REVIEW: Guarded Heart by Jennifer Blake
Dear Mrs. Blake,
Years ago, I read one of your earlier historical books and kept in mind the unusual setting of early 19th century Louisiana until I found a replacement copy for the one I lost. Then I don’t think it was so noticeable as now when almost no time exists for publishers except Regency England and every character must be a Duke. I’m glad to see you’re still writing close to home.
“I require your expertise in order to kill a man.”
Gavin Blackford paused in the act of taking a glass of Maderia from a tray on the side table. Such a clear yet low-voiced request was unexpected during the courtesy call for Reveillon, the celebration of New Year’s Day. It was particularly surprising from a lady.
From the beginning, my interest was caught. Who was this woman who needed to kill someone and why was she approaching a fencing master? Gavin is just as surprised and intrigued. At first he thinks only to hear her out then politely decline. She is after all, a delectably beautiful woman and he has a fine sense of appreciation for such things. But then her oafish Russian friend barges in, trying to order the lady about, and he finds himself arguing for what he had only moments ago been listing points against. And so their relationship along with their lessons begins.
Gavin knows that most of the world views him as slightly declasse. A master of arms is a legal profession and he’s worked years to perfect his knowledge of the art of swordsmanship. Along with several of his friends, who thankfully make only token appearances and then only when needed, he was part of an informal league dedicated to protecting the rights of the unprotected in 1840s New Orleans, a town plagued with so-so law enforcement even then. He’s astounded to learn that there is no man who can step in to demand satisfaction in the lady’s name but once he begins to instruct her, he discovers her will of steel. Yes, she’s serious and determined and good. When presented with the fencing costume she had made, which includes form fitting pantaloons, he shows his wry humor.
“You don’t object, I hope?”
“By no means, not being bred from idiot stock.”
Widow Ariadne Faucher is quite a woman. She has a clear plan of revenge for an immense hurt done to her family. She decides on it then works to execute it. A native of New Orleans, one of the few towns in America still practicing the age old refinements of the duel, she decides that cold, hard steel will be her method of exacting retribution instead of the usual womanly wiles. Women trying to learn to wield swords usually annoy me but Ariadne has only one duel to fight, knows how the world would view it, and tries to keep what she’s doing fairly secret.
You keep the reason for her decision secret for a short time from us the readers. Yet when Gavin finally susses it out, he’s devastated. Ariadne has come to mean a lot to him and he dreads the thought of her being wounded in the fight. He’s suffered loss before and knows the value of life.
I like that Ariadne demands and Gavin agrees to treat her request seriously and that he doesn’t baby her. He teaches her to fight even while he subtly attempts to change her mind. He’s a bit surprised when she presses on though willing to help her seek what she needs.
The book is just dripping with local color and flavor. I learned while I was reading and soaked up the little tidbits. Indolent Maurelle Herriot, she who never rises before noon, and diva Zoe Savoie, larger than life chocolate lover with a parrot named Napoleon who curses fluently in French, are delightful.
I was all set with a B grade until two things changed my mind. Though I enjoyed the fencing sessions, it just didn’t seem as if Ariadne would have had enough practice to become as proficient as she is portrayed as being. The two men she fights have had years of practice and training and unless I missed some references to meetings with Gavin which weren’t actually shown, I have a hard time believing she could hold off a trained swordsman.
The second issue occurs right at the end when Ariadne trusts someone, or rather she doesn’t try to avoid someone, whom she has seen display dishonorable behavior. True she does work to get herself out of the situation, and does a darn good job of it, but I needed to see a little more willingness to do what she had to instead of merely buying time. This is her life we’re talking about, not some parlor room dust up. But then this does seem to be a common problem for women, not wishing to make a scene in public and or hoping things will just resolve on their own. So B- for “Guarded Heart” and thanks for the trip back to antebellum Louisiana.