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The Heart's Warrior by Leigh Bale

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Heart's Warrior

Leigh Bale
Medieval Romance
Published in 2008

H/h - Jonas Sigurdsson/Kerstin of Moere
Setting: North of the Danelaw, 954 AD.

Read in May, 2013.
My rating:

                                          [spoiler alert]

The Heart's Warrior by Leigh Bale started out pretty good. I was mainly interested because the H, Jonas is a Viking, and I don’t think I’ve read another Viking hero before. I was prepared for an interesting medieval romance. But sadly, it was more like a hair pulling read for me. Too many misunderstandings, trust-issues, too much drama of the wrong kind just made me want to scream!

Kerstin, the h of the story is the daughter of Alrik, the Earl of Moere. They have this intense enmity with the Sigurdssons and the Eirikssons. There is always one bloody battle or the other going on. Both Sigurdssons and Eirikssons want their land. But lately, King Hakon has ordered a union by marriage between the clans. A match between Kerstin and The Earl of Hawkescliffe, Sigurd’s eldest son, Bjorn was announced before. But Bjorn dies soon after arriving in Moere, in the arms of Kerstin who was taking care of him while in his deathbed. He was poisoned. Now, Kerstin is a healer, something she was tutored by her Irish mother. Kerstin’s mother was Alrik’s second wife, and Kerstin, his only daughter. Eirikssons are the meaner bunch, already plotting to oust the King. They are the ones who raided Kerstin’s village a yr or so ago, killing her mother and her brother, Tostig, who was the youngest son from Alrik’s first marriage. They also killed Kerstin’s eldest brother Thorir’s kids. Thorir is away with his merchant ship, while his wife Letta is now half-mad with grief.

Kerstin is known as the Witch of Moere but it’s nothing complimentary. They think she’s some kind of evil witch possessing dark power. Bjorn’s death was blamed on her instantly because she was there while he died. It’s always easier to blame the so-called witch! Superstition ran amok and Kerstin knew she’s pretty notorious everywhere except at her home. Here everyone understands and loves her. They seek her advice because they know she’s an expert healer. King Hakon has asked Jonas, the youngest, to marry Kerstin and finalize the union. Jonas has been a mercenary, until Bjorn’s death reached him. Sigurd and Jonas don’t want this match anymore than Alrik and Kerstin. It’s hard to believe that their fathers were once great friends! Kerstin is scared what might happen to her if she’s taken to Sigurd’s place, so she starts fast planning an escape.

The story begins with a battle. Kerstin prefers to be in the battlefield, not only to fight but also to take care of the wounded. Today she’s fighting off Sigurd’s army, thinking she’s fending off an attack. And soon she’s chased by a big warrior on his horse. He might’ve killed her. In a scuffle he discovers a woman, and that it’s no less than the Witch of Moere! Kerstin discovers a big warrior with long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. He’s handsome to boot... and he’s her groom-to-be!

Jonas is dumbstruck by Kerstin’s green-eyed, red-haired beauty. He’s also amazed that she, a woman, is leading this attack on his men; who has also managed to strike him with an arrow! He makes sure she doesn’t run away (not from the lack of trying from Kerstin) and asks her to show him her home. It seems they came to discuss about the marriage, and preferably perform the ceremony as soon as possible. But Kerstin’s too wild imagination led her to believe Jonas was attacking. Can’t entirely blame her, seeing how Moere has been attacked in the past. Later, she’s embarrassed to find King Hakon, who is Jonas’s childhood buddy, has also accompanied Jonas and Sigurd. She might’ve been in trouble but the King doesn’t take it that way. But Sigurd can’t say the same; his dislike for Kerstin is on the verge of hatred since he, along with the rest of Sigurdsson men, think that she killed Bjorn.

As Kerstin goes to have a bath in the dark, she doesn’t see Jonas who was already sitting in the dark. This scene was quite sexy, because for Jonas it was a torture to see Kerstin wet and naked. Their confrontation turned into heated kisses. There was no doubt he wanted her, but this yearning he felt for her couldn’t be normal. So to Jonas, it felt like the witch has put some kind of spell on him. He made my head ache every time he interpreted his deeper feelings for Kerstin as a ‘spell’ and dismissed her as a witch. Can’t say Kerstin wasn’t being a TSTL sometimes. That is why this book was so frustrating for me. The trust-issue was like a colorful banner, waving and hanging in the slightest of wind that no one could avoid!

When Kerstin hears that she’s to marry Jonas the next day, she makes an idiotic plan. She has this suitor called Elezer who has been with her through the ordeal after Bjorn’s death. He is also her childhood friend. Kerstin thought she’s in love with him, and nagged her father into giving consent to this betrothal. She decides she’ll runaway to Elezer’s place and marry him pronto. What pissed me off that she doesn’t really gives a sh!t about what’s going to happen afterwards. This was a big matter, her and Jonas’s marriage, for some peace. I could see that she was scared, and yes, she wasn’t given much choice. But Jonas didn’t either and yet, he wanted to do it. Kerstin couldn’t say she wasn’t attracted to Jonas. After those kisses in the bathhouse, how could she do this I don’t know. She flees to Elezar, but upon seeing him she kept comparing him to Jonas and finding him horribly lacking. For one, Elezer lives in a filthy castle. He didn’t take care of himself either and Kerstin keeps finding his smell revolting. Not that I wanted to know about that! What I kept thinking was, how she could find this guy anything remotely attractive in the first place? Guess she thought the same, but no matter, she’ll marry Elezer because doesn’t she love him?

Don’t ask! Jonas, who was already troubled with the embedded arrowhead on his shoulder, hunts down Kerstin the next day, spotting the two kissing outside. He’s incensed and immediately assumes that Elezer and she are lovers. Kerstin was yet to convince Elezer of the marriage when she’s deflated by Jonas’s appearance. She didn’t sleep with Elezer though. Jonas drags her home, while insinuating about Elezer’s womanizing ways and callous disregard of the women he left behind. Kerstin, of course, doesn’t believe any of it and she starts hating Jonas. She is even happy to find that that arrowhead is troubling him still, which was childish. She wanted to take care of it earlier though, but his men got downright aggressive and Kerstin had to back out. Jonas’s people made the injury worse and he was already suffering a fever.

After they reach Moere, Jonas and Kerstin are married with haste. Kerstin saw no other way to escape but to give into her fate. But things get worse when Jonas faints from the fever, instigated by the injury. Kerstin’s fear grows tenfold. She doesn’t want Jonas to die anymore, for she doesn’t want to be a widow so soon. And she doesn’t want another war on her clan because if this time Jonas dies, war is inevitable. She knows that she and her loved ones won’t be spared from the fury and hatred these Sigurdsson men already harbor for them.

While taking care of Jonas, Kerstin discovers something that astonishes her entirely. Jonas’s whole body is scarred, ravaged by burn marks! When the maids make sounds of horror and disgust, Kerstin begins feeling a very mixed emotion. She becomes emotional, thinking how Jonas might’ve suffered. How his beautiful face shows no clue of this ravaged body. She’s very annoyed at the maids for making insinuations. Now Kerstin knows why Jonas keeps his body fully clothed with full sleeved tunics. And she wants to know what the hell has happened to him!

Kerstin takes care of Jonas day and night. Sigurd is suspicious of her and stays by Jonas’s bed-side all these time. It’s when his condition begins to improve from Kerstin’s healing expertise, Sigurd begins to see the truth because many-a-times, Kerstin has said that she’s only a healer, that she’s no witch and doesn’t know any spell. One day, Sigurd opens up about Jonas’s life; things that she wanted to know. As I read on about Jonas, my heart went out to him. He was not the heir, so he went abroad to work as a hired mercenary. He knew it was Bjorn’s work to see to the Earldom and the heirs. Then, a long time ago, on the day of his wedding he was burned badly while saving his new bride from the fire. She died, but Jonas still bears the scars. Women love his beautiful face but cringe away when they see his body. Though Jonas doesn’t let it bother him, as Sigurd tells Kerstin that he’s only a man, and it hurts all the same. His enemies call him The Beast. Yes, he’s a battle-honed warrior, and he might be scarred on the outside but he’s no beast. Sigurd also informs Kerstin that the fire was somewhat her fault because it was done because of a misunderstanding that directly connects her. Kerstin is ashamed of this because she remembers the incident, even though she was much younger.

I thought now that Kerstin knows much about Jonas, things will improve. She was also beginning to dislike Elezer, especially when he comes to see her as Jonas lay abed, ill, and asks her to run away with him. Kerstin had no intention of doing such a thing anymore, and when she denies, Elezer goes nutso and tries to kill a sleeping Jonas. Though Jonas wakes up in time and tries to defend himself, Kerstin is left disgusted by Elezer’s cowardly attempts. His small army is necessary for the war they are to wage against the Eirikssons that is why he is still here. Otherwise, he’d be thrown out for what he was about to do to Jonas.

Though Kerstin’s mind was beginning to change, Jonas was showing some odd tendencies. He still didn’t know what ‘spell’ the witch has cast on him (because he wanted her so much) and so, he kept being suspicious of Kerstin. They even end up having sex... and I had to really focus on that very short paragraph to understand that they were actually having sex. No kidding! It was the mention of ‘pain’ that made me realize they’ve done it and it alluded to Kerstin’s loss of virginity. All the love scenes were this vague; just so very frustratingly teasing. You don’t even have much to imagine mind you. I mean if the author is making her heroes so sexy, why not give us a little smut? *sigh*

Then there was Jonas’s douchbag attitude and trust in the hearsay or whatever people said around him. He was forever riddled with confusion and distrust of Kerstin’s actions.

Alrik, Sigurd and most of the army have already left for the battle alongside King Hakon, leaving Jonas to recuperate. He hated to be so weak but he had no other choice. But he’s determined to join them as soon as he’s able. Then he informs Kerstin that he’s leaving for his homeland and she must come along. Kerstin is now in real panic. She knows the people there hate her. She’s scared to face Jonas’s mother too, knowing the woman must’ve been blaming her for her son’s death. Letta accompanies her. She wanted to look after the Letta, who was growing mentally imbalanced each day. But mostly, what Kerstin wanted was to have a known face in an unknown land. She knew her husband might not help her adjusting there, but he gave her no other choice.

Things at the Sigurdssons don’t go well as expected. Even though Jonas’s mother, Tovi is kind of cool towards Kerstin without any outright show of anger, the others in the clan show open enmity towards Kerstin. I felt really bad for her because on occasions, when I thought Jonas should come to her rescue because his people were maligning Kerstin, he didn’t. I didn’t like it.

Fate gives Kerstin a chance to do something about her bad reputation when once, a little girl gets burned from hot water. This girl’s mother, a serving maid was also ill through her advanced pregnancy. To save them both, Kerstin had to take some measures to make them realize that her aid can help the mother and the daughter. After the girl and her mother start healing is the when people, at least some of them, including the girls family, begin to trust Kerstin. Tovi, who had the wisdom of a little age and experience over the rest, already understood that Kerstin is not an evil person. She begins warming up to Kerstin, trusting in her healing aids. She even begins helping her out occasions, learning to use some of Kerstin’s herbs. Somewhere in her mind she knew Kerstin is not responsible for Bjorn’s death. Because of her, things become easier for Kerstin to handle, for which I was glad.

Then the news comes that Sigurd has been fatally injured in the war and he’s been asking for ‘the witch’. Of course, Kerstin will go but she’s also scared. If Sigurd dies, things can get out of hand because most of Jonas’s men are just waiting to convict her of witchcraft. Jonas takes her with him. She tries everything in her power to help Sigurd but he dies finally because his wound was bad. He lost lot of blood and no one in the camp did much to help him. After all, the warriors will die to go to Valhalla, right? That’s what they’re good for! (idiots!!) I did feel for Jonas because he was broken-hearted after his father’s death, feeling a bit lost. Kerstin wanted to offer some comfort but knew things between them aren’t that good (except for sex... maybe) and he won’t appreciate her efforts. Sure enough, Jonas is, again, a jerk to her, hurting her with his words about that was laced with more distrust. Geez!

After all these drama, I’ve finally had enough! When there is that much distrust between a couple (and their people), I, for the love of me, can’t envision a peaceful future between them. It’s just not possible. Even if I wanted that a lot. *sigh*

The final chapters were a bit improved. There were some more actions. The Betrayer was caught finally. He helps abducting Kerstin when she ventures out alone to the war zone to give Jonas important news the said Betrayer. Jonas had some lead on it from earlier and follows the trail. By that time, it seems that Kerstin had already come to terms about her feelings for Jonas. Jonas’s panic about the kidnapping also showed his feelings for her, because he too, was finally willing to give himself up to Kerstin’s ‘spell’. He knew he can’t go on without her support, companionship, love... and if possible her trust in him. I loved the ending, seeing how distressed Jonas became when the King made a decision about his and Kerstin’s future.

This book had SO MUCH potential, not to mention I almost loved Jonas to pieces... when he wasn’t being a jerk that is. I also came to love Kerstin and the rest of the secondary characters. Apart from her easy writing style and interesting storylines, one thing I love about LB’s books is the way she engages the secondary characters in her stories. You don’t easily forget about them even when the book ends. 3.5 stars.

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Punya
I'm a simple girl. I love to read in my spare time and do reviews the books I read. I also write, mostly songs/poems, though I'm not published. I love music and traveling. Sometimes, I wish I could live inside a book, having my own HEA. :)
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