Desert Isle Keeper
A Blast from the Past review: originally published on May 30, 2001
Untamed was one of those books I just couldn’t put down. I stretched breaks at work, and prolonged my lunch period as much as I dared because I couldn’t bear to stop reading. Whenever that happens, I know I’ve found a keeper. When it happens after eight years of re-reading a book, I know it’s an Elizabeth Lowell.
Untamed, the first book in Lowell’s Disputed Lands series, is – among other things – a study in the gamma male done right. Hero Dominic Le Sabre is a leader of men, a Norman knight returned from the Crusades, and a favorite of King Henry I, who has been given Blackthorne Keep and its Glendruid mistress as payment for services rendered in the wars. All he wants are lands of his own, a noble wife, heirs, and peace. Before long, however, he realizes that his “payment” guarantees none of these.
Lady Margaret Blackthorne is a leader as well; the entire keep looks to her for guidance and care, and will defend her to the death – which is always a possibility. You see, Meg comes from a long line of cursed women. According to legend, Glendruid women bear children only when their lovers give them pleasure, and male children only when they truly love their mates. The catch is that Glendruid women have an uncanny insight into the hearts of men, and as they say, to see a person clearly and love him anyway is the province of God, not man. These women are also bound to the land, and according to the legend, the land will not flourish until a Glendruid woman loves her husband, and bears him a son to break the 1000-year-old curse. The people of Blackthorne Keep know this, and would do anything to protect their mistress, as much for the sake of their land as for her healing touch and caring ways. No man could take a Glendruid woman – and Blackthorne Keep – by force and hope to succeed.
Enter Dominic. Even as he approaches his new home, Meg’s “father,” Sir John, schemes with his bastard son Duncan of Maxwell to overthrow the Norman warrior. Not even his impending death foils the old lord’s plans, as he quickly plants the seeds of doubt in his son-in-law-to-be’s mind with talk of deep affection between Duncan and Meg (who is, of course, not John’s daughter at all), and of the betrothal that once bound them. Dominic’s mistrust deepens when he overturns Duncan’s plans to slaughter Dominic and his knights at the wedding ceremony – a plan Duncan has forced Meg to aid him in, but which she eventually foils.
Despite this mistrust, Dominic hatches a strategy to accomplish his goals: he must find a way to make Meg love him. His cold-blooded plans, however, don’t allow for his hot-blooded passion for his wife. And his mistrust keeps him from believing that he could end up caught in his own web. Meanwhile, Meg dreams of loving the man who could never love her in return, even as they face unknown dangers which seek to split them even more effectively than they are managing on their own.
The paranormal element in this story is executed perfectly: neither too much mystic mumbo-jumbo, nor too little detail. It is as enthralling as the intense love story, and keeps the belief gently suspended, rather than half-throttled as a heavier touch might have done. Like a fairy tale, it captures the imagination and leaves no room for doubt.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Meg and Dominic is all-consuming, for both the characters and the reader. No many how many times I read it, I find myself rushing back to pick up the book whenever I’m forced to set it down for a moment. He is nearly cruel in his disbelief, but his often-reluctant admission of her wisdom, honor, spirit and strength of will endear him, as does the knowledge of what made him that way. At the same time, Meg’s desperate struggle to defend her people and their land clashes with her need for a man who can’t love her, and her fight to prove that she is true of mind and body. Each has a determination that’s all but tangible to the reader, and their passions will shake you even as they shake each other. Make no mistake: these characters will hurt each other more than once before the story is over, yet somehow their eventual joining is made even sweeter by the pain endured to achieve it.
Readers who know Lowell’s work will find the familiar elements here: a gamma male hero who mistrusts the heroine, a struggle with scars from the past, a heroine of quiet strength who can accept the hero and love him as well, a tortured courtship, love scenes that barely avoid searing the pages they’re written on, and a deep and passionate love that grows out of a story that just won’t let the reader go. Add in danger, enchantment, and characters so real and strong you can almost touch them, and you have a true keeper.