Review of Tempted by a Warrior by Amanda Scott
Tempted by a Warrior
by Amanda Scott
I won this in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, because I did not read the description closely enough to realize it is historical romance rather than mere historical fiction. I tend not to read romance, but as far as my experience with them goes, Tempted by a Warrior is not that bad. The story (if not the characters or the romance) held my interest, and the historical in "historical romance" helps a lot. Nevertheless, there are flaws in this book that are difficult to dismiss.
Tempted by a Warrior is told in a limited third-person perspective, alternating between Fiona and Kirkhill. Unfortunately for the narrator, neither of these two characters are particularly interesting. I have misgivings about Fiona's psyche, whereas Kirkhill is just annoying in his insipid competence.
In the prologue, we witness Fiona's husband, Will, beating her. She is nine-months pregnant. A few weeks later, Will is missing (presumed dead) and Kirkhill shows up as Will's father lies on his deathbed. Fiona falls in love with Kirkhill, as we knew she would, in a few weeks, and as their romance blossoms, so too does their adversarial relationship.
Remove the first sentence from the preceding paragraph, and everything would be fine. However, Fiona has been married to Will for two years, and presumably he has been abusing her for about that long. Suddenly, her husband is gone, and she just falls in love with the next man who enters her life? Where are the trust issues? Why is Fiona not fucked up from being a seventeen-year-old battered woman? Oh, sure, she puts up a token resistance and displays her "temper" when Kirkhill infringes on what she considers her decisions to make. And there is some tension about the mystery of what happened to Will—perhaps he is still alive! Nevertheless, once conflict brings Kirkhill and Fiona together and the whole Will issue is hand-waved away, Fiona dismisses the psychological impact of the last two years of her life without so much as a "by your leave."
This irks me in its own right, but it also bothers me because Fiona is an otherwise well-written character. She is young, but her two years of hell have clearly matured her. While she and Nan, Kirkhill's kid sister, share a hot-headed nature, Fiona is closer to Kirkhill when it comes to matters of practicality and frugality. Nan only wants dresses that will make the boys look at her; she is about as vapid and spoilt as 14th-century Scotswomen come. Fiona, on the other hand, knows what is like to live in a sort of enforced state of poverty—neither her husband nor her father-in-law had the means or desire to provide her with many gifts. Scott depicts Fiona's sense of relief over being "freed" by the death of her father-in-law very well, and aside from the evaporation of that whole abuse issue, Fiona's attraction and eventual trust in Kirkhill makes sense.
Or, about as much sense as any attraction to Kirkhill makes, considering he is bland. While Kirkhill, like Fiona, has his share of personal challenges to overcome, his always seem trivial, because he is overly-competent at life. I can't think of a single obstacle he faces that presents much difficulty. To be sure, sometimes he expresses aggravation over having to deal with a bratty kid sister and a truculent ward. But those are just the ebb and flow of everyday life. Kirkhill manages to banish any major conflict, even Fiona's abduction at the hands of English forces, merely by looking at it sternly (and shouting, "the Douglas!" a couple of times on his horse). I never feel like there's any question of the outcome; worse, I never feel like Kirkhill's challenges result in any real character growth. He is as bland, boring, and good at everything at the end as he is at the beginning. He doesn't deserve Fiona.
One of the plot threads running through Tempted by a Warrior is the disappearance of Will Jardine. Fiona wonders if she killed him; Kirkhill needs to find out of he is still alive to settle matters of inheritance—not to mention, you know, so he can marry Fiona in good conscience. Once they find Will's corpse, the nature of the threat shifts slightly: now it's possible that an unlikable sheriff, related to Fiona's sister by marriage, will swing by and hang Fiona for Will's murder. Oh no!
Except the threat never materializes. The sheriff never shows up; he is a character in name only. After building it up as a significant concern, Scott dismisses Will's death. We learn whodunnit, and Kirkhill decides the person does not need to face justice—after all, Will was a Bad Man. I cannot actually fault Kirkhill's decision, since this is 14th-century Scotland, and I'm sure it is a realistic depiction of lord exercising his will to confound justice. It's not like Fiona had any legal way of appealing Will's abuse, so his death is justice in its own way. What I cannot countenance, however, is the way Scott teases us. It is emblematic of Tempted by a Warrior in general: lots of drama without any real conflict.
It is a shame, too, because the characters (aside from Kirkhill) have the potential to do so much more. They just want for a good plot, something that will re-shape them. Similarly, Scott's historical setting is detailed and obviously well-research—but wasted on a story that fails to leave a lasting impression. Tempted by a Warrior is exactly what it says on the tin: many temptations, few of them very fulfilling.