by Judith E French, historical (2004)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5379-9
The Barbarian is the sequel to The Conqueror in what seems to be a series about the life of Roxane, one of the wives of Alexander the Great. While there are plenty of romantic elements in this book, readers should take note that this book is more historical fiction than historical romance.
In this book, Roxane awakes from unconsciousness with no memory of who she is. She is in Alexandria, in the abode of Ptolemy, the Pharaoh. He tells her that she has recently lost a child and a husband and now she is under his care after he has her saved from certain death. Also, he says that she is an Egyptian noblewoman and they are in love. Roxane has no memories of her past and she has no reason to doubt Ptolemy at first, so she slowly succumbs to his attention. But as time goes by, she becomes increasingly uneasy at the way Ptolemy seems to be hiding things from her. Something is amiss, but she doesn't know what that is. And then one days comes Kayan, who claims to know her and love her and has come all the way to rescue her once he knows that she is alive. Who will Roxane believe now?
In a way, I suspect that readers who start on this book without having read The Conqueror will have a better time than those who have read the prequel because readers familiar with Roxane will not feel any suspense when it comes to which guy is telling the truth. Actually, the suspense isn't that intense because Ptolemy and Kayan are rather one-dimensional characters easily identifiable as the good guy or the bad guy. Roxane is less irritating and more well-written here than she was in the previous book (where she is a stereotypical hoyden character) and it is she who makes The Barbarian a compelling read.
The story has enough details to draw me into the setting of fourth century Egypt but I wish that the two crucial male characters in this story as at least as two-dimensional as Roxane. Because they are flat, the story is missing the crucial hook that can draw me into the story and make me invest emotionally into Roxane's dilemma and plight. As a strong and independent heroine, Roxane deserves a better-developed story. Still, a well-paced story with a satisfying penultimate ensure that I finish this book thinking that it is a pleasant tale to lose myself into for a few hours.
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