I snagged it from a free book pile AGES ago, thinking it was another book I had read back in my misspent youth, but figured out pretty quite that this was NOT The Black Lion by Jude Devereaux, given that we started out in the Black Hills, not in Medieval England.
You can’t put anything past me.
Okay, so this book. THIS BOOK.
This is everything I adore about the historical genre. It’s SO ridonkulous. Irritatingly perfect heroine? Damaged, brooding hero? A whole mess of plot involving a will, possibly crazy people, an evil king (or whatever) and, just for fun, Native Americans?
So we open in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1795 with a Sioux shaman having a dream about a lioness in the middle of buffalo- just as his…granddaughter? Comes home from being captured by an enemy tribe with a very blonde, very loud toddler in tow. Merry, the woman (go with it), explains that the girl’s name is Christina, and she had promised Christina’s mother that she (Merry) would raise Christina until Christina is able to go back to England. Merry’s husband already hates the whites, but grudgingly agrees to raise the kid when Merry says that “her daughter bellows like a lioness.”
We then cut to 9 years later where Lyon, our hero, is watching his wife die in childbirth. While she is doing this, she accidently spills the beans that she had been cheating on Lyon with his brother James, the kid is actually James’, and Lyon closes off his heart forever when she dies.
Then we jump to 1803 or thereabouts- Lyon is a semi-retired spy/assassin who is all haunted by his past- he has nightmare where the people he killed come back to haunt him accusingly (even though we are assured that he only killed the really bad people, according to the War Office. I think it’s the War Office, or I might be getting things confused with the Pink Carnation. MOVING ON) and he sees Christina making a huge stir among the ton (mystery princess! Moths, flames, something shiny and new! You get the idea) and is instantly like “WANT” and immediately moves towards the “Take. Have!” part of the equation. She, on the other hand, while convinced that he is her destiny (he’s a lion, she’s a lioness, lets call the whole thing off), is not so inclined to tolerate the taking and the having without discussing it first.
So a whole bunch of shit happens which I’m not going to recap in the entirety, but the basic plot is that Christina is the daughter of a now-deposed king of one of those tiny little European countries no one can keep track of (and, presumably Eastern European? Who knows). Her mother married him and then found out he was an Evil Bad Dictator and stole the treasury (converted to gemstones for easy travel) and ran off and discovered that she was pregnant. Christina’s mother ran off to the Black Hills to escape from her husband, she ran into the Dakota and died and left Christina in their care.
I’ve been sitting on this review for WEEKS now because the summary is just so daunting. There’s so much that happens, but it doesn’t feel overstuffed. So the nickel version: Christina needs a husband so she can get control over her inheritance before she turns 19, otherwise it goes to her father’s control. Lyon will do nicely for her purposes, and he’s all about that. Her father is an evil despot and her aunt also wants control of the money, but knows she can’t do that with Lyon as the husband in question. To add to that, Christina is mostly able to pass as a lady who did not grow up in a Dakota village, unless you look carefully and notice her penchant for going barefoot, throwing knives, and eating shrubs. Hilarity ensues!
So… things I really liked about this book. The story structure is basically flawless. Before each chapter is an excerpt from Christina’s mother’s journal about “How we all got into this mess in the first place” and I liked the kind of in media res feel of it. You don’t really find out WHY Jessica ran away from Christina’s father until near the middle of the book, and it helped pulled the story along.
I like Lyon, even though he’s kind of a dick. He, at least, has some awareness of his dickishness, so there’s that. He also has reasons for his dickishness, he’s not a dick without a cause (HEYOO), and he’s trying to be better, so there’s that, as well. Also, when he pulls out his dickishness at Christina and yells at her, she hollers back at him, much to the stock and awe of everyone around them.
Christina…. I really didn’t like the way she was written. And it’s taken me a while to sort through and figure out what it was I didn’t like. I think that she comes off kind of Mary Sue-ish, as being able to pass herself off as being a great lady with only a year of study at it in Boston, along with being the best at being a Dakota, but that’s not my biggest problem. My biggest problem is that whenever she’s not playing her role as a lady of society, she’s either bellowing (at Lyon usually) or whispering in fear. She never just talks.
This seems nitpicky, and maybe I’m not explaining it well, but in private, she comes of as terrified and weak and needing Lyon to protect her, when that’s just not true. She can take care of herself, and needing support is not the same as needing a caretaker and I’m not pleased with how she came off. She is a strong character who is an HBIC and capable of getting shit done, why make her only super weak or super strong in private? She’s not tea, for fuck’s sake.
(Also I got really annoyed at the number of times “God help me/him/her” was used. I feel like a drinking game is inevitable.)
Really, what I loved about this is the total and utter ridonkulousness of it all. I mean, there weren’t white settlers heading out to the Black Hills in the 1790s. There just weren’t. And it’s just not feasible that a white girl raised in a Dakota tribe would be able to successfully pull off being a great lady with one year of study. But the banter is pretty good, and I never got the point of wanting to knock Christina and Lyon’s heads together- sure neither of them were telling the other one to complete truth about each other, but they each had their reasons.
I found this to be a fine example of the old school genre without bullshit sexual politics. Loads of fun, even for my complaints.