If the e-book revolution has done one thing for romance readers (aside from making us less ashamed of reading romance), it’s the fact that it’s given new life to hard-to-find and out-of-print romances, helping bring buried treasures into the the light. I can think of no better example than Lord of Vengeance by Lara Adrian.
Here’s the Amazon synopsis:
Taken captive by Gunnar Rutledge, a dark knight sworn to destroy her father, Raina d’Bussy must teach forgiveness to a man who knows no mercy and lives only to exact revenge on his enemy. But time in Gunnar’s keep stirs an unwanted passion in Raina, and something far more perilous, when she finds herself falling in love with the one man she should never desire.
For Gunnar, vengeance is all that matters. He seeks the ultimate price from his enemy’s beautiful young daughter, claiming Raina as his hostage. But the proud beauty defies him at every turn, tempting him like no other. Setting out to break Raina’s glorious spirit, Gunnar instead finds himself bewitched by her goodness, her strength. Can he seize the justice he is due without losing Raina forever?
Lord of Vengeance made quite a splash when it was originally published under Adrian’s pseudonym, Tina St. John, in 1995. The book won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Medieval Romance of the Year, and was a HOLT Medallion Finalist for Best Historical Romance of the Year. But like all save a select few romance novels, within a few years the book was out of print, and largely forgotten.
Lara Adrian, however, went on to write a number of paranormal romances. Now, she’s brought the medieval romances she wrote as Tina St. John back out in e-book format. Since I missed Adrian/St. John’s books the first time around, I’m so glad to have found them now.
I have to confess I’m not a big fan of medieval romances, so I’m not sure why I decided to buy Lord of Vengeance, but I’m glad I did. Adrian/St. John takes a number of the romance conventions that have been done to death, especially in medieval romances — the revenge romance, the kidnapping romance, the big secret romance — and makes them both believable and entirely new.
Gunnar’s obsession with avenging his parents’ death and his own terrible experiences at the hands of Raina’s father is understandable, but Adrian/St. John never lets the obsession veer into crazy; although he’s been damaged by his past, there are several times in the book when Gunnar himself begins to question his motives, as he begins to see how d’Bussy has changed and aged in the years since he murdered Gunnar’s parents. Adrian/St. John also eschews that other romance convention related to revenge — blaming the child for the sins of the father. Gunnar never allows his hatred for d’Bussy to color his feelings for Raina.
The kidnapping, however, dovetails perfectly into Gunnar’s plans for revenge, and never seems forced (pun intended). In more romance novels than I care to count, a kidnapping serves only to sequester the heroine and hero for a period of time, so that they can realize how perfect they are for each other, and there’s rarely any but the merest hints that the victim is uncomfortable or distressed. While Gunnar and Raina do come to love each other while she’s in his keep, Adrian/St. John is careful to show Raina’s discomfort and anger at being held against her will. Although Gunnar never mistreats Raina for no reason, in more than one instance he’s compelled to treat her less than politely, and Adrian/St. John handles this well, and, in turn, so does Raina.
Much of the plot of the book hinges on two big secrets that I won’t reveal for fear of ruining the book, but, again, unlike in many romances, the secrets are both believable and understandable, and, rarer still, serve to make the book’s two villains more human and more frightening; to me, a villain must have legitimate motives in order to be truly scary — evil for the sake of eeeeeeeevil is just cartoonish.
On top of all that, there’s the sheer beauty of Adrian/St. John’s prose. Here is one lovely example:
But he saw her face at every turn, felt her softness in the brush of the summer air, smelled her essence in the waft of heather rolling off the hills. The sound of his name on her lips lingered in his mind… She was under his skin and in his blood, and he could not deny it.
Lord of Vengeance is one of the best romances I’ve read in months. I give Lord of Vengeance 5 romps in the forest, and Gunnar gets 5 sprigs of heather, for remembrance’s sake.
Print Length: 329 pages
Publisher: Lara Adrian, LLC (April 11, 2012)
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