1. BY ARRANGEMENT (haven't read yet, having trouble tracking this one down!)
2. THE PROTECTOR (***)
3. LORD OF A THOUSAND NIGHTS (***)
LORD OF A THOUSAND NIGHTS somewhat exceeded my low expectations for it, and I enjoyed many parts of it. Still, I'd rank it a slight cut below other 3-star Madeline Hunter novels such as BY DESIGN (***) and THE PROTECTOR (***). I never did like Ian of Guilford from THE PROTECTOR, and seeing him as a formidable warrior here in LORD OF A THOUSANDS NIGHTS didn't seem to follow from his role as a courtier/consort in the English court from THE PROTECTOR. Now, the Lord of a Thousand Nights title, seducer of a thousand women, that definitely followed. I thought the love between Ian and Reyna was more about Ian's capable talents and past experience with many other women than really about Ian & Reyna. Unlike so many other romance novels, Reyna hurling many expletives Ian's way was handled in a fun way here, actually adding to the romantic tension instead of squeezing the life out of the love and romance.
Possible SPOILERS ahead.
Fortunately, I also thought Madeline Hunter weaved some interesting mystery plots with this romance, and I found myself pleasantly engaged. The mystery involves plenty of backstory on both Ian & Reyna, and once again, each characterization is fleshed out superbly. The only thing I found a bit ridiculous was the way Ian found Robert's treasure at the end. The way he found it was way too easy, treasure map? Okie doke!
The backdrop of LORD OF A THOUSAND NIGHTS continues Morvan Fitzwaryn's strife to recapture his father's seat at Harclow. You'll recall from THE PROTECTOR that Morvan delayed this dream for Harclow to spend time with his love and wife, Anna de Leon. Also from THE PROTECTOR, you'll recall a younger Ian forced himself on Anna only to have Anna punch him. Now, 8 years later, while Morvan and the bulk of his army lays siege to Harclow, Ian of Guilford leads a company of Morvan's men to capture Black Lyne Keep, a keep overseeing strategic land on the border with Scotland. Lord of Clivedale, Maccus Armstrong, is a Scot who captured Harclow from Morvan's father so long ago.
The story begins with the recently-widowed Reyna Graham, Lady of Black Lyne Keep, conspiring to kill the besieging company's leader, Ian. Reyna was married to the honorable Robert of Kelso (more than thrice her age) in order to divert a family feud between the Grahams and Armstrongs, neighbors on the English-Scottish border. Since Morvan is laying siege to the Armstrongs at Harclow, he's secured a promise from Duncan Graham not to attack in exchange for Reyna's safety when Black Lyne Keep falls. Upon seeing the incredibly handsome Lord of a Thousand Nights, Ian, Reyna falters in her assassination attempt and ends up prisoner instead.
Using Reyna, Ian swiftly captures Black Lyne Keep and things between our our capable seducer and beguiling enchantress progress from there as Ian secures Black Lyne Keep for Morvan. There's some interesting plots having to do with the mystery behind Reyna's late husband's (Robert's) history and the circumstances surrounding Robert's sudden death (Templar, poisoning). Towards the very end after Harclow finally falls, we also learn more about Reyna's parentage and Ian's past sins. Meanwhile, we see BY ARRANGEMENT's David & Christiana and THE PROTECTOR's Morvan & Anna in some very fun and enjoyable subplots in the middle. I thought the negotiations for marriage here between Ian and Reyna weren't nearly as fun as those between Morvan and Anna from THE PROTECTOR or Hayden and Alexia from THE RULES OF SEDUCTION.
Oh and I have to say:
Anna de Leon (from THE PROTECTOR) totally steals the show! I swear I cheered and laughed with her every appearance and reference. I was dying for more Anna in this book! Like "...and that big one (Anna), well, show me the man who wants to try telling her what to do...and the big one, well, when they left she practically threatened me, just stared at me dangerous-like and felt her dagger hilt and told me to obey their orders and all would be well." Or Ian saying, "Are you suggesting that Reyna forced Anna into leaving? Hell's teeth, Morvan, your wife could pick [Reyna] up with one arm." Or Anna talking: "[Ian] has a weakness below the right ribs if you need to hit him." Or Anna & Morvan's reunion after 5 months in front of everyone at Black Lyne Keep. Or even: "[Ian] tried his most charming smile [on Anna]. It had no effect whatsoever." Now I want to read THE PROTECTOR all over again!
Lady Reyna is cruel. Twice, Ian of Guilford works at pleasuring her and building her arousal with touches and kisses, and the second before the critical moment of joining when he's fully aroused too, she refuses him, muttering, "I can not." Ouch. That's heartless. We learn later that she's still a virgin from her first marriage and she wishes to protect her late husband from ridicule, but still! Ian says he wants her, but I found that hard to believe if he's able to so easily cut it off like that -- not once, but twice! Ian is a good sport about it, he obediently obliges Reyna's capricious behavior, and then proceeds to bring her climax using his fingers. Unlike other Madeline Hunter novels in similar circumstances, there isn't a mutual agreement abstaining from sexual intercourse here (see BY POSSESSION, BY DESIGN), so these refusals right before the critical moment in this novel are... wow, just... just... cold... brutal... malevolent of Reyna even!
The Lord of a Thousand Nights' chartered and deliberate first joining with Reyna after their marriage reads more like a detached science than a mutual passion. A touch here, a kiss there, a graze, the right position, the right kiss, Ian's calculated restraint. Since it was Reyna's first time, she was in obvious pain for some of it, and for someone like the Lord of a Thousand Nights, he's clearly had more pleasure than the incredible patience, restraint and servicing he showers Reyna with during their first real joining. All of the seduction including the first joining was more about Ian and other women than Ian & Reyna. Even in the very last chapter, Reyna is complimenting Ian's talents with other women: "You have a talent for making philosophy the last thing on a woman's mind." A woman, general. The very last paragraph of the book, when Reyna looks up to Ian, she sees the Lord who's seduced a thousand other women, not her Ian. Maybe women like that, I don't know, but the resulting love didn't resonate quite like the loves from THE RULES OF SEDUCTION, BY POSSESSION, and BY DESIGN.
I thought the THE RULES OF SEDUCTION's story, characters and passion rises above the stereotypes prevalent in historical romances: handsome, experienced guy pleasuring, seducing and igniting the passion of the average-looking, stubborn and resilient virgin. However, these stereotypes mire LORD OF THE THOUSAND NIGHTS' love and romance. In fact the central love is the stereotype here.