Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-62904-6
Historical Romance, 2017
Some people would say that if you have read a few Viking romances, you’ve read them all. Well, Juliet London’s Captive of the Viking almost breaks the trend in the first few chapters, in a way that has me right at the edge of my seat.
Our heroine, Lady Fearn, has never known freedom. A hostage for her parents’ good behavior, she has been the foster daughter of Earl Thored for as long as she can remember. She is also the wife of a man who treats her like dirt, although his mother would like you to believe that he’s the sweetest man that has ever lived. Then one day, the Earl is visited by the Viking dude Aric the Ruthless and his men. In addition to his tribute, he wants to claim the son of his sister, who was captured and then raped by the Earl a while back. After some heated exchange and bargain, Fearn finds herself handed off to Aric for a year in exchange for a stay on Aric’s claim on the kid.
This scene is pretty solid in a nail-biting way, because Aric seems like a guy of his time, and there is some genuine suspense in the air. Fearn doesn’t act sassy – her fate seems to lie entirely in the hands of the men who control her life, and she has to find a way to turn things to her advantage. She seems like a smart heroine who is well aware of her circumstance and surroundings, and she doesn’t get to mouth off or behave in some unbelievable precious way.
And then, the story moves to familiar territory, when Aric brings Fearn to everyone’s favorite Happy Viking Valley, where all disrespect to the heroine is erased by our heroine’s sassy show of girl power. There, she finds allies that are squarely on her side thanks to some unbelievable contrivance, learns that Vikings are the cultured master race who are awesome (mostly because her own people are all nasty by default), et cetera. In other words, this is another Heroine in a Castle story – whether it is a Viking stronghold, a Scottish castle, or whatever, the tropes are the same. It’s disappointing how this story starts out in such a manner only to end up this… ordinary.
Also, the author turns Aric into a Care Bear that just won’t stop blathering about love. No, seriously – every other word that comes out from his mouth is “love” when it comes to Fearn, and the whole effect is pretty creepy.
“Just the opposite, beloved. I resisted love and rejected yours because, for me, that meant pain. I didn’t want it to happen again that the one I love would be taken from me, so I rejected love, knowing that I must take you home.”
And on and on he would go, and I just can’t reconcile this verbose used car salesman with the Viking warrior he started out as.
I’m giving Captive of the Viking three oogies out of some residual goodwill from the early parts of the book, but yikes, it can become really tough to swallow as it progresses, especially when it and Aric both become too maudlin for words.