My Secret Protector
My Secret Protector is a romance novel that entertains in spite of the romance, rather than because of it. This is a time-travel fantasy with some intriguing ideas and a story that gains momentum as it goes along. It also happens to work best when the love story is shoved into the background, which is often the case.
Montana firefighter William MacAlpin has a secret identity none of his colleagues is aware of. He’s not only an Immortal, but a Protector, a person specially chosen and trained to pursue Renegade Immortals and put an end to the threat they pose. Known for their ruthlessness and commitment to succeed at their mission at any cost, Protectors don’t have a sterling reputation, even among other Immortals.
William himself has withdrawn from life as a Protector, tired of mindlessly following orders and taking on missions where failure would result in banishment or death. Then his uncle Gavin contacts him with news that a Renegade Immortal named Bartholomew has escaped into the sixteenth century. Bartholomew plans to alter history by prolonging the reign of Queen Mary and delaying her half-sister Elizabeth’s rise to the British throne, which could have a major impact on the course of world events. At first William isn’t interested, until Gavin reveals Bartholomew also plans to take revenge on William’s family by killing his parents when they are still young children.
As soon as he arrives in London circa 1558, William comes under attack from men working for Bartholomew. Gravely injured, he is rescued by Isabel de Pinze, a young artist involved in Mary’s court. That’s not her only connection to his assignment. She knows nothing about the Immortals, but William isn’t the only one in her life, and some of the others pose an unknown danger.
The book doesn’t get off to a very good start. The writing in the first few chapters isn’t very sharp and frankly I started out thinking the book was pretty weak. But as Binder slowly delves into her supporting characters and the details of the Immortals’ mythology, the story becomes more intriguing. There are several poignant secondary relationships that are more involving than the main one, despite receiving less attention. Most of the best moments come from secondary characters like Isabel’s adoptive parents, an Immortal and his mortal love, rather than the hero and heroine themselves.
Binder has also devised a fascinating background for the Immortals and some very interesting material about how they relate to humans and each other. It’s compelling stuff for a time-travel/fantasy story and make up some of the better parts of the book. It also could have stood to be developed a bit more. I would have loved to have learned more about the laws of the Immortals and the various conflicts between them, which are ultimately somewhat shortchanged in the end.
Binder’s newest works better if approached as a straight fantasy than as any kind of historical romance. It’s not very heavy on period atmosphere or detail, which may bother readers who want that in their historical settings. I’m not one of them, so I didn’t mind. But it is symptomatic of the whole book, which is a little undercooked. Everything in the story could have been fleshed out just a little bit more than it was. As it stands, My Secret Protector has a good story to tell, and once it gets going, tells it well enough. But it falls short because it’s content to skim the surface of the material rather than really digging into it.
The oddest thing about the book is how it comes across like an entertaining time travel story that just happens to have a romance in it instead of a good time-travel romance. There are all these storylines going on with the villain, the hero’s mission, the heroine’s relationship with her adoptive parents, their relationship with each other, myraid other schemes, and, oh yeah, two people falling in love in the middle of it. It really is the least interesting, and often the least important, part of the book. It’s hard to have a terrific love story where both the hero and heroine are unconscious for long periods at separate points in the book. Even when they’re awake, their interactions are the typical verbal duels between a feisty heroine and manly hero, but lacking in the sharpness of really good exchanges of this type.
Isabel and William are also each more interesting when dealing with other characters – not each other. I was interested in the heroine’s background and her relationship with some of the other characters, but not at all in her or the romance. It’s telling that the best part of the story is the final act, when the conflicts between the Immortals and a conspiracy that threatens them all takes center stage, and the romance is nowhere to be found. Had this portion of the story been expanded and the love story ditched, I wouldn’t have minded.
My Secret Protector is short on romance but has the makings of an entertaining time-travel fantasy. If the author can better balance the fantasy with the romance, I’d consider giving her another chance. And if she moved into the strictly fantasy arena, I’d definitely give her that second chance.