Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-92560-9
Historical Romance, 2017
Sold to the Viking Warrior is powered by tropes all the way to the finish line. There is nothing wrong with this, ordinarily, if it’s done well, but the characters go through the motions, but they do so in ways that don’t make much sense, if at all, and more often than not, they seem to be very dumb actors trying very hard to make it through some Medieval Viking Café diversion without collapsing from nerves.
From the very beginning, I know I will have serious problems swallowing this one without gagging because our heroine, Eilidith of Cennell Fergusa, is determined to help her father, accused of treason, by traveling – alone except for her wolfhound Coll – to some lord in order to remind him of the debt he owes her father in order to gain his support. So, what happens if this lord tells her to talk to his hand or kiss his rear end? Well, that’s okay, as she tells our hero Sigurd Sigmundson, she’s made a vow to try or die trying, so, you know, if she dies she’ll die knowing that she tried. My goodness, is this our current expectation of romance heroines – giving them participation medals for merely taking part in the oppression special olympics? There, there, she tried, that dumb wench, and we love her all the same, now go choke on a kebab.
It all begins right at the first chapter itself. As expected, her wolfhound Coll immediately takes to Sigurd without any prompting – way too many authors’ favorite shorthand device to show me that the hero is “good” – and our heroine naturally has some physical disfigurement – in this case a birthmark located discreetly at the lower part of her face, enough to make her feel all, “Eek, I am not sexy so all you guys better keep telling me I am hot a few million times until I believe it!” but not too much to make her look like, you know, ugly or anything like that. Our hero immediately sees her as hot, but she’s not convinced, naturally. But being bombarded with this tired showcase of clichés right from the start is not the worst problem. No, the worst problem here is that the first chapter is one long, bewildering conversation between her and Sigurd.
You see, she meets Sigurd while on the journey and she has no idea who he is. She is in a hurry, supposedly, and yet she has no problems blabbing all her plans to a stranger, and she also believes everything he says about the man she wants to meet without asking further questions. Despite occasionally wondering whether she should be afraid, she gives him lip, even telling him how little she thinks about his parentage. The author tries to rationalize this by having Liddy – yes, everyone calls the heroine Liddy here – say later that her mouthy nature is part of her personality. But really now, this scene is really stupid, especially when Liddy realizes later that she’s basically spilled all her plans to someone whose identity she doesn’t even know. Sigurd isn’t any better – he lets her know of his plans to sabotage the very person whose favor she seeks, after knowing of her plan. But is this the way of people back in those days, to spill everything, including your top secret mission, to perfect strangers without any prompting? That entire chapter feels a lot like something written by some socially awkward person with little understanding of how human interaction works.
The rest of the story is a freefall from that moment. We have bargains, the heroine being sold into slavery, et cetera, but for the most part, it is the same old story of the hero thinking of the heroine as the hottest honeypot ever and she putting up a big fight when it comes to believing that she is ever worthy of a man’s affections due to her appearance. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she will jump to some ridiculous “Oh no, he really doesn’t love me, woe is me!” drama for some late end conflict. Meanwhile, she gets accepted among his people, shocker, but look, there’s that villainous ho that always shows up in such a story. And so forth – if you’ve read a few “I’m a slave adored by my Viking owner” stories of this sort, you’ll know what to expect in this one.
But this story is also plagued by behavior and emotions that feel disproportionately wrong or out of place. People give lip and act feisty when they should be worried or fearful of what to come. People charge and do stupid things when they should have been more careful. I’m told that the characters are awesome, but what I see are morons that are incapable of reacting normally to any situation. As a result, the entire story feels artificial. The suspense doesn’t work because the heroine is sassing or acting precious in moments when she should be terrified. The romance doesn’t work because the whole thing feels like a disingenuous exercise on the author’s part to have the hero compliment the heroine as often as possible.
As for historical authenticity, well, let’s just say that the characters in this story use phrases such as “You are overly touchy for today!” and leave it at that. Oh, and Liddy, we can’t forget that.
At the end of the day, Sold to the Viking Warrior is like a transcript of some “creative exercise” session in which some well-meaning therapist tries to have socially awkward teens play acting and do some drama in order to get them out of their shells. No one emotes, speaks, or feels in a believable manner, but that’s okay, as long as those kids get to interact with one another instead of writing angst-filled screes on Tumblr and Twitter. But given that this is supposed to be a romance novel, the way it is isn’t so okay after all.
Her body expanded, allowing the length of him. And there was no pain.