Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29794-8
Historical Romance, 2014
Lady Thomasina, or Tamsin for short, is an orphan living with her uncle Simon in Castle DeLac. Don’t confuse her for Cinderella, though. Sure, she’s not rich or under the protection of some powerful man, but she manages the staff and makes sure the whole place is run properly. She’s also best friends with her cousin, Mavis. When the story opens, Tamsin learns that her uncle is going to marry her off to Sir Blane of Dunborough, an odious man, in an arrangement that would, of course, benefit Uncle Simon. If Tamsin refuses to agree, he’d wed Mavis to Blane, and Tamsin decides to go ahead as she can’t bear the thought of Mavis being wedded to that man. See, it’s so easy to manipulate romance heroines, I’m surprised they didn’t all die out by 100 BC.
Unknown to Tamsin, she has already caught the eye of Sir Rheged of Cwm Bron, the Wolf of Wales. Tamsin thinks he’s hot, what with his Fabio-esque hair and muscles and all, and she’s also intrigued by his shiny aura of mean, lean danger. Little does she expect that Rheged would come to her rescue by kidnapping her shortly before she’s to be packed and shipped off to Blane. He has his own motives to “rescue” Tamsin, of course, and his attraction to her would only complicate his plans. Still, they do make for some fun type of complications…
There is something very reassuring about the often over the top campy nature of Margaret Moore’s Castle of the Wolf. If historical romances set in the medieval era are a dime a dozen these days, instead of being the occasional oddity found mostly in the Harlequin Historical line or the indie wilderness, this one would be an unimpressive kind of average read. The villains are so over the top, they make Yosemite Sam and Daffy Duck seem like paragons of subtlety in comparison. They yell, snarl, sneer, stomp, and all but twirl their evil mustache while going, “Muahahahaha!”
Hilariously enough, Uncle Simon is easily led around the nose by his daughter Mavis, who turns out to be a pretty interesting character in her own right. Tamsin talks about wanting to protect Mavis, but Mavis can easily hold her own and stand up against her father. She’s a far more interesting character than Tamsin, as a result, as Tamsin is more of the standard feisty and determined heroine commonly found in the genre. Mavis has some surprises in store, while Tamsin is exactly what she seems to be from the get go, so Tamsin feels so dull compared to her cousin. Rheged is like that, too – he’s the standard tarnished knight with an agenda kind of hero commonly found in medieval romances, so he’s well matched with Tamsin in terms of just how much like stock characters they both resemble. The plot is also very predictable. Everything about this story is predictable, except for Mavis being far more spirited and smart than the typical “heroine’s little sister” type of character, to the point that the over the top villainy serves as an unintentional source of amusement to make up for the overwhelming familiarity of the story.
The romance is, fortunately, still believable, although it plays out like many medieval kidnap fantasy romances, and both Rheged and Tamsin are far more likable than flat stereotypes should be.
Oh, and if you are sensitive to contemporary nuances in historical romances, be careful and steel yourself, especially when Tamsin refers to the guest quarters in Castle DeLac as “guest apartments”. I don’t normally get worked up much over the occasional “wait a minute” use of language in historical romances, but there are some instances here, like the previous mentioned example, that stand out so much like a hairy wart on a hot guy’s nose that I just have to put down the book and look up the etymology of those words. Some people may not mind, other may find these things distracting, so use your discretion and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Castle of the Wolf doesn’t break any new grounds, and it’s on the generic side as a whole, but, as I’ve said, its predictability still offers some kind of nostalgic charm. This probably says more about the state of historical romance today than the quality of this book itself, I have to admit.