Pagan Desires is a romance that sets out bravely, but keeps bogging itself down at every turn. This is a pity, because this is a book featuring a Byzantine heroine and which is set entirely in the Middle East, something which you don’t run across everyday. However, much I like unorthodox settings, I don’t take to reads where you need 4WD to escape the bog.
Phaedra is the daughter of a Byzantine general who was killed by the Norman incursion on the Balkans in 1077. Vowing vengeance, parfumist Phaedra has her chance 20 years later, when the same Normans, now on Crusade, pass through Constantinople. But the emperor needs the Norman commander alive, and they strike a bargain that she may not kill him until Jerusalem has fallen. What Phaedra did not count on was the power of Sir Brannoc, head of the bodyguards, and the gift of prophecy and vision that they share.
Phaedra fears the dreams she has suffered since childhood, over which she has little control. Only on meeting Sir Brannoc does she try to conquer and control her powers. Phaedra is a widow and a single mother, but while she misses her husband, she is unable to resist the bond of body and soul that appears between her and Sir Brannoc.
Brannoc is probably Welsh and has served as a mercenary knight across the known world. He is more open to the magical bond, but has difficulties overcoming the conflict between duty and the love for his soul mate. Overall, he is so mysterious that he is difficult to get to know.
Phaedra and Brannoc both have visions and share a supernatural connection with each other. His tattoos not only come to life and aid in his own defense, they also help Phaedra. While Phaedra’s struggles with her powers were integral to the book, the paranormal happenings were largely unexplained. And, rather than moving the story forward, the paranormal aspect bogged down the narrative in a quagmire of innuendo and weird dreams. The book’s flow is incessantly interrupted by dream sequences, until the reader is unsure what is happening and who knows what about whom and how.
Besides the supernatural, the plot is stuffed with clichés and strange twists. We have the compulsory scene of love-by-an-outdoor-pool, and Phaedra’s son disappearing from focus after the first half. Her captivity and separation from Brannoc also contributed to the feel of a reading rut. Tossing in a few predictable misunderstandings only managed to clogging the read further, until I wished for a jeep with four-wheel drive.
It is clear that setting has been researched, at least to the point where the story used the Greek terms for Byzantine rank, and held some references to the persistent religious schisms and rioting. The descriptions of the Crusade were elbowed out by paranormal phenomena, and so their believability suffered.
I cannot in all honesty recommend this book. I liked the basic premise and the setting, and while Phaedra and Brannoc were veiled in mystery, I had nothing much against them. The real problem with this read lies in the plotting. Pagan Desires desperately needed the hand of a forceful editor, and I would have preferred to read a good quality copy – the book was filled with typos and misprinted pages which only added to my discontent. Also, the title turned out to refer to one of Phaedra’s perfumes, which turned out to have very little to do with the story.