A Dark Champion
by Kinley MacGregor, historical (2004)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-056541-1
This book is... I don't know how to put this without repeating myself from previous reviews of books by this author. It's like watching a TV show like American Idol, where there are a few good moments of entertainment that are spread thin over commercial breaks. A Dark Champion is the start of a new series and like the author's Dark-Hunter books, once the hero and the heroine are set up as lovers, the plot slowly moves away from them for set-ups to future books in the series. It's not that the author does this that annoys me, it's how she goes about doing it. I find myself thinking, "Sheesh, can she be any less subtle in her approach?"
The series revolve around a group of ex-Crusaders, each with their own cutesy "scary and macho" nicknames, that come back to medieval England to kick butt. Stryder of Blackmoor, our hero, finds Stryder not cheesy, sorry, macho enough as a name so he's called the "Widowmaker" for his battle prowess. If he charges in with a rifle and shouts "Make my day, punk!" before shooting off the head of the villain, I won't even blink an eye or cry historical anachronism. He's that cheesy. In fact, when the story begins, he's roaming the countryside with a mean sneer on his face as he helps the downtrodden and the oppressed. Make my day indeed, punk. Oh, and wherever he goes, women throw themselves at him because not only is he a mean punk called the Widowmaker, he also makes widows and other jovial harlots very happy.
King Henry II and his loving consort Eleanor decide to solve the heartaches arising from the Widowmaker's soap opera by ordering the Widowmaker to marry the very difficult and headstrong Lady Rowena de Vitry. But Lady Rowena abhors knights and violence because she, as a heroine, is against war and other barbaric things men do. No, she's into music and art, as befits her status as a Politically Correct Romance Novel Heroine, and she hopes to compose a fabulous song one day to persuade people to give up arms forever. I think I know how who is that evil fellow that created the Care Bears. The sneaky Eleanor however manipulates events so that Rowena has to teach Stryder to sing for an upcoming trabadour tournament. Stryder has bigger problems than his self-esteem issues making him doubt his ability to be loved, however: some assassins are going after the Brotherhood of the Sword. Of course, since everyone is getting his book, there's no suspense as to whether any of them will actually die, but I guess every book needs a conflict somehow, especially one that allows the author to introduce every character she's going to have starring in her next few historicals for Avon.
Stryder is a standard MacGregor tortured hero. Self-esteem issues, hurt, guilt, abuse, you name it, either he or Rowena has it. While the author has to be commended for delivering a few good romantic scenes in this book, this only drives home the fact that Ms MacGregor can write a good book if she isn't so keen on plastering scenes to advertise her upcoming books all over the place. If the focus has been on the main characters and not unresolved subplots involving Stryder and his Brotherhood, A Dark Champion would be a meatier, more coherent read.
Thin on historical details, A Dark Champion won't satisfy fans who prefer their medieval romances to have at least some details about the time period. On the other hand, this book also feels incomplete and comes off as like sampler of a few of the author's books instead of a cohesive single book. Rowena and Stryder do fall in love at the end of the day, but unfortunately their falling in love is just a drop in the sea that is the author's commercial-driven machinations in this book.
If you're looking for a book with satisfying closure and are not keen on investing in the author's next few books to find these closures, if you want to see fully-developed characters fall in love instead of superficially developed Tortured Guy #4328 from the author's catalogue falling in love amidst a noisy clutter of subplots specifically designed to be as convoluted as possible just to fit in the appearances of as many future main characters as possible, well, I don't think you will find what you are looking for in this book. On the other hand, fans of the author's series are unlikely to be disappointed as she doesn't rock the boat where her formula is concerned.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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