Sophia Johnson's 11th-century Scottish medieval romance RISK EVERYTHING offers nothing in terms of substantive characters, engaging story or captivating settings. The prose here exceeds a Julia Quinn, Samantha James, Kathryn Caskie or Lisa Kleypas but not by much. The book reads as a woman's secret fantasy to have a beautiful, muscle-leaden, huge- "tarsed" (manhood) Scottish warrior dominate and possess. RISK EVERYTHING cuts to the chase and often borders on the erotic maltreatment of its virgin heroine Meghan of Blackthorn to magnify a sensual possession. Both lead characters are utterly forgettable and the love scenes often eclipse the participants and their purported connection. The hero Rolf MacDaidh must assert his masculinity with Meghan at every turn. Meghan meanwhile harbors the I-am-like-man-hear-me-roar syndrome, also for the entire book. She is an expert marksman, lethal with a dirk and sword, master horseman and mesmerizing on the bagpipes. Of course she spits curses at Rolf 24/7 but that's fine given Rolf's maltreatment. Meghan initiates nothing from a lovemaking standpoint even though the entire middle section of the novel contains copious love scenes. Apparently, having our virtuous Meghan initiate anything sensually would make her look like a slut. From her first oblique reference, we recognize the book's villain. Rolf of course spurns the villain's lewd advances -- apparently only female villains initiate anything sensually. We also know that false pretenses compel Rolf to the vengeance he exacts from Meghan of Blackthorn. The flimsy evidence which points to Blackthorn's Connor as the culprit behind Rolf's grievances seemed a ridiculous ruse to have the hero abduct and "possess" the heroine.
The book would be remiss to let a moment pass without reminding us Meghan can, in fact, best all men in arms with the possible exceptions of Rolf, her cousins Mereck and Damron and her brother Connor. Mereck, Damron and Connor appear so often in their happily-married lives, we quickly deduce they appeared as heroes in prior Sophia Johnson novels. Even the final climax featured these heroes from other books, not Rolf and Meghan necessarily. When our muscular, high-handed medieval cartoon pimp (Rolf) services Meghan in their first love scene, Meghan even thinks of how the men in her family (i.e., Mereck, Damron and Connor) have a reputation for pleasing women and superior lovemaking skills (p. 160). I thought it a little incestuous and creepy to think about relatives' lovemaking skills while going at it with Rolf. Even though this book takes place mostly in Rolf's castle at Rimsdale, it often depicts Rimsdale's inferiority compared to Damron's Blackthorn. Rimsdale's dog Ugsome pales in comparison to Blackthorn's hound Guardian (p. 93). The Pride of Blackthorn Meghan must properly teach all of Rimsdale's inept warriors in arms and combat. In her thoughts, Meghan constantly compares Rimsdale and its people with Blackthorn and finds Rimsdale entirely lacking. Why didn't this book just take place in Blackthorn if it rocks so much?
I'm reminded of many superior, yet sensual, medieval romances reading this. Julie Garwood's characters in GENTLE WARRIOR (***) and SAVING GRACE (**) discovered a sensual passion that resonated. I found Shannon Drake's bellicose hero-and-heroine chemistry passionately entertaining in COME THE MORNING (***). As far as honorable medieval possessions goes, Madeline Hunter's BY POSSESSION (****) still reigns supreme. Its characters Addis and Moira are memorable and their chemistry palpable.
After discovering Connor of Blackthorn's plaid and weapons, Rolf MacDaidh blames Blackthorn for the death of his wife and bairn. The Lord of Vengeance Rolf MacDaidh abducts the Pride of Blackthorn Meghan to exact his revenge as recompense for his wife and bairn's demise. Fiery-spirited and capable of besting any man in combat and arms, Meghan insists his brother innocent of the crimes against Rolf's family. Romantically, Rolf and Meghan have known each other since they were young and share a mutual attraction. As revenge against Blackthorn, Rolf intends to ruthlessly use the Pride of Blackthorn Meghan as his leman, his whore.
We may segregate the book into three parts. The first part involves Meghan's abduction, her repeated attempts at escape, and finally her acclimation at Rimsdale as Rolf provides her time to accustom her to the idea of his leman. Although he feels bad about it, Rolf often exhibits brutal savagery towards Meghan. We have the predictably common plot device of making the sexually-experienced hero Rolf behave as a "callow youth" around our virginal Meghan. The second part begins as Rolf proposes a "handfast" (a temporary marriage) to reconcile Meghan's pride and steadfast refusal to become Rolf's whore. Rolf initiates a virginal Meghan to passion and he feels triumph that he's the only man having plunged the depths between Meghan's legs. They promptly engage in many love scenes showcasing Rolf's engorged "tarse" and muscular, broad-shouldered frame. It's funny, although it lacked avid descriptions of the guy's muscular frame, Sylvia Day's ASK FOR IT (**) still surpassed this cheap novel as far as sensuality goes. The final third part displaces Meghan as mistress of Rimsdale when Rolf must honor his marriage contract to another woman. After bedding her many times, Rolf still refuses to let Meghan return to her home. Everything comes to a convenient conclusion as Blackthorn's heroes from prior novels fly to their rescue.
I'm having no luck at finding finding substantive, fun romances lately...