely know each other. It takes a very talented author to convince me, and this one didn’t.
More romance clichés then turn up. We can predict with very little effort that one of Lauren’s clansmen will refuse to accept the treaty with their heretofore sworn enemy and do everything he can to undermine it, bull-headedly risking the safety of everyone on the island. When we learn that Lauren is betrothed to another man who isn’t the hero, we vainly hope that he will not turn out to be a convenient two-dimensional villain whom she can jilt without remorse, but sadly that’s not the case. Lauren even has episodes of TSTL syndrome when she inexplicably refuses to tell anyone how her betrothed mistreats her until it hardly matters anymore. When she manages to slip away to meet Arion, instead of confessing her unhappiness with her betrothed, she and Arion instead get involved in an aborted love scene that will have you tearing your hair out in disbelieving frustration. No one is that noble.
But probably my biggest problem with Intimate Enemies was the fact that Lauren and Arion manage to save each other’s lives not once, not twice, but on at least three separate occasions, most of which involve one or the other of them managing to be conveniently on-the-spot when calamity occurs. And it is never well explained how a slip of a woman can hold her own at hand-to-hand combat with 6-feet-tall Vikings.
Nevertheless, things began to improve a bit towards the end and the final battle sequence, and Arion’s protectiveness of Lauren was somewhat endearing. Despite the many flaws, I did find myself interested in the characters and kept turning pages to find out how it all turned out. Abé couldn’t leave well enough alone, though, and had to tack on a last-minute villainous confession which came out of the blue and was more perplexing than illuminating. But of course I shouldn’t have been surprised – even if you can pull yourself out of the slump to get back to the top hump of the camel, you’re always in danger of sliding back down again.