The theme: a historical romance. Ha! 90% of my print tbr is historical.
Why this one: Writing about Hunter’s Medieval romances reminded me that this is the only one of her books I’ve never read. Or at least, finished; I’ve started and skimmed it so often, I almost felt like I had read it before. Although I still felt some resistance, it did finally take this time.
Hunter’s Medieval couples are often involved in power struggles, and this may be the longest, toughest battle of them all. Marcus and Nesta are both very intelligent schemers fighting for very high stakes — patriotism/their people — and they spend most of the book at odds, even as they fall in love. Nesta tries hard not to have a physical relationship with him, telling him: “our lack of choices makes this embrace a mockery. A prelude to each of us betraying the other.” But though they do indeed betray each other constantly, they can’t betray their true feelings.
I think as an early romance reader, I found it hard to accept Nesta, who is something of a femme fatale. And truthfully, it’s still not a type I’m all that fond of in romance. But I did grow to appreciate her cleverness, and feel sympathy for the torn loyalties that drive her. Marcus is also not my favorite hero, though it’s harder to put my finger on why. I think perhaps both are written at a bit of a remove… even while in their thoughts, we don’t know everything they’re planning, so we don’t see their best facets until the book is almost over. The focus is largely on their physical attraction for a long time, and I think that’s the heart of my issue: the story goes to a sexy place very early on. Although Hunter is an excellent writer of what AAR calls “luscious” love stories, I tend to enjoy them less when they focus very quickly, very strongly on sex.
But Hunter’s writing is always elegant and if you enjoy this sort of forbidden love — Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk is a good comparison — it’s certainly worth a read. One of the more interesting aspects of it for me was as an example of “reader consent.” In the course of the book, Marcus does something quite shocking to Nesta: it’s not rape or any form of overt violence, but it is a pretty sick-making form of coercion. But I went from being completely disgusted to reluctantly convinced to accept, if not approve of, his action. Pretty impressive, considering I wasn’t totally attached to the characters to begin with.