AUTHOR: Bronwyn Green, Aurora Rose Lynn, Cindy Spencer Pape, Brynn Paulin, Lisabet Sarai, Saskia Walker
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 92k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
Six stories of erotic romance, all set in
The one most consistent, strongest part of this anthology is all the world building that happens in each of the individual stories. There isn’t a one of them that falls short in that regard, which often help a story along when the narrative isn’t quite as strong.
The first story in the anthology is “To Conquer a Lady” by Aurora Rose Lynn. Edmund de Montfort has wanted Lady Isabelle for years, but without a title, he has no chance of getting her. So he went off to earn one and gain some land, but her father still refused him. This gives him no choice but to kidnap her instead, so he lays siege to her father’s castle without knowing the father has died. Isabelle fears the truth getting out and losing what little control she has. This one starts out a little rough, as I really don’t like either one of the two leads. Edmund is pushy without being engaging, Isabelle is bitchy and bitter, and I have no idea how I’m supposed to want to read about them. The situation does improve, but not very much, and I was a little worried I might end up muddling through this collection.
That got banished with the second story. “Mist and Stone” by Bronwyn Green is about Gareth, a knight for Arthur, and
I honestly thought that was likely to be my favorite story of the bunch. I was wrong. The third story, “In the Dark” by Brynn Paulin, takes that prize. Katherine Wolf has born with a mark on her face, one that would brand her as a witch and probably killed if the outside world discovered it. She stays hidden away in her family’s castle, and when they are all felled by the plague, she is the lone family survivor. The castle is given to Calen the Black, a fierce warrior banished from Court but determined to make the “haunted” castle hospitable. Katherine is drawn to him, and when she sneaks into him at night, he thinks her one of the local girls servicing his men…until she disappears before morning. The set-up is gothic, romantic, and utterly compelling. Katherine is a woman determined to survive, innocent to so many ways of the world because of her seclusion and yet yearning for the things in life so freely given to other women. Calen is honorable and just this side of dangerous, and his obsession with Katherine passionate and compelling. The combination created a wonderful romance that completely restores faith in this author. I’d read another novella by her a year and a half ago that I really didn’t like, so I’ll be honest and say I didn’t bother seriously considering any of her work afterward. But this was enough for me to convince me there’s some real storytelling ability there, and I’m likely to go back and take another look at her backlist, as well as give future work far more credence.
On that high note, I went on to the fourth story. “Shortest Night” by Lisabet Sarai started out interestingly enough, with players in Shakespeare’s company expressing interest in each other. Male players. I thought, “Oh! An anthology that isn’t restricted by sexuality! Yay!” I understand there are het readers out there that don’t want to read m/m, just like there’s a whole army of m/m readers that disdain het (because of so-called girl cooties), but I’m not one of them. Romance for me is about people not their sexual orientation. I was really excited about the possibility of a mixed orientation anthology, but alas, that’s not really what it turned out to be. Hugh, the leading man, sets out to seduce Ben, the new actor for the ingénue roles. They take a room after a successful performance, where the serving girl and the owner’s daughter Jenny, sneaks up to watch them through the keyhole. She’s got a bit of a crush on Ben, and sees Hugh as a lech, so sets out to get Ben for herself. She interferes with Hugh’s attempts to continue seeing Ben in various ways, but the story is too short for me to elaborate without a lot of spoiling. POV switched around so much in this that there is never any true indication of who I’m meant to root for. All I know is that I was left with a distinct distaste in my mouth. The m/m is portrayed as wrong and dirty, even if Jenny gets off on watching them, and the only way to find happiness is with a woman. By far, the story I disliked the most in this.
The fifth story is “Georgie and the Dragon” by Cindy Spencer Pape. In the Welsh town of
The final story is “Brazen Behaviour” by Saskia Walker. In 1896, Eleanor Argyle is preparing to travel the world, and with a stop at her aunt and uncle’s in
7/10 – Some of the dialogue is over the top, and there are scattered issues that hold me back, but overall, fairly consistent
6/10 – Two of the six stories really excel at the romance
7/10 – As a whole, stronger than most anthologies
6/10 – Two stories shine, two are very weak, and the other two are middle of the road
8/10 – By far, the strongest and most consistent part of the anthology