April 2008, Fantasy Romance (10th century and 1820s England)
Avon, $5.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061256374
Some of Margo Maguire's earlier books have a light, fairytale mood, so seeing her move into fantasy romance seems natural rather than forced. Unfortunately, Temptation of the Warrior contains too much hackneyed prose and too many tired cliches to work. While parts of the story are quite likable, the book is far too uneven to truly enjoy.
Merrick MacLochlainn of the Isle of Coruain is the newly crowned chieftain of the Druzai, a warrior race living on a mystical 10th-century island hidden from human eyes. However, in order to avenge his father's death at the hands of an evil witch, Merrick must travel forward in time to 19th century England. There he will move among nonmagical humans on his quest to recover a sacred and powerful item needed to save his race.
However, upon arriving in the English countryside, Merrick's mind has been wiped clean of all memory of his quest. He does not know his name or where he is, but when he sees a woman set upon by bandits, he steps in to help her. He cannot recall beautiful Jenny Keating, but when she states that she is his wife, he takes her at her word.
Jenny Keating has lived under harsh circumstances at a school so austere and joyless that it appears more like a torture chamber than an institution of learning. After fleeing the school for what she hopes will be a better position in life, Jenny finds herself traveling on a most unusual journey with an attractive stranger who has lost his memory. Jenny has no hint that her rescuer comes from a magical land, but she does feel oddly taken with him and entirely too comfortable with their charade as husband and wife.
Even though the circumstances that bring Merrick and Jenny together lack plausibility - to put it mildly - there is a fairytale quality to their meeting and journey that make it a high point of the book. Readers will probably like these characters as well as the charming manner in which some of their story is told. Unfortunately, the background mars things so badly that it is impossible to simply disappear into the joys of the story, such as they are.
First of all, in this tale all villains are e-e-e-v-i-l and, since the piece has several of them, it gets to be a bit much. In addition, I found the portrayal of Reverend Usher, head of Jenny's school, highly offensive. The school is certainly a cold and even cruel place by modern standards, as were some of the schools of the day. However, the author goes far over the top in crafting this character and his flaws, and the fact that he is a reverend is not truly intrinsic to the character, but seems to be just thrown in almost as an afterthought. This casual, "oh yes, and this villain is also a clergyman" feeling makes the creation of Usher seem like a gratuitous swipe at religion. While there are certainly flawed religious figures out there, this was unnecessary to the development of the story and such a distraction that it detracted from the narrative flow.
While this tale covers a lot of ground and the action involving Merrick and Jenny is interesting, the backstory feels sloppy. The world of the Druzai is underdeveloped, making it difficult to get into the scenes involving their world. In addition, the author leaves loose ends with regard to some of the secondary characters and, rather than appearing as a set-up to future books, it just seemed odd.
While I genuinely liked the main characters in this book, they really needed more story to support them. Parts of the middle of the novel hung together well, but as the ending approached, Temptation of the Warrior began to unravel and feel a lot less tempting. Margo Maguire has written some good reads in the past, so I would suggest hunting down her backlist and giving this one a miss.
-- Lynn Spencer
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