by Karin Tabke, historical (2008)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-5089-1
Karin Tabke has written some erotic romps before making her historical romance debut with Master Of Surrender. I haven't read those naughty stories of hers before so this is my introduction to her story. My verdict of this story is: eh. I have to say this, though, if you are a fan of medieval romances where the hero is really, really hard-hearted and mean while the heroine does everything she can to ensure that he thinks the worst of her, you're in for a ride with this one. Personally, I have some serious misgivings about the relationship between Sir Rohan du Luc and Isabel of Alethorpe.
Rohan is one of the eight men who were once tortured by their Saracen captors during the Crusade. As a result, all men were branded on their chests with their swords. Ever the far-thinking lot and always thinking about merchandising opportunities, this men call themselves the Blood Swords and run off to, er, "move together as one". The author's words, not mine, so any homosexual undertones that you may detect from these guys are to be blamed on her, not me. At any rate, this is clearly the first of the eight intended books in Karin Tabke's The Blood Sword Legacy series.
The plot is a simple one, though. Sir Rohan charges the castle of Alethorpe to claim it as his - his William of Normandy has recently trumped the Saxons, after all - and Isabel decides to lead the rather pathetic resistance against Rohan's army while her father and brother are all MIA in the recent battle at Hastings. The resistance is quickly put down. Rohan would have ravished Isabel without marrying her but luckily for Isabel, she is a healer so she gets to parley for some time as she does her TLC thing for Rohan's man. The usual drama ensues, complete with a "tend to my naked hard-bodied self while I am bathing, woman" scene that I believe is compulsory for medieval romances.
The story is very familiar to the point of being clichéd. Rohan is of course the illegitimate son, although the fact that his sire favors him over his biological son doesn't stop Rohan from being blue about the circumstances of his birth. The legitimate brother of his is, naturally, evil to the core even if Rohan is the one who would have raped the heroine and killed her teenage squire because Rohan is a good man for giving the heroine multiple orgasms. Isabel is the modern day tomboy transplanted to medieval era, prone to action without thinking so that she constantly creates all kinds of nonsense with her botched attempts at "plans" that only cause Rohan to suspect her of all kinds of nonsense. Okay, some of his suspicions are warranted, but what I can't stand about Isabel is that she often ends up regretting her actions once things go wrong. Why can't that bloody woman then think before she acts? I suppose it won't be a clichéd medieval romance if the heroine isn't "feisty" in a bloody braindead way.
Let's not forget some bizarre prophecy about how the Blood Sword's "true love" is the first woman he gets to knock up with his "potent seed". Apparently Rohan has been trying hard and failing in bloating women up with his seed before he meets Isabel. How fortunate that Isabel's brood mare capabilities make her worthy of marriage to a Neanderthal knight! We should all be so lucky.
What makes this book stand out in a way is how nasty the hero can be, a far contrast from most medieval romances out there that usually present a sunny and sanitized version of knights in those times. While Isabel isn't a particularly authentic example of a woman of her time, much of Rohan's antics here are true to the men of his time. Knights are not gallant gentlemen, after all, so his instinctive tendencies to kill his enemies, even if they are barely out of childhood, feel pretty real. This is why I mentioned earlier that if you like your medievals to be dark, you're in for a treat here.
My misgivings stem from the fact that the author spends so much time placing the hero and the heroine at odds with each other that the happy ending feels really false as a result. There are some serious trust issues that need to be resolved here before I can buy the happy ending. Also, Rohan doesn't think of or treats Isabel in a flattering manner for way too long in this story. Just because he saves the day, that doesn't mean that everything is now sunny and fine between him and Isabel. I am also not enamored of the author's prose. I believe she's trying to create some kind of fairy-tale like medieval tone with her prose, but I personally think she tends to favor overblown flowery prose too often for her own good. Calling the bad guy "the ignoble" makes me roll up my eyes, for example.
Master Of Surrender is not a particularly believable romance to me. Very predictable and full of high-strung "I hate you, so legs up, toots, I'm gonna ravish you now!" moments, this one is probably best read by folks who like their medieval romances to be familiar but a little more darker than usual, because I believe these are the folks who will enjoy this book the most.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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