Friday, May 22, 2015

Forever His (Shelly Thacker)

Forever His
(The Stolen Brides series, Book 1)
Shelly Thacker
Summit Avenue Books
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A year ago, Celine Fontaine thought she'd be celebrating the end of 1993 with a new husband and possibly a baby. Instead, she's recovering from both panic attacks and a bullet wound, legacy of a failed carjacking that landed her in the hospital and lost her her faithless fiance. It also left a bullet fragment lodged in her spine... a fragment that's moving dangerously close to a major artery and could kill her if not removed. Though she's scheduled the surgery, she doesn't want her family to know; they already see her as the Fontaine failure, the one drifting black sheep in a family of hard-driven successful go-getters. The one thing she wanted - a family - is the one thing she can't seem to get. Celebrating at the ancestral Fontaine home in France only makes her feel more lost and lonely than ever. Will she ever find her knight in shining armor, or should she just give up on her dreams?
In 1300 France, Sir Gaston de Varennes's rivalry with the scoundrel Duc Alain de la Tourelle - a conniving liar who murdered Gaston's father and brother under guise of a tourney, then stole their lands, plundering and raping his way through the peasantry - draws the ire of King Phillip the Fair. He needs a united northern border on his kingdom, not one divided by petty squabbles, so he decrees a settlement by marriage to Tourelle's nearest available female relation, one Christiane de la Fontaine. Gaston would sooner bed a viper than a relative of Tourelle - he'd have a better chance of waking alive. Besides, marriage is something a man does to gain land or power, and this offers little of either, nor does it get him any closer to the vengeance he craves. But the king's word is final... at least, unless Gaston can prove treachery by Tourelle or by the so-called innocent Fontaine girl. So long as he never consummates the marriage, an annulment will be easy enough to obtain.
Celine wakes to find a naked man in her bed - a man who claims that not only does he own her family home, but that it's nearly seven centuries in the past. Worse, he accuses her of being part of a plot to seduce and murder him; he doesn't believe her mad tales of time travel. Everyone here seems to think she's some woman called Christiane, and nothing she says can change their minds. Thus, she finds herself married to a handsome knight at last... but this knight doesn't believe in love - especially not with her. Still, something about him fascinates her, something deeper than his looks. Even if she does manage to thaw his heart, though, that bullet fragment still lurks in her spine, a ticking time bomb that no medieval doctor can possibly defuse.

REVIEW: I'm coming off a string of disappointing books, so I figured a nice, straightforward romance - albeit one with a fantasy twist of time travel - would be ideal. Thankfully, this book delivers just what it promises: two wounded hearts, various obstacles and misunderstandings, an undeniable building passion, and plenty of steam amid medieval intrigue. Celine's a throwback in a family of progressives, but she still has plenty of spirit and only rarely does her spine fail her. Gaston's a product of his time, but also a product of a hard life with little room for love; he blames his brother's unbridled love for his wife for "softening" him and making it easier for Tourelle to murder him and his father. There's also some personal insecurity, as his path from former Crusader to mercenary to land-owning knight wasn't entirely above-board. The two make a good, fairly believable match. The romance sizzles with sexual tension, which explodes more than once and proved suitably steamy, if occasionally a little drawn out. As for the plot, it moves at a fair pace, with advances and setbacks and challenges for both characters as they struggle to reconcile their feelings with the seeming impossibility of their situation. Along the way, Thacker adds a little local medieval color, somewhat sanitized for modern readers (though not entirely cleaned up), and naturally takes a few historical liberties to facilitate the plot. (Forever His is billed as a romance, after all, not straight historical fiction; the average reader isn't looking for a lecture or strict academic accuracy, here.) The time travel element's a little plot convenient,and perhaps the weakest part of the story on the whole, but it actually plays into the plotline as more than just an excuse for a modern girl to meet her French knight in shining (or, in Gaston's case, somewhat tarnished) armor. For being what I expected and living up to its promises, not to mention luring me into a two-day reading binge to finish it, I give this title a solid four stars, though I expect history buffs (or more discerning romance readers) may find more nits to pick than I did.

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