From the very first page of Silk Dreams, it is obvious that Diana Groe is a very talented storyteller. With that said, however, I never really got as caught up as I should have been in the romance of this book due to the author’s extensive focus on the details of a very complex intrigue in which both her hero and heroine are involved.
The setting is about as far from Regency England as it’s possible to get, in itself a h-u-u-u-g-e plus. Valdis is a young Viking woman sold into slavery by her family after having an epileptic seizure on the verge of her marriage to a prosperous man. Standing on the block in a Constantinople slave market, her attention is caught by a man obviously of the same heritage as herself who seems to understand her plight and attempts to buy her. Outbid by a eunuch of the Emperor, the former Northlands-man Erik, now working as a soldier in the service of the Byzantium, vows to put the disturbing maiden out of his mind.
Valdis is soon enough forced to accept that her buyer is a kind man who obviously has some purpose in mind for her. Those suspicions are further confirmed when her master imports into his home someone who speaks both her native language and the Greek it is necessary for her to learn in order to further his plans. That language tutor is none other than Erik.
Of course, Erik and Valdis grow attracted to each other, but overriding their romance is their involvement in a dangerous and detailed (make that very detailed) scheme with a truly Byzantine level of intrigue.
Diana Groe is extraordinarily gifted at evoking a truly exotic time and place, something that is a definite strength of this book. The opening scene in particular in which Valdis faces the slave market is an especially striking example of the kind of vividness in writing historical detail that you don’t come across much anymore. The novel is all the richer for it.
Still, I have to admit that she lost me with all the intrigue here. Extensive portions of the book are devoted to this part of the story – easily as many pages as are given to the romance – and, since I wasn’t engaged, it drove down my enjoyment exponentially. It was, to put it simply, just too much.
But, back on the positive side, Valdis and Erik are nicely drawn characters with convincingly evoked pasts, and I liked and cared about them both. Equally, the book includes an intriguing cast of secondary characters, including Valdis’ master, a former soldier who was made a eunuch as an adult, and a villain who never crosses into cartoon-land.
So, do I recommend this book? Absolutely – especially to readers who might find themselves more amenable to all the intrigue-y goings-on than I was. If you’re looking for a book that is different in just about every way from the vast majority of historical romance out there, you might want to give Silk Dreams a try. For me, however, I wish there’d been a bit more romance in a book that’s being marketed as one.