Her Warrior King
by Michelle Willingham
(Harl. Historical, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0373-29482-4
****
1170 A.D. in Ireland was a time of great turmoil when the Normans were invading and the Irish were struggling with their lack of power and loss of the life they had always known. This book captures that time in a way seldom seen - through the eyes of a King who reluctantly took the crown when his brother was killed in battle, and a Queen who is an enemy Norman. Michelle Willingham has written a winner in The Warrior King.

Patrick MacEgan has lost the battle and is forced to wed a Norman bride in order to save what is left of his tribe and maintain his keep at Laochre. Forced into the marriage by her father, Isabel de Godred tries to flee the barbarian Irishman even as the ceremony is completed. The tale begins as she is taken from her home and forced to go to Ireland. On the voyage, she becomes resigned to her fate. Isabel thinks that the plan for her life is to help unite the two tribes.

But Patrick has other plans. He has vowed not to bed her and get with her child, primarily because her father, Baron de Godred, expects it. Patrick's plan is to use the occupying Norman army to train his men in the better ways of warfare and then to overtake them and regain his fortress. Isabel becomes frustrated and angry when she is sent to the island of Ennisleigh, a beautiful retreat that was once part of the legacy of the MacEgan tribe and is now home to just a few families who live there. As much as she tries to reach him, Patrick continues to shut her out. Yet he is drawn to her, too, and fights an inner struggle.

Threats are everywhere, from the invading Normans who resent that they have to stay in this foreign land away from their families, from the Irish tribesman who still resent the Normans for the loss of loved ones in the war, from Patrick's cousin Ruarc, a man who is jealous of Patrick's rise to power and from the O'Phelans, a neighboring tribe that has always been the enemy. There is the threat to Patrick's peace of mind as he battles his lust and growing feelings for Isabel, even as she plants the seed of uniting the two forces to fight side by side.

But there are allies, too. MacEgans have long fought for MacEgans and Patrick's brothers are behind him – Connor, Bevan and Ewan, just a teenager who befriends Isabel. The people of Ennisleigh slowly accept Isabel as they see her kindness and recognize she means them no harm. And there is Sosanna, a woman who was raped in the fighting, who has withdrawn into herself, speaking to no one, but clearly carrying a child.

This tale is rich in imagery without being bogged down in details. The fortress is described in a way that the reader sees it yet, there is plenty of room for imagination too. Isabel is a strong heroine, seemingly fearless yet wrestling with her internal feeling of respect and ultimately love for her husband who keeps rejecting her. Patrick is tortured between protecting his tribe, hating his enemy even while respecting their fighting and between his growing admiration for the bravery Isabel keeps surprising him with. He is drawn to her, even as he tries to maintain his emotional distance.

There were a few distractions. Patrick was extremely pigheaded, and at times seemed determined to just be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. Isabel was amazingly resilient and at times, that too seemed to border on being obstinate with no foundation for being that way. Luckily there was plenty of action that spurred both characters to change their ways before it became problematic for this reader. The refreshing thing about this was that while Isabel surprised everyone with her willingness to fight and at times, to act, Patrick’s reaction was not the traditional reaction often seen in these types of stories. He did not act the ogre or threaten to beat her. He was angered, but then quickly saw her bravery and he struggled internally rather than being a brute.

The Warrior King is a tale that seemed fresh, yet familiar. The characters are memorable and engage the reader in their story. Don't hesitate to pick up a copy and enjoy this one.

--Shirley Lyons


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