Master Of Craving
by Karin Tabke, historical (2009)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0257-2

I know it is hard to write a medieval romance. Put in an alpha males whose behavior is probably true to their time, and readers will whine. Put in gentlemanly knights and readers (sometimes the same readers) will whine about the lack of historical authenticity. Master Of Craving however tries to be both, and the result is an aberrant hybrid mutant kind of book.

Stefan de Valrey gets his story here, and he is the third of the seven Blood Sword dudes to get hitched. These are seven men who bonded over their torture sessions in a Saracen dungeon during the Crusades and now they are inseparable - in a straight heterosexual manner, naturally. Now working for William Normandy in his righteous butchering of Saxon folks in the name of, uh, something, Stefan's story begins with him being apparently the only surviving member of their battalion after a skirmish. He feels a little better when he overhears that Ms Tabke won't just kill short her book contract by actually killing his band of brothers, so he now plans to rescue them.

Arianrhod is a Welsh princess who, for reasons best left unsaid, leaves her home without her father's knowledge to go to her betrothed's place. Halfway through, her betrothed's cousin decides to rape her while she's skinny dipping, but fortunately for her, Stefan comes to the rescue. Stefan then proceeds to drag her with him as his hostage.

Master Of Craving resembles in many ways the lurid medieval romances of those dark old days. This one isn't a bodice ripper, but that's because Arian is either naked or half-naked when the marauding male hovers over her, so there's technically no bodice to be ripped. The poor heroine suffers from the Every Man Is A Rapist syndrome: whenever she's off on her own, a sex fiend will immediately burst out of somewhere to threaten her virtue. Not that she's too protective of her own virtue, since she allows the hero plenty of liberties with her body. Stefan is the Gallant Molester hero. As he tells the heroine on page 141, "I gave my word I would not breach you, milady, but I never promised I would not touch the rest of you."

When Stefan is not gallantly rubbing the heroine's tender parts with his fingers or nibbling at those bits - really, we should give him a medal for being so honorable - he's behaving like a not too bright but very tenacious bulldog with only two things on his mind: happy shagging with the heroine and happy reunion with his band of brothers. The heroine Arian behaves more like a girl than a woman here, throwing tempers and behaving like an erratic creature with mood swings, along with a tendency to martyr herself now and then at the most inconvenient moments. Medieval romances of yore tended to be full of "I hate you! Now rip my bodice and take me now, even though I will hate you for it in the morning!" drama, and this one is no different.

On the other hand, this one is also full of contemporary-sounding dialogs, such as the hero telling the heroine of his ex-girlfriend (who turns out to be a bitter evil hag, naturally) that this ex has had a "better offer". The hero and the heroine seem aware that their wounds can get infected, as they spend a lot time stitching up each other and watching out for festering wounds. At a time when people have no concept of microorganisms causing infections, I find these two characters' rather scientific approach to the treatment of their wounds a little too anachronistic for my liking. Shouldn't they be praying to Jesus to cure their wounds or something? Speaking of which, yes, this is another atheist medieval romance set during a time when religion should be the front and center of their lives. After all, why do these guys go on the Crusades for in the first place?

I'm not saying that Master Of Craving is a bad read. There is a campy charm to it, especially when it comes to the trend of the heroine being unable to keep her clothes on in the first third or so of this book and the unintentional comedy of her being a sex fiend magnet. But if you like your medieval romances to be a little more authentic, this one may not be what you are looking for. Master Of Craving is a story of dominating Gallant Molester heroes with permanent scowls on their faces and the spirited feisty dim-witted waif-like nymphs who shriek and sleep with them.

I personally wish the author has ditched the remnants of political correctness and go all the way to the dark side with her story. The balancing act she tries to do here ends up compromising her story as the end effect of the story is diluted as a result. If we want to have a story of alpha males who forcibly ravish their women, then let the heroes be such, for example. Trying to do things halfway only results in a story that does not seem to know what exactly it wants to be at the end of the day.

Rating: 74

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