I’ve enjoyed many of Karen Robards’ books in the past, but I must also admit to finding a few of them way too over the top for my taste. So I was eager to read and review The Ultimatum, if only to see whether I’d love it or dismiss it. Fortunately, this opening novel in her new Guardian series comes pretty close to the love mark.
Bianca St. Ives has never been like other girls. Growing up, she learned martial arts from the masters and spent her free time attempting to dismantle explosives with the help of ex-security services operatives. It might not be the life other girls her age live, but it’s all Bianca knows. Plus, it’s the life her beloved, if very distant father, wants for her, and that’s enough for Bianca.
Now an attractive and highly competent woman of twenty-six, Bianca has taken her place as one of her father’s elite team of thieves and con artists. Some say she’s surpassed Richard St. Ives in skill, but Bianca is not fully convinced of that. He’s taught her everything she knows, and she’s determined to make him proud, even if doing so puts her on the wrong side of the law.
The team’s current mission is to steal two-hundred-million dollars and some top-secret government documents from a Middle Eastern prince. Bianca has infiltrated the lavish ball the Prince is throwing, and is slowly, strategically working her way toward the hidden vault where the treasure is stored. But when she gets there, she is stunned to find someone has beaten her to it. The vault is empty! Is this a trap set by the Prince, or is someone else playing a very dangerous game with Bianca and her father?
The escape from the palace is quite harrowing, leaving Richard St. Ives presumed dead by his daughter. The trouble is, various covert government agencies are not convinced he really died, and they plan to use Bianca as bait to trap him.
As Bianca races to stay one step ahead of a group of ruthless men she’s sure mean her harm, she is faced with a number of questions related to her past. What really happened to her mother, and why can’t she remember much about her early childhood years? Then Richard’s enemies raise the steaks, and Bianca is pushed into a life or death game that will tax her many skills to their limits.
There’s a lot to love about this book. Bianca is super smart, incredibly resourceful and can get herself out of practically any situation without waiting for someone to happen by and rescue her. Ms. Robards crafts high-octane action sequences that had my heart racing throughout much of the book.
I also really loved Bianca’s very unique profession. I’m not sure what this says about me, but books about con artists and thieves are one of my guilty pleasures. I love the quick wit and impressive skills such characters possess, and Bianca is one of the best I’ve come across in recent years.
Almost the only criticism I have is that book’s prologue gives the reader a bit too much insight into Bianca’s past. I would have much rather figured things out along with her instead of having them spelled out for me so early on. Plus, I was a bit disappointed in the lack of a romance. Ms. Robards is known for writing romances that sizzle with sexual tension, and I was hoping for more of the same here. There are a couple of hints as to who Bianca could end up with in future books, and I hope the author fleshes those out.
The Ultimatum does not end on a cliffhanger of any sort, but the author does leave plenty of room for expansion. I can’t wait to get my hands on book two in what promises to be a highly suspenseful, action-packed series.