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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Captive Heart - Sarah McKerrigan As the novel's blurb indicates, Helena is a Warrior Maiden of Rivenloch and the only thing worse than a rusty sword is a husband. When her father arranges a marriage between a Norman named Pagan (yeah, Pagan) and her younger sister Mirial, Helena and her other sister Deidre insist that one of them must marry Pagan instead. Why? I don't know. Apparently, because Miriel is too cute. Obviously, Captive Heart is part of a series (book two) and probably best read as such.

Deidre wins the "honor" of marrying Pagan, except Helena doesn't know this and thinks too-cute-to-marry Miriel is being ravaged in Pagan's bed. To end the marriage, she tries to kill Pagan, but is too drunk to complete the task and is caught by Pagan's right hand man, Colin du Lac. (Yes, "du Lac.") He locks her in a storage room, but later, she overpowers him and forces him out into the woods (at knifepoint) where she plans to hold him for ransom, demanding that Pagan annul the marriage. She continues with her plan, even after Colin tells her that it's Deidre, not Miriel, who has married Pagan. Colin goes along with this because...honor. *head desk*

This has to be the lamest plot device I've ever seen for getting the hero and heroine to spend some time--alone--together.

Despite this, I started to enjoy Colin and Helena's slightly cantankerous relationship. Largely, because Helena usually maintained the upper hand physically, kicking ass and bringing home the bacon. Amusingly, Colin was the one who "fried it up in a pan." (Old tv commercial reference.) The story gives the characters time to let the sexy build, rather than going for insta-lust. There's a lot of accidental and not-so-accidental touching, fraught with a sexy undercurrent. In short, the plotline, however feeble, gives Helena and Colin a chance to actually get to know each other, and build an attraction that is grounded in mutual respect.

Helena and Colin's little romp in the woods is interrupted when they are attacked and kidnapped by bandits. The story starts to lose steam at this point, because Colin is too dimwitted to realize that Helena is manipulating the bandits, and instead decides that she is a conniving wench who only wants him for his ransom. Good thing he's pretty, because he's not too bright.

The two escape the bandits, Helena gets to play doctor to Colin's wounds, and this leads to the sexin'. The sex scenes are hot, but slightly diminished by ye olde, surprise virgin plot device. You know, the "Wh-wait, was that a hymen?" routine? Colin, on finding he despoiled a virgin and not just your run-of-the-mill harlot, decides he must marry Helena. Helena, wisely, says, "No." Colin is annoyed that Helena would turn down a his good looking, gourmet-cooking self, but doesn't have too much time to brood because the pair soon encounter a British scout, part of an invading army. They hurry back to alert Rivenloch.

Back in Rivenloch the story takes that most irritating of romance novel tacks. The Misunderstanding. Still smarting from Helena's refusal to marry him, he ignores her. Helena meanwhile, still pissy about her sister's (apparently happy) marriage, finds solace in her sister's new husband. Pagan, unable to spar with his now pregnant wife, agrees to spar with Helena. Colin finds out they are sneaking out into the woods...and decides that they must be screwing. Helena, similarly, sees Colin with a maid, and decides...they must be screwing.

But the big O, that is Obstacle, to their happily ever after is Helena's reluctance to marry. In a time when marriage really meant barefoot, pregnant and possibly dead from childbirth, you can't really blame her. Except there is an undercurrent in the story suggesting that Helena's desire to be a warrior is "impetuous." I think the story missed out on a good opportunity to address gender roles. I mean, it's not like anyone was calling Colin, who also likes being a warrior (knight), impetuous. This couldn't be the first time Helena had run up against gender determination in her society. Her reasons for avoiding marriage are, IMO, depicted as irrational, when they are anything but. Scotland in 1136 wasn't a model of sexual equality. (I felt like this was a case where a great heroine was diminished by the Romance novel expectation that women must conform to a certain role. She can be tough, but not too tough. Meh.)

I'm therefore, not the ideal audience for Captive Heart. I would say, for more traditional romance readers, Captive Heart is probably a great story. Quite a bit of action, hot sex, and a hero who can whip up gourmet meals even in the middle of nowhere.