Captive: a Forbidden Novel
by Christina Phillips       
(Berkley Heat, $15, NC-17)  ISBN  978-0-425-23882-0
****
Though the author takes a lot of artistic liberty with Druids and their worship (I know nothing of the history of Roman invasion, so I won't comment), Christina Phillips' Captive is captivating and enticingly well-written.

It is AD 51 or thereabouts, and the Roman scourge is spreading through most of the known world.  Morwyn, a young Druid priestess has renounced her goddess the Morrigan and, to prove her point, has declared herself celibate.  While her people were driven from their homes and watched their world being raped and pillaged, no higher power intervened; now, Morwyn has taken it upon herself and to gather a small band of others who will accompany her to the true Briton king.

This band of inexperienced warriors are taken over quickly by a small group of Romans.  Just as Morwyn is to be ravaged by the Romans, a higher-ranking man appears and declares her his prisoner.  With all of her compatriots lying in pools of blood and the promise of rape in her near future, Morwyn doesn't fight as the Roman – apparently an important soldier called Dunmacos--- leads her away.  When she realizes he is headed toward the city where her king currently resides, she sees her best bet is to stay with him until they reach Comulodunum. 

Dunmacos, though he cannot let her know it, is really a Gaulish spy for Briton named Bren.  He's been undercover for over three years and cannot reveal his identity to a Druid woman simply because he wants to have sex with her.  Which he does, in vivid detail (detail which includes entirely too many adjectives, but that's to be expected), once Morwyn decides, hypocritically, that the best way to thumb her nose at her goddess is to sleep with a Roman.  Convenient, considering she starts fantasizing about the man about two paragraphs after she meets him.

Though the hypocrisy itself may have set me against Morwyn, it is our hero to whom readers will relate.  Bren has had a hellish time impersonating a dead Roman officer, and the events that led up to him taking on the role were awful too.  It's true that Morwyn's plight is a frightful one in its own right.  Unfortunately for Morwyn, she's impetuous and proud and too willful to see reason.  Unreasonable characters are hard to like, though she makes a lively (in more ways than one) companion for her too-sober hero.

Don't read this if you don't like sex scenes.  It's erotica for a reason, but – lack of historical accuracies aside – it is very well-written with very real characters, and it is clear that in Captive Christina Phillips is trying to address something besides her two main characters' physical attraction to one another.

--Sarrah Knight


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