Cover Comment: Ok, this males only thing is no longer a trend. It’s a takeover.
Series?: Yes. This is Book 1 of The Immortal Brotherhood, Viking warriors cursed to be immortal were-creatures. Book 2, Immortal Outlaw, comes in 2009.
Setting: Early 1000s Northumberland, mainly in a castle and surrounding woods.
Heroine and Hero: Alaida, competent red haired virgin mistress of the keep at Alnwick, future home of the great Alnwick castle. Known to the Normans as Ivo de Vassy, Ivor Graycloak is actually a Viking warrior cursed a couple of centuries earlier to live eternally as a man by night, an eagle by day.
Plot: King William of England offers Ivo a gift for his help, and when Ivo, tired of wandering for centuries, asks for land, he unexpectedly gets a wife as well. The plot revolves mainly around Ivo and Alaida becoming close while he attempts to keep his secret, but they do face external threats, both human and paranormal.
My Take in Brief: I found the setting unique, the premise compelling, and the historical detail fascinating. However, the plot was slow and the premise did not allow for much interaction between the h/h, who were not particularly compelling individuals.
Fun factoid: This is author Lisa Hendrix’s sixth novel, but her first foray into paranormal romance.
Word on the Web:
Book Smugglers, 5 out of 10
Literary Escapism, very positive
Yankee Romance Reviews, very positive
Amazon.com, 5 stars after 4 reviews (although, it must be said, one of these is Harriet Klausner’s)
The Racy Romance Review:
I wasn’t sure at first about mixing historical and paranormal, having only experienced Beyond the Highland Mist, which inspired my snarkiest review ever. Then again, I enjoyed the movies Ladyhawke and Highlander back in the day (and yes, I saw them both during their original theatrical run). And since originality is often a good thing in a genre that tends to sameness, I said yes when asked by the publisher if I would review it.
After reading many so called “wallpaper historicals”, in which a mention of the marriage mart and a curricle suffices to establish the Regency England setting, I wasn’t prepared for the incredible detail of Immortal Warrior. I’m sure specialists will have bones to pick, but every time I picked up this book, I felt like I was smack dab in the center of daily life of an early middle ages keep. The food and drink, the clothes, the relationships between servant and master, the language, the politics, the church’s influence, it’s all there. In its richness and in the way it was seamlessly weaved into the story, I would compare Immortal Warrior’s history to Outlander, which is, for me at least, high praise. (The one thing I caught was an emphasis on the importance of the queen in chess, which I believe she doesn’t merit until centuries later. I only have this in mind because I showed the Bergman film The Seventh Seal to my class last week, and he made the same error).
Here’s a little example, which gives you a flavor of Ivo and Alaida’s relationship as well:
“It is you.” His fingers closed around her arms, gripping them so she couldn’t turn to face him. He inhaled deeply. “That scent has tickled my nose all evening, but I thought it was the rush-herbs. What is it?”
What was this distraction? Brows knit in suspicion, Alaida sniffed, first the air and then, realizing what he smelled, at the sleeve of her chainse.
“Wormwood and rue … and tansy, I think,” she said, trying not to let on how distracted she was by the pressure of his hands. “For moths. They were on the gown I wore.”
“Ah.” He sniffed near her ear and it tickled. “I thought you might have doused yourself in some strange perfume in an effort to drive me away.”
“I had not thought of it. Would it work?”
“No.” Bending to the curve of her neck, he inhaled deeply once more. “I am not a moth.”
Another major strength of this book is the way the hero’s curse is portrayed. As a reader, I felt what a burden it is on Ivo. I would compare Ivo in this sense to the stoic, resigned, and dignified Captain Navarre in Ladyhawke. Unlike other shapeshifter books where this condition is portrayed as a kind of a mild kink, it’s very painful for Ivo to change over to his animal form, and it separates him from normal human attachments and patterns of living, making him lonely, and motivating him compellingly to accept King William’s offer of a bride.
I also liked Alaida, who knows the score — she’s a woman alone in 1097, not a modern heroine who expects to choose her own husband — and tries to make the best of her unchosen marriage, wielding power to keep her dignity in the ways she can.
Here’s an example:
“She is my horse, my lord. I will ride her.”
“Behind a groom, you mean.”
“No, my lord, nor with a man leading her. I ride her.” She dipped another plum apricot off the trencher and held it out to him. “These are very good. Would you care for one?”
The gesture caught him off guard. In the weeks they’d been married, not once had she offered him a taste of anything. Wanting to encourage this small intimacy before he questioned her further about her riding, he smiled and leaned forward, intending to take a bite. Instead, she shoveled the entire fruit into his mouth. It was swollen with honey and wine, and, as he bit down, it spurted so much spiced liquor down his throat that it made his eyes water.
As he choked and gasped, she leaned forward. His heart scuttered a beat or two as she smiled up at him.
“You may as well hear it now, my lord”, she said more sweetly than she’s spoken to him in weeks. “Not only do I ride without a groom, I ride astride. Wearing a pair of braies beneath my gown.”
I wish there had been many more of these scenes, but the two only shared dinners together, and, after the marriage is consummated, Ivo decides he cannot risk getting her pregnant, so he doesn’t even come up to bed until she is asleep for most of the book. I am one of those people who likes a lot of h/h interaction — not necessarily sexual, mind you — so the fact that so much time was spent with Alaida alone during the day and Ivo alone at night made the book less enjoyable for me. To be fair, I don’t know how it could have been otherwise, given the premise. The hero and heroine are likable, with many good qualities, and no vices at all, but are not particularly memorable as characters, and it’s not all that clear why they fall in love. Ivo’s attachment to his men, especially Brand, who becomes a bear at night, seemed somehow more intimate and enduring.
All of Ivo’s friends will get their own books, eventually. I’m hoping that subsequent books in the series will realize the potential I sensed in Immortal Warrior.