It’s at times like this that I wish The Romance Reader gave plus and minus ratings (see note at end of review), because Secret Thunder is surely more than a three, but somewhat less than a four. I am therefore giving this book a qualified 4-heart rating because the author has built in enough unique and intricate details that a plain old 3-heart rating just isn’t sufficient.
So what makes this book more than an average read but not quite a recommended one? Well, let’s start with the story-line. Secret Thunder begins when Luke de Perigueux, the Norman Dragon, and his brother, Alex, the Wolf, visit the local whore for a tup or two. The ferocious Luke, who is addicted to catnip because it’s the only way he can kill, passes out while waiting his turn. He awakens to discover he’s killed a man. The whore has disappeared, and when he and his brother find her, she’s been killed by lightning.
When we next meet our hero, he is at Hauekleah holding, meeting the Saxon woman he is to marry. She is Faithe, beautiful, hard-working, willing to marry the dreaded dragon to save her holding and her village. It doesn’t hurt that he sets her heart to racing either.
The marriage is performed, but not consummated. Why not, you ask? Because Luke, who has only tupped with whores in the past, is honorable enough not to force his new wife to sleep with him until she trusts him. She, on the other hand, had quite a nice sex life with her now-dead husband. While she enjoyed Caedmon, she hadn’t loved him.
Luke doesn’t know any of this, and is trying to be honorable. But Faithe is worried that if the marriage is not consummated, Luke will have it annulled and force her out of her holding. Luke, on the other hand, wants Faithe badly – not only does he lust after her, but he cares for her. The trust thing, well, it gets worse; Luke hides a secret about Caedmon that could destroy his burgeoning relationship with Faithe.
The big misunderstanding is that Faithe believes Luke doesn’t want her and is waiting for his chance to get rid of her. The scene where Faithe tries to seduce him is filled with sexual tension. He wants her so very badly. But how can he make love to her when he’s had a hand in killing her husband? Worse, how can he ever gain her trust now?
The level of sexual tension only heightens as Luke sleeps on the rushes each night rather than share his wife’s bed. Faithe is learning to trust Luke, but how can she trust him fully if he won’t commit to her by “doing the deed”? This is a delicious dilemma and I applaud the author for creating it. This reader couldn’t wait to read onward to the inevitable culmination of the tension.
In fact, author Ryan has pushed the envelope, sexually-speaking, in Secret Thunder. She uses real words instead of euphemisms at all the right times. While this reviewer prefers in general not to read certain four letter words, it made sense here because the words were used appropriately. For instance, when Luke was making love with Faithe, the author didn’t use crude language. When Luke was contemplating tupping the whore or trying to scare Faithe off, it wasn’t love-making – it was having sex.
But I digress. After Luke and Faithe do consummate their marriage, they admit their love fairly easily and early enough in the book that I wasn’t waiting and waiting for it to happen. It is to the author’s credit that the rest of the book wasn’t a bore. Indeed, Ryan kept the excitement level high as slowly, through twists and turns, light is shed about Caedmon’s death and Luke’s hand in it.
Patricia Ryan’s creation of Luke as a warrior who wants to hang up his bow and arrow is not, in and by itself, a unique creation. But the addition of the drug addiction was a terrific touch. Her creation of a heroine who has enjoyed passion in the past was also a nice change from the widow who has never experienced fulfillment until the right man came along.
These things, in addition to the sometimes-shocking (but in keeping with the story) language, made this book better than average. However, there were some things that kept me from whole-heartedly recommending Secret Thunder. The violence is rather strong, even for a medieval. And, while the author revealed the inner thoughts of both the hero and heroine, I found Faithe difficult to know. I was also disappointed in her initial reaction and response when the truth about Luke was revealed. Finally, this book felt a bit padded. While the author created some intriguing twists and turns to keep the excitement level up, she could have omitted some of it, perhaps 20 to 30 pages, and I wouldn’t have missed it.
The author is writing a sequel about Luke’s brother Alex. This author’s obvious talent makes me anxious to read Alex’s story. Unlike his brother, he seems to have no problems being warrior. In addition, he is depicted as such a male animal, so sexual, a real wolf…yum.