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REVIEW: Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife by Michelle Styles

Dear Mrs. Styles,

037329526x01lzzzzzzzYeah, finally book two in your Viking series. Or at least book two over in North America. I still don’t understand how Harlequin and Mills and Boon decide when to release what where. Greater minds than mine must be at work here somehow.

Sela and Vikar have a past. A bad past that includes a marriage made for all the wrong reasons and ended for ones just as bad. Vikar needed the political connections from marriage to a powerful Jaarl’s daughter and Sela hoped for a man she could respect and, perhaps, care for. The vicious court life didn’t help them communicate and when Sela had had enough, Vikar never came after her despite her message to him.

Now the tables have turned and Vikar has arrived with his men to avenge a raid made by her father’s men. When Vikar doesn’t find the Bose the Dark in his own hall, he suspects a trick is being played. The man is as slippery as an eel and not to be trusted. If he can get Sela to go for her father, Vikar can follow and nab him. But things don’t go according to his plan and the two end up traveling together through the wilderness to Bose’s bolthole. Will they communicate any better now than they did four years ago?

I was initially worried about the set up of the conflict. Here we’ve got a couple who already dislike each other and now one is a captive – of sorts – and they’re off in the wilderness. Forgive me if I foresaw plenty of Sela stomping her feet, defying Vikar and getting into trouble from which he had to then rescue her all while he acted the alpha male. Blech to that. It was, therefore, with a deep sigh of relief that this never came to pass.

In all your books, I’ve always admired how you manage to work everyday historical facts and details into the story without it appearing to be an info dump of all the neat things you learned while researching the book. For “Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife,” it is the details on the formal surrender of one Vikin jaarl to another, the myths and fairy (for lack of a better term) tales the Vikings had for their culture, and a little of the marriage ceremony – though I read from your author’s note that this is by necessity speculation since so little is known about the actual nuts and bolts of what they did.

Sela starts the book fighting with her father’s men to defend the hall against the invaders. Usually historical women swinging swords makes me grit my teeth but in this case Sela is pressed to do it as her father can’t manage due to his stroke – or as he puts it the witch who cursed him. When things don’t go well, it’s not because Sela doesn’t know what should be done but rather because she doesn’t have command of the young, untried men she’s leading.

Vikar calls Sela predictable after she escapes from her father’s hall in search of him and her son, but as the book shows, despite their years of marriage, neither knows the other all that well.

I like that Sela has some idea of where she wants to go after her father has formally surrendered to Vikar. She’s not just running blindly away from him for spite or as a way to put herself in danger so he is forced to save her.

Children, especially young ones, are another teeth grit for me in most romance novels. Kjartan isn’t actually in the book that much though Sela’s overriding love for him drives many of her actions and takes up a lot of her thoughts. I was glad to see him acting like a child of three and – praise be – not lisping or seeming too old. His jealousy of the man taking his mother’s attention – when he didn’t know Vikar was his father – and his retreat to his mother’s shadow after a show of bravery are so three year old. His intense interest in his toy horses and desire for a real one were nice touches too.

Vikar’s first interactions with his newly found son were deeply moving.

"I am playing with my horses,’ Kjartan said, looking up again. An entreating smile crossed his face. "Do you want to play with me?’

"Yes.’ The one word was all he was capable of.

"You can use this one. He is my favourite.’ Kjartan held out the horse Vikar had saved from the tottr men. "He was a very naughty horse, running away from me, but Mor found him and brought him back. He’s safe now. He’s with me.’

Vikar cast his eyes up to the skies blinking rapidly, but a single tear escaped and trickled down his cheek. With impatient fingers he pushed it away. He doubted if he had ever cried in his life. Not even when he had seen his father’s broken body lying on the ground after the berserker had killed him. But a simple request from his son and he found it impossible to speak. Vikar drew deep on his discipline and regained control.

"I would like that very much.’ He knelt down in the dust with Kjartan and took the horse. He turned it over in his hand and remembered how he given his cloak for it. He was pleased he had done it without knowing who it truly belonged to. He could understand in a small way why Sela had risked her life for the toy. "I have many horses in my house, but none as fine as this one.’

"Real ones?’ Kjartan’s eyes shone. "Mor promised next birthday I could have a pony of my own, a golden-maned one.’

"I am sure that can be arranged,’ Vikar said. Mentally he went through his horses. There was at least one that would be a suitable mount for Kjartan. He would make sure he had the proper training. He touched Kjartan’s hair with a finger. Light, soft and totally like Sela’s. "Should you prove an adequate horseman.’

Kjartan’s green gaze pierced him. "Some day I’ll be a great warrior like my father and I will need a horse.’

"I am sure you will be.’ Vikar barely managed to say the words.

"Mor said you are a great warrior, a great Viken warrior. Do you know him? My father?’

Tears blurred Vikar’s vision. "We’ve met.’

Some people will find Sela’s excuses to hide the existence of his son from Vikar unbelievable but, as she explains it to him, her reasons were entirely, well, reasonable. Since he had told her he didn’t want children, since she didn’t know him well enough to be sure he’d accept their child and since if he rejected the child, there was every chance Kjartan would have been left to die or shunted to an inferior place in Viken society I think she sincerely felt she made the correct decision. Those facts would be enough reasons for me.

By the end of the story, Sela and Vikar have had several chances to finally admit to the other the mistakes they made in their marriage as well as admit them to themselves. Both assumed things, accepted things others told them and allowed their immaturity to decide how they reacted to outside influences. I was delighted to see not only how they began to communicate with each other but also that they were being honest to themselves. Neither is solely the bad guy, both behaved somewhat foolishly but mainly because they saw things differently, went into their marriage for the wrong reasons and – bane of all marriages – failed to talk.

I lmao to see ox-like Ivar offering Vikar advice on marriage and how to keep your wife happy. I wonder if he’ll ever succumb to Thorkell’s matchmaking? Vikar’s final declaration of love to Sela is heartfelt and complete but I had a little trouble believing that this otherwise strong man would bend himself that much – and in full public view of the hall.

I generally seem to include tons of questions about things you use in your stories – which is a good thing since you pique my curiosity. Who or what were the tottr men? How does one play tafl? And the custom of retrieving a sword from a burial mound is something I’m glad to see has fallen from favor in modern weddings! Double blech.

So score another victory for the non-Regency and this one definitely doesn’t have a Duke/spy in it. I hope you’ll continue to be able to write what I guess would be called more ancient historical books along with your nineteenth century ones. B for this one.

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

20 Comments

  1. hanne
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 05:46:56

    Tafl is a short form of the old nordic word Hnefatafl, which means “the kings table”. Hnefi means king, and tafl means playing board. It is somewhat similar to chess.

  2. hanne
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 05:59:49

    And though I’m not sure, I suspect that tottr men means men belonging to the Tott family or to the Jarl (earl) of Tott.

  3. Deb Kinnard
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 13:12:20

    In old Norse (and perhaps in current Scandinavian tongues, I haven’t read up on them), the suffix -ar or -r is translated roughly as “belonging to”, so Hanne’s statement sounds correct.

    I saw this book at my local Home-from-Home (the bookshop) and decided not to buy it ’cause of the lame-o title, but your review changed my mind. Must leave the house now!

  4. Jayne
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 19:06:46

    The lame-o title and the beefcake cover don’t inspire much confidence in the book but once you get past those, it’s worth the effort, IMO. I’ll admit to being surprised at this cover. Usually Harlequin covers, though sometimes stereotypical, aren’t this bad. Here Sela looks like she’s smoothing instant tanning cream on Vikar’s chest while he seems to be pondering the best way to unclog a sink.

  5. Jayne
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 19:09:53

    Thanks for the information Hanne.

  6. Deb Kinnard
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 19:10:20

    ROFL! It amazes me, how many romance books have covers that try to portray lovers, but end up showing two people who look passionately, mightily disengaged with each other.

    One wonders how a Viking would unplug a sink? “Ja, shuure. Vot’s a zink?”

  7. Jayne
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 19:18:39

    You are so right. There is absolutely no passion here at all. Just ho-hum, another day at the office….

  8. Keira
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 20:17:28

    Is it me or does the male model look 12? She’s very pretty and basically carries off the whole cover.

  9. Lorraine
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 21:22:50

    I love books about Vikings, but the title and cover SUCK! I’ll be on the lookout for it though.

  10. Louise van Hine
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 00:36:05

    For an “unwilling wife” she looks like she’s ready to tweak a nipple there.

  11. Angelia Sparrow
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 00:42:59

    http://www.heorot.dk/tafl/
    Downloadable tafl game and rules.
    It’s a nice way to pass an otherwise boring afternoon, esp. if you’re beating the handsome Scot who promised you kisses if you won.

    The book itself sounds very good.

  12. Michelle Styles
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 03:07:54

    Dear Jayne –
    Many thanks for your thoughts. As ever it is a pleasure to read your review.
    Scheduling is a Dark Art and beyond my pay grade. Also beyond my pay grade are titles, cover art and the back cover copy — that is left up to The Powers That Be at Harlequin Mills & Boon. Currently, I am doing revisons (yet again) on the third Viking book. The editors wanted a few final things sorted and having read their comments, I am sure you wouldh ave brought me up short on the problems as well. It is far better to get certain things sorted before a book is published.

    The tafl they play is indeed hnei tafl or king’s table. It was simply called tafl until chess was introduced into the Norse world. Chess became far more popular and indeed, they think the Lewis chessmen were part of some merchant’s consignment that was lost in the sand and having been to the beach where they were found, I can readily understand that. The Terry Pratchett game of Thud is based on Tafl btw and probably the closest modern equivalent. Fox and geese might owe something to tafl as well. I happen to like to play board games…as Angelia Sparrow says they are good way to pass an rainy afternoon…

    Tottr is old Norse and the Scots word — tot is derived from it. It means little. I wanted to do some thing with trolls, but the word troll is actually developed later, according to the online etmotolgy dictionary. The whole concept of trolls figures in Norse folk lore though. There are some in Norway who still believe in them…You do not know how pleased I was when my editor allowed me to keep them…
    I love the whole concept of the truth behind the folk tale. I recently read Robin Lane Fox’s Travelling Heroes which looks at the history and influences behind Homer which I found absoultely fascinating.

    all the best,
    Michelle

  13. Jayne
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 06:39:16

    Angelia, can you download the handsome Scot as well?

  14. Jayne
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 06:43:29

    Michelle, I’ll be waiting for book three of the Vikings. Any advance hint on who the hero/heroine will be?

  15. chris
    Jan 26, 2009 @ 06:38:56

    Since he had told her he didn't want children

    This jumped out at me – I haven’t read the book, but this seems both anachronistic (in an age without birth control, basically the only way to not have children is to not have heterosexual sex at all, or at least not PIV, so AFAIK people didn’t really think about whether they wanted children or not; they would come along no matter what) and drastically inconsistent with his behavior upon actually meeting his child.

    The “person, usually a man, who says they don’t want children but then melts into a puddle of goo when they meet an actual child and see how cuuuuute they are!” trope really irritates me – it pretty much assumes that there isn’t anyone who really doesn’t want children, they just don’t know what they’re missing. You couldn’t be more insulting if you tried for a week. People who don’t want children have *met* children – they may have nieces and nephews, for example. Many, perhaps even most of them like children just fine. They just don’t want them as a new super-fulltime job or the new focus of their existence or however you want to describe it.

    Maybe he wanted children all along and was lying for some reason and none of this applies – like I said, I haven’t read the book.

  16. Jayne
    Jan 26, 2009 @ 08:14:53

    Chris, I can certainly see your point. And as one of the people who’s known since my teenage years that I didn’t want children, I’m not ever going to melt to goo over one either. Vikar had married Sela for political reasons so perhaps he just hadn’t acknowledged to himself at that point that he wanted children. Several years have passed between his statement to her and the events of the book.

  17. hanne
    Jan 26, 2009 @ 11:47:56

    There are some in Norway who still believe in them…

    I’m afraid we generally don’t :)

  18. Michelle Styles
    Jan 27, 2009 @ 00:49:21

    Jayne –
    The hero of the next book is Ivar.

    Chris –
    As the author, can I assure you that Sela’s perception that Vikar did not want children and in particular her children was false. Given his background, he did want children. At the end of chapter 13, he states that he has no memory of ever saying such a thing. Did he actually say it to Sela? The final days of the first marriage were filled with a desire to hurt on both sides and people can say pretty ugly things that they do not mean. The actual quarrel is never recorded, so it is up to the reader to decide. Part of it for Sela is the self justification/delusion of why she decided to keep her son and not give him up as custom dictated. The plain fact was once she held Kjartan in her arms there was no way she was going to give him up and so she made excuses.
    Some of the book deals with perception v reality and whose reality.

    And with historical contraception, because the nuts and bolts are frankly disgusting (shared condoms anyone? and dung), I tend not to go there. I believe Durex.com used to have a picture of a Japanese horn sheath on its website… There is some anecdotal evidence that contraception at the end of the Roman Republic improved (for example Augustus’s law about the number of children a woman had to have before she received certain priviledges) but really the Viking sagas do not say much for or against. So on balance, my characters tend not to think about the possibility of prevention.

    Hanne — LOL. Yes, I know. Actually in the book, it is again about perception v reality and the sort of lies Sela’s father told v what he actually did.

    Hope this helps.
    Michelle

  19. Jayne
    Jan 27, 2009 @ 06:58:38

    The hero of the next book is Ivar.

    Whoo-hoo! It’s Ivar.

    And with historical contraception, because the nuts and bolts are frankly disgusting (shared condoms anyone? and dung), I tend not to go there.

    I just started reading the latest in Ariana Franklin’s “Mistress of the Art of Death” series, and she has Adelia speaking with another woman about the available birth control of the day. “Not on your life” about covers my response to it.

  20. Angelia Sparrow
    Feb 01, 2009 @ 16:24:36

    Jayne, I’m sorry, the Scot in question married a long ago. And I moved far away. He might still be somewhere in Kansas.

    Norse contraception WAS going a-viking. At least for the women.
    For the men, there were always argr. (bottoming men) The shame was not in having sex with a man, but in being penetrated like a woman.

    Generally speaking, contraception was very disturbing up into about the 19th century. Even then, a sea sponge on a bit of knitting wool was about the best you could hope for.

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