The Warlord's Wife
I’ve read more than a few books that started off well, but floundered as I moved along. However, The Warlord’s Wife follows a less common path. The first half or two-thirds of this book is painfully terrible, so awful in fact that I found myself wondering if F- might possibly be a grading option. But the second half – or at least the last quarter? Well, the ending’s a little too pat, but the author really does improve things by fitting in a cracking good action story amidst the crazy romance. If I hadn’t had to suffer through the rest of the book to get to it, I actually would have enjoyed that part.
So, who’s curious about that terrible beginning? Yeah, me too. The novel opens with drama as the pregnant and newly widowed Lida is exiled from her husband’s family for the crime of having had sex with her husband before marriage. Thankfully, Lida’s parents are not total jerks so when she returns home to Finland, they take her in and eight years later, the story picks up with Lida living on her parents’ farm as a single mother.
When Jarl Magnus Knutson passes through Lida’s home settlement, he is quite taken with Lida and fixes on marrying her. He needs an heir and since his last wife died of pregnancy complications, he must find a bride to take back north to Tronscar. Lida’s key selling point? Since she has a daughter, she obviously can survive childbirth. I know. Magnus is such a romantic.
Lida pragmatically agrees to the match. After all, not only are her siblings pressuring her to marry the wealthy Magnus, but the marriage would give her young daughter protection and a chance at an honorable marriage someday.
Once Lida sails to her new home with the Swedish jarl, things really get crazy. Basically, Magnus becomes that spouse you hear about in domestic violence awareness spots. He insists on telling Lida what to wear, gets irrationally crazy jealous at mentions of other men(including her late husband), and is pretty much obsessed with her complete obedience. Well, obedience and getting her pregnant. Magnus and Lida have lots of sex, and there’s so little emotion attached to it that I frankly found it depressing.
From the scenes told in Magnus’ point of view, he appears at first to see Lida as cattle or perhaps some kind of hybrid doll/sex toy. In vain, one waits to see him change his mind and truly fall in love with Lida. Waiting for Lida to grow a spine is a little more fruitful. In the early chapters of the book, Lida’s passivity grates but one can understand it. After all, women on their own in 13th century Scandinavia didn’t have a ton of options. Magnus might be an asshole, but he’s a rich and powerful asshole, and that translates to at least some measure of protection for Lida and her daughter.
However, practical heroine tolerating tyrannical jerk just doesn’t move most readers, and it sure didn’t work for me as romance, though I did find the historical backdrop and the workings of Magnus’ estate quite interesting. Magnus does eventually come around, but he doesn’t fully acknowledge the spectacular awfulness of all that came before. He dotes on his new stepdaughter, and readers repeatedly see Lida ruminating on her love for Magnus(particularly after some of their sex scenes), but I had a lot of trouble genuinely believing in love, as opposed to well, Stockholm Syndrome.
And the cracking good action subplot? Well, most of it unfolds in the last third of the book, so I don’t want to throw out spoilers. Early in the book we meet a housekeeper who pretty much makes the infamous Mrs. Danvers look like rainbows and sunshine. Let’s just say she puts a plot in motion that, while completely off-the-wall crazy, culminates in some fast-moving action sequences that did make the last few chapters of the book more fun to read.
Would I recommend reading The Warlord’s Wife? Oh, hell no. The hardened warlord learning to love could have been a compelling plot, but this story had too much hardness and not enough there to convince this reader of love.