Pub Date: January 2011
Length: 316 pages
FTC: Purchased myself at the RT convention book signing
I remember hearing about this book on several blogs early last year. Lots of good reviews, but the main reason I picked this up last April was because it featured a bull shape shifter. Which I thought was sufficiently weird and unusual.
What I did not realize (for some unknown reason, since it's pretty obvious if you glance at the blurb) was that this was a late medieval romance...a genre I'm really not that fond of. Blame it on the history classes or the medieval lit classes. Blame it on my own reading shallowness. Medieval stories just aren't my cuppa. But I read this one anyway.
The research that went into this book is obvious. Hendrix expertly blends Norse legends with Greek ones. The dialogue and internal musings of the characters stay pretty much historically accurate (which is to say crude--another of my issues with the time period). The paranormal elements are in reality very subtle and woven into the story in a way that makes sense. You could easily see this story being one of those chivalric romances so popular during the Middle Ages. I expected those elements to be jarring and they're not, which was a wonderful surprise.
As impressed as I was with the effort the author took to make this book feel medieval, I had some issues with it. Part of the problem with the book is that it is a mid-series one. Striking that balance between info dumping about previous stories and leaving the reader confused is hard to manage. This one does okay, except for the characterization of the other cursed Norsemen. Although this is Gunnar's story, I could have used a bit more depth or interaction with the the rest of the crew a little earlier in the story. It was weird not to have insights into them until they show up midway through the novel.
My other issue with the book is with the heroine. Part of the problem is that she's so young when we first meet her. Time passes and events change and mold her into a stronger person, but she still seems...vague to me. At times, more of an object than a character. Given some of the realities of her life throughout the course of the novel, it might be a good thing we're not in her head, but that distance also kept me from really connecting with her.
The bull shifter thing isn't as weird as it first sounds. Hendrix doesn't try to make him sexy in his bull form. The form is a curse. It's not something celebrated. It's not something that makes him who he is. It's something he's had to learn to live with and something he's been searching for centuries to be freed from. In other words, it is unusual and unique, but not something that should inspire snickering or eye rolling from the anti-paranormal crowd.
This is one of those books that should appeal to readers tired of the narrow field of options available today—those who yearn for the expanded canvases of Jean Plaidy and others. I think the paranormal elements lean heavily towards the fairy tale part of the spectrum and should, as a result, be okay with some readers who dislike a lot of "woo woo" in their historical books.
I liked it enough that I'll be checking our Lisa Hendrix's other books once the series moves out of the Middle Ages.
My grade: B (but if you like medieval stuff, this would probably be more of an A-/B+)
He faces a future of cold uncertainty, until her warm embrace…
Part of a Viking crew of warriors cursed by an evil sorceress, Gunnar the Red must toil through eternity as half-man, half-beast, living out his days as a great bull, while his nights are spent in human form. And though he keeps mostly to the wilds, his heart yearns for the simple comforts of man—and the chance to redeem a tragic past…
Seeking refuge from a bitter winter in the welcoming hall of Richmond Castle, Gunnar rescues two maidens when a blaze erupts—and his destiny is forever altered. For one of the young women is Lady Eleanor de Neville, who is immediately entranced by her rescuer. Her kiss of gratitude—the brief touch of her lips against his cheek—awakens a longing in her soul. And even when she is betrothed to another, Eleanor never forgets her courageous knight.
When Gunnar rides back into Eleanor’s life, she is consumed by undeniable passion. And though his body surrenders to her every touch, Gunnar’s heart remains imprisoned by the curse—and only the magic of the truest love can save him…