The Border Hostage
by Virginia Henley, historical (2002)
Dell, $6.99, ISBN 0-440-22210-9
I like Virginia Henley. She marches on to the beat she hears only in her own head, not caring whether her romance novels are following today's "in" formula or not. Of course, this means that her books have this dated feel to it, but for the most time, it works. And The Border Hostage works. It still has that toned down level of bawdiness and vulgarity Henley romances of yore are filled to the brim with, but The Border Hostage is as close to the glory of Tempted (of which this book is closely related to) and Seduced.
It has me worrying though, because it begins with Heath Kennedy, our hero and sister to Valentina, the heroine in Tempted, observing two horses going at it and the point of view is such that it seems as if Heath is going at it with the mare. Scary. I mean, yeah, I've heard jokes about Scotsmen and horses (or was it Australian men and sheep... oh, never mind), but this is spooky. Thankfully, it soon shows that Heath can also get a mighty erection from mares of the Homo sapiens kind.
When he is kidnapped and trussed up by baddies (they mistake him for Ram Douglas), he escapes and bumps into our heroine Raven Carleton. He steals her horse and her shirt, and she shrieks bloody mayhem and murder. Heath, charmed, decides to woo her, or failing that, kidnap her and bludgeon her with his kong stick into submission. Raven, however, is more than willing to bite back. Ada, who gives the heroine of Tempted some bizarre love advice, gives Raven more of the bizarre love advice here, while the gypsy Meg, also from Tempted, completes the bizarre duo of Dr Ruth on crack thing. Ram Douglas and other cast from Tempted also make an appearance, in a political subplot that seems to have come dangling from Tempted. I'm not sure how readers unfamiliar with Tempted will handle this book, as the cast of Tempted hog the limelight as much as Raven and Heath.
The loves are vintage Henley. Heath is over the top alpha, and is as arrogant as a mule, but as usual, complete mush once the heroine submitted. He can be insufferable if Raven is a doormat, but Raven, like most of Henley's heroines, is an over-the-top hellion that will not hesitate to scratch and bite back when cornered. Which, incidentally, turns Heath on even more. These characters love the exclamation mark and they are full of hot air, without turning on the stupid mojo.
The Border Hostage does falter in two aspects. One, as the story continues, Raven and Heath seem to interact less and less, making the chemistry between those two dip to near zero towards the end. Two, there's just not enough gratuitous sex and violence. A Virginia Henley book is just not good enough in an over-the-top way if there is no excess gratuitous T&A. It makes me nostalgic for the silly skank sex scenes of Tempted or that sillier scene where our hero uses his, uh, juices to lubricate his fingers for *rest censored because let's face it, kiddies may be reading this too* in the very vulgar Enslaved.
So, yes, keep marching to the beat, Ms Henley, and don't listen to those who keep whining that you are no Laura Kinsale. I need my cheese and sex and gratuitous T&A written in hilarious wit, I want my ridiculously over-the-top alpha-but-kind males, and I want spitfire heroines who aren't ashamed to enjoy sex and bite that thing when it wants to be bitten. In short, I want a good Virginia Henley story. The Border Hostage is, I'm happy to report, one of them. Not as good as the old Henley of yore, but hey, good enough.
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