Possible SPOILERS ahead.
I had very high hopes for this novel while reading the beginning. I thought: wow, here's a "romance" novel which actually spends time on meaningful intrigue and vivid settings. And unlike other romance novels, thankfully we're spared of repetitive introspection, while the hero's characterization didn't delve on his imposing size and his tortured soul/past. Tristan D'Argent actually seemed like a character a male author would write, which is a rare in "romance" novels. Unfortunately, the intrigue in the second half of the novel precipitously unraveled into a battle between Seacrest and Greanly, and seemed like everyone came out of the woodwork to help our hero, his half-brother Nicholas, his mother, and his once-departed friend Pharao.
It also seemed Grothaus didn't know what to do with Berti's mother Ellora at the end. Despite harboring a warranted animosity towards Haith, we're told she undergoes a magical turn-around at the end and accepts Berti's choice for her new dark-skinned husband. In the beginning to the middle and when Ellora is imprisoned alongside Haith, Ellora had a very interesting characterization. But that was quickly dropped.
Unlike other romance novels I've read, this novel is extremely light on the sensuality/sex factor, focusing instead on the political intrigue, plotting and the magic. We don't even see a love scene between our hero and heroine until the last 10 pages of novel. I can't recall THE WARRIOR's soul mates kissing until the last 10 pages also. Wow.
I found the mid to later parts of the novel very boring, dragging even. The interaction between lead pair was sparse and entirely forgettable. The ending stretched mercilessly, the baddies (Lord Nigel & Donald the smithy) mustered one last gasp after another when it seemed like it was over. Though Tristan's mother appearing at the end didn't seem out of place, I found the appearance and aid of Tristan's half-brother Baron Nicholas FitzTodd too easy, incongruous and an obvious ruse to set up a possible sequel with Nicholas. Even though Nicholas and Tristan do not share the same father, remarkably, they exhibit a similar imposing physical size.
Can't say I particularly liked Haith's character either. Our predictably headstrong, sharp-tongued heroine (especially towards the hero, also predictably) does her own thing throughout the book, never really fully trusting Tristan or even Minerva for that matter, but it all works out in the end. Even though Tristan completely believes in and trusts Haith halfway through until the end (Tristan dismisses her admission of guilt as Nigel's spy), Haith never really reciprocates that trust. The light sprinkles of interaction between our hero and heroine - Tristan and Haith - was tumultuous at best, and the blissful union between two at the end didn't seem like it answered any of the questions of trust between the two given their untrustworthy interaction. Maybe we're to take it on true love, since they're supposed to be soul mates. And since the Buchanan family talent for magic runs in the woman of the bloodline, it was very unsatisfactorily predictable that Haith & Tristan's first-born would be a girl. [Gags]
Grothaus' THE WARRIOR contained a lot of scenes where Haith is dreaming, and possibly exploring/advancing her magical talent. I didn't get the final dream she has where Pharao appears and she returns to consciousness. Is it meant to signify her acceptance of her talent, which she viewed in a negative light before? So does she have control or doesn't she? I don't understand, because the conversation between Pharao & Haith in Haith's dream was just too nonsensical.
I'm still looking for a novel which adequately balances sff, history, intrigue, characters and romance. Is it too much to ask a romance novel to have substantive male characterization beyond the physical attributes and the tortured/wounded soul also?
The Story, possible SPOILERS.
Haith is the bastard daughter of the Lord James of Seacrest, the Lord James slain in a battle defending his stronghold against the Normans while Haith's magically-talented mother murdered. Haith's half-sister Berti and Berti's mother Ellora take up residence with the new Lord of Seacrest, Lord Nigel. Nigel takes Ellora for his wife and Berti for his stepdaughter. With her former husband Lord James dead, Ellora evicts Haith and her great-aunt Minerva from the Hall, and Haith grows up amongst the Seacrest/Greanly common folk
Lord of Greanly, William's Hammer Tristan D'Argent finally returns home from long battles suppressing rebellions for King William. In order to foster allegiance and alliance amongst his lords, King William has already betrothed Tristan with Haith's half-sister Berti. Upon returning home, Tristan finds all is not well with his new home ever since Lord Nigel of Seacrest has assumed care of Greanly's residents at Seacrest. Nigel also enjoys a double stipend for having to care for both Greanly's commons folk and his own.
There's interesting political intrigue in the beginning and things take off from there as the warrior Tristan ably spars with Nigel in a political game of his own.
Again, there isn't much interaction between our leading pair, so don't hold your breath there. Read it for the gripping plotting, the vivid settings and for the intrigue. I was unconvinced by the romance since it fell back on the "soul mate" plot device to bring our leading pair together at the end. I also didn't care for Haith's shallowly predictable characterization, which is rare since the heroine usually has the substance in romance novels.