by Susan Squires, historical (2003)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5124-9
What do you call a book where it will so, so good if the heroine isn't in it? Like always, like Susan Squires' previous books, Danelaw frustrates me because it is so good were not for one really great flaw. In this case, it's the heroine Epona "Pony", Daughter of the Horse Goddess. She has a gift of communicating with animals that aren't carnivores - I don't know about omnivores, but since she can telephatically talk to rats, I guess omnivores are okay too. Like most gifted heroines in romance novels, you can give her powers to destroy the world or create one, but all they care about is having babies. In this case, Epona wants a baby. Because the Goddess decrees so. Yippee for procreation.
Our hero Valgar is luckier. He has come all the way to Chippenham to start his own empire (okay, he'll start small). He decides to use Pony, a local and often feared figure, as a leverage to solidify his position in town. Pony the female Mowgli soon realizes that she has struck the motherload, so to speak, and sets her sight on healing, acting offended at carnivorous humans, and getting pregnant with the gravity of the three Wise Men chasing after the star in the sky.
Valgar has character development. One can argue that the adventures of this book are all his too and Pony is just there for the ride, literally and figuratively. Conflict? Responsibility? Decision? Character development? Angst? That's Valgar's territory. Healing, needing help, acting innocent, and giving cute names to creatures (First Mare - yucks) and acting like a kid who happens to have a luscious woman's body - say ick to Pony. What sort of name is Pony anyway?
Danelaw's romance is pretty much sealed by the late third of the book so that a series of external conflicts can be set in motion. Which is good - I enjoy Danelaw when the focus is away from Pony and Valgar to Valgar alone. As a medieval set during the spread of Christianity to Europe in the Dark Ages, Danelaw is simultaneously detailed and complex and gritty and violent - I like it. The author doesn't shy away from issues like religious differences and the conflicts it give rise to.
As an adventure, Danelaw is worth a look. As a romance, not so much.
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