Return of the Warrior
It seems like there are fewer and fewer good medievals, so I opened Return of the Warrior with fingers crossed. Although it wasn’t exactly original, with its wounded hero with a group of nicknamed friends (it’s part of MacGregor’s Brotherhood of the Sword series), it was fairly rewarding. The biggest problem I could see what that it spanned a period of some eight months or so, and what with the narrative skipping from month to month, it felt like a lot of the character development got crowded out by adventure and intrigue.
Queen Adara of Taagaria finds herself in a very tight spot. Married as a child to the prince of neighboring Elgederia, she’s been on her own as defender of her own country. Her prince disappeared years ago after a bloodbath that claimed nearly his whole family, and has been pronounced dead by the Elgederian Regent Selwyn. Now Selwyn wants Adara to marry his own son and unite the kingdoms fully, but Adara does not trust Selwyn; he’s a murderous, vicious ruler, and she won’t sacrifice her country to his ambition. She decides that she herself must sneak away from Taagaria to find her husband and bring him back, for the good of both their kingdoms.
The man she finds looks more like a priest than a king. Christian of Acre wears an abbot’s cassock, although he has the blond good looks of a fairy tale prince. He doesn’t acknowledge his long-ago marriage to Adara, and flatly refuses to return home with her. Christian was lucky to escape the coup that killed his parents, although his life has been anything but kind since. The only people he cares for now are his Brotherhood, fellow survivors of the Moorish prisons in the Holy Lands. Christian doesn’t want to be a king, and he doesn’t want to be Adara’s husband, partly because he’s sure he doesn’t deserve either, and partly because he’s sure he would be terrible at both.
Adara doesn’t back down easily. After trying in various and sundry ways to get to Christian – including the old naked-under-my-cloak trick – she then asks him to give her a child, so that at least she’ll be able to present the heir of Elgederia. Christian refuses. Then she asks him to annul their marriage so she can marry someone else. Christian refuses. He would very much like to sleep with her, but after the horrors he’s seen, he doesn’t want to bring a child into the world. And he really doesn’t like the idea of the stunningly beautiful Adara calling another man “husband.” He decides the best thing to do is take her home, claim the kingdom and secure the peace, then leave.
This book is a mix of adventure, politics, history, and very sensual sex. The history didn’t involve me that much; so much of it was about particular people who were clearly fictitious that I just didn’t have the interest to read it closely. The politics are very convoluted, with tangled bloodlines and feuding alliances between kingdoms with strange names. The adventure comes in fits and spurts, an attack by villains here, an ambush there, and to be honest most of the battles seem very quickly and conveniently decided. Christian can fight off a dozen armed men by himself! All his friends have personal armies! And yet, for such a fearsome collection of warriors, they make one enormous mental error late in the book; they wonder how they could have been so stupid, and so did I.
So then there’s the romance. The physical aspect is very well depicted. The love scenes are hot and intense, and the sexual attraction between them felt real. But there’s something missing in their relationship. Adara, who has built a fantasy husband in her mind, doesn’t understand Christian, and he’s too tormented by his past to tell her. It falls to others to explain him to her, and I have never been a fan of this device. She falls in love with Christian based partly (largely) on the stories she hears. He’s got quite a skeleton in his closet, no doubt about it, but learning about it this way cheats the reader of seeing them get to know each other. Even if Adara now knows some of Christian’s deepest secrets (and we’ll leave out any discussion of his friends’ breaking confidence to tell her, the wife Christian has publicly claimed he he doesn’t want), he still knows next to nothing about her. The best we get is that he falls for her sweet manner and courage and what she’s done to preserve his kingdom (which, again, he says he doesn’t want). It took a long time for me to believe they knew each other well enough as people to actually be in love.
Christian also has his Brotherhood, a band of loyal fellows who have sworn to stand together no matter what. They all bear a brand on the hand, and come to each other’s aid with startling ease and speed, given the medieval time. Christian’s time is divided almost equally between Adara and his Brothers, even to the end. There was more than a little sequel bait in the growing cast of handsome, wounded warriors, but that didn’t bother me too much except that it took lots of pages away from showing why and how Christian fell for Adara.
This is a light read, featuring a heroine who starts off well enough, only to grow more submissive as time went on, and a hero who spends as much time with his Brotherhood as he does with her. Some scens are quite moving, especially the one where Adara’s fool, Lutian, bares his heart to Christian. Fans of the author will certainly want to add this to their collection, and those in the mood for a lighter, sexy medieval read might want to give it a try as well. That’s my (rather qualified) recommendation.