3 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
This is a solid, slightly above average example of historical romance mixed with fantasy. You’ve got all the expected elements: the secret society, the people blessed (or cursed, yes, we have that tired debate continuing) with a “gift,” evil villains who want to misuse said gift, and so on. There’s a tortured hero, a fierce heroine who’s determined to prove that she’s as good as any man (and thus deserves membership into their fraternity), and a romance that’s initially driven by physical attraction. The writing is fine, the plot is acceptable, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about any of it. It’s a quick read, and as I said, slightly above average for this mixed genre, no more, no less.
Anais de Rohan has been raised to be a guardian, something her great-grandmother foretold… so she has been trained in the rules of the Fraternitas (everything from languages to fencing) even though she, and the man who trained her, knew that as a woman it was going to be an uphill battle. While the Fraternitas recognizes women as gifted seers and even occasionally sources of wisdom, they do NOT believe that they’re capable of being true protectors.
Perhaps the greatest of skeptics is Lord Bessett, who has slowly rebuilt the Fraternitas by giving it a makeover, publically calling it St. James Society, and holding secret meetings that others assume is just another gentleman’s club.
Carlyle is obviously both a talented writer and also an adept researcher: there are plenty of historical (and political) details in this book to lend it an air of authenticity. You have a fairly likeable hero (always trying to do the right thing, save the innocent and so on) as well as a spunky female (who wants to go where no woman has gone before…). There’s also a healthy amount of sexual tension, and a clear forward-momentum plot. There’s a young girl, and her helpless widowed mother, as well as a sinister villain trying to control them…
What is lacking is… any element of surprise.
We’re told that Anais is gifted at fencing and languages, and knows how to act. So we see her: acting like a ninny to beguile the villain, practicing her various languages, and also, fencing (okay, I’ll admit, the fencing scene is a good one). We’re told the hero is good and true and so he acts… good and true (so much so he’s almost boring at times). We’re told there’s a villain, and he’s suitably oily and smarmy.
But that’s it. You expect the good guys to win, they do. You expect the overwhelming sexual tension to resolve into sex, it does. The dialogue is fine, the descriptions of magic/gifts/seers are well done, but everything unfolds more or less as you’d expect, there’s no lightness or even joy in any of the scenes (no humor, no surprise), and ultimately, their obstacles feel insubstantial. They tell themselves they’d be a “poor” pairing, but we never really understand why, and so in the end, when they overcome this imagined obstacle, it doesn’t really seem like an accomplishment.
It was a fine, quick read. I didn’t regret it, I certainly won’t be rereading it, and I’m moderately interested, but not by any means in a rush, to read more by Liz Carlyle.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
This was my first book by Liz Carlyle. Sexual tension and “intrigue”-wise, I’d say Stephanie Laurens is a good comparison. The fantasy/Scots-magic aspects of it remind me of some of Teresa Mederios’s work, though it’s been awhile since I’ve read her stuff. There’s a seriousness of tone and tortured-quality to at least this hero which reminds me of Kat Martin, though Martin’s plots tend to move along a bit more quickly I think.