The Border Hostage
The cover blurb for The Border Hostage by Virginia Henley calls it “exuberantly written.” Exuberant is almost an understatement. Henley flings you right into the story with a torrid sex scene between two horses, told from the stallion’s point of view.
Heath Kennedy is the half-Gypsy bastard of a powerful Scottish laird and the brother of Valentina Kennedy, the heroine of Henley’s Tempted. He can read minds, command horses, and see auras. Soon after the horse sex scene, some thugs attack him, take him across the border to England, and drown him in a river. After they’ve left him for dead, he draws power from “the rhythm of nature” and heals himself. I was impressed.
Hunting for the ruffians who, uh, killed him, Heath encounters Raven Carleton, a beautiful English maiden of the spitfire variety. He takes her horse and her shirt (for a bandage, naturally) and rides off, delighting in the memory of her beauty and spirit.
Raven is being courted by the son of a powerful Englishman, Christopher Dacre, and her family is pressuring her to accept him. But when Heath learns that Dacre is behind the attack on him, he kidnaps them both. He ransoms Dacre back to his family, but keeps Raven. This is his way of wooing her.
The love story is told against a backdrop of political maneuverings on the tumultuous border, featuring lots of raids, kidnappings, accusations and denials, hidden agendas and secret wills, and several historical figures. I have no idea how historically accurate any of this is, but it makes for a fascinating setting. I enjoyed this aspect of the book very much. At one point Heath is taken prisoner, which means that the title The Border Hostage refers to both protagonists at different times.
The love story between Raven and Heath, particularly its paranormal moments, are quite enjoyable. Henley is very effective in showing a mystical link between the two. Even in the moments when they are at odds, or apart, Heath and Raven often come together in visions and dreams. These sequences, which could be seen as either dreams or the fated meetings between two connected souls are very likable, well-written, and dramatic. There’s also a tarot-reading scene (which segues immediately into a love scene) that is charming and funny. It’s nice to see such larger-than-life characters actually having fun in bed.
The book, however, is far from perfect. Raven and Heath are both prideful and high-spirited, and have a stormy relationship, with lots of hating and loving and longing and hating and wanting and hating. They are both liable to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, and at times I wanted to knock their heads together – especially when Raven puts herself in great danger for no reason except because Heath told her not to.
Some of the secondary characters also failed to charm me, especially Heath’s sister Valentina, with whom we spend far too much time. When Raven is being held captive and begs Valentina for help, Valentina says, “Between a man and a woman, it is difficult to tell who is the captive and who is the captor.” Oh, that’s helpful. Remind me not to read her book.
Finally, throughout this book Raven gets some very strange advice. No less than three different people tell her, essentially, this: “If you can abandon yourself, and truly enjoy the feel, and the taste, and the smell of your own sexuality, you will hold a man in the palm of your hand. You will own him body and soul, and he will be unable to deny you nothing.” It seems that in this world, not only is love a power struggle, but that’s the way it should be. In moments like those, I felt I had no sympathy or rapport with these characters. But then, I’m no spitfire.
Grading this book was difficult – for me it was a borderline B. The Border Hostage is engrossing, romantic, and problematical. If you like old-fashioned romances, you should enjoy it, as I did. But if you don’t like tumultuous melodrama, this could easily get on your nerves. You might want to pick up the similar – but much better – Uncommon Vows by Mary Jo Putney instead.