Title: The Lion's Daughter
Author: Loretta Chase
Publisher: Avon Books (1992); Berkley (2006)
Before I start properly I have two comments to make. Comment the first: I lurv this book! I mean I love it with a little achey in my heart love it. I've got some quibbles that I'll go into but for the most part just get ready for a big bucket of smoochey lurv! Comment the second: I hate the cover. I've got the Berkley edition with a guy looking nothing like any of the descriptions in the book but he does do a very good job of giving me the creeps. Yuck! Plus his crotch looks air-brushed... and not in the way one would expect (clearly I assume others have crotch-related air brush expectations like myself). It's like he had the MagCharger Maglite edition and so they had to smudge it out to keep from frightening us poor widdle readers. Even without the suspicious smudging I would still hate the cover. I prefer scenery to people on books. Always have. I prefer to retain sole mental possession of what the characters might look like. Anyway, lemme get to it.
Esme thinks her father has recently been killed and she is set on revenge. Born of an Albanian mother and an English father she rejects the idea that she should move to England after her father's death. Instead, she plans to exact the blood price of her father's death. Stumbling into her path is Varian St. George, a wastrel if there ever was one, who has been manipulated by his friend's son into traveling to Albania from Italy. A surprise attack throws Esme and Varian together and so our adventure begins.
I'm a big fan of Loretta Chase's writing style and The Lion's Daughter does not disappoint. While a more serious book than some of her others her dialogue is still damn funny. And there's some great situational comedy as well that'll get you laughing. As an example there's an early exchange between Esme and Varian that had me snickering for several minutes. Esme is many things - smart, focused, sympathetic - but what I love best about her is her directness. Varian is quite the slutty and so Esme feels the need to give him some travel advice (condensed):
Don't flirt with the women if you wish to depart Rrogozhina in one piece. If we come across a whore, I shall tell you so, but it's most unlikely we will. Albania has many more men than women, and the women are guarded jealously... Please keep this in mind.
...Certainly I will.Thank you for the warning. How dreadful if I should run amok among Rrogozhina's hordes of fair maidens.
Varian is no match for Esme's temper but his obstinacy was usually good enough to win an argument. One of his more fun qualities was his complete lack of pride of self when trying to get his way (common quality among unofficial whores?). For instance:
Arguing with me is a waste of breathe. You'll only tell me how illogical and foolish I am. But being so, I'm not likely to heed a word, am I?
Interestingly, it is about this time that you begin to see that Varian does actually have some pride. It's a tiny little seed at this point but that's not surprising; he decimated his family's entire fortune and the barony is in shambles. He's in considerable debt and spends his time on the continent sleeping around to pay for his food and clothes. His main skill appears to be making himself agreeable (oh, and he's probably a hot lay since he dresses so well:) but he's failing miserably at that with Esme. Esme has a shit opinion of Varian (and all English lords really) and is not shy about telling him so. And it's this that seems to set him off. It appears to offend him that she has this opinion but does not really know him (interestingly I think he'd be fine with someone having this opinion after getting to know him - huh).
Esme on the other hand is fiercely proud and has a fierce temper to match. But she's also fair and very sympathetic. It makes for a really fucking awesome combination. You see, she's the first to point out something idiotic but she's also the first to apologize when she's in the wrong. I really can't say enough good things about Esme's character. She's fascinating! And, of course, Varian sees this and gets the hopping hornies for her. For her part, Esme is also quite attracted to Varian (but, as we learn, who isn't? :). Teensy snafu though is that Varian thinks Esme is younger than her 18 years. That's a no-no in his book so he goes around constantly horny and wracked with guilt over being attracted to a too-young lady. This leads to my biggest quibble. It's very believable that Varian has issues with pedophilia. However, his other reason for trying not to get involved, he's broke and headed for debtors' prison, is even better and wouldn't give me the cover-guy creeps. Seriously, I can absolutely see him fighting his attraction to a maiden due to the debt thing until he just can't resist her. It's more than enough to work within the plot. But on top of that we have to have this pedophilia angle? Um, yuck! I was totally grossed out the first time I read it (I skipped over those parts the second time). I'm sitting there thinking to myself, "I know I'm supposed to like you because you're the hero, you're hot, you're funny, and you're such a lovable wastrel but dude, yuck! You're lusting after a minor!" That fact that she isn't is certainly convenient but the fact that he doesn't know keeps the creeps alive.
But since I love almost everything else so much let's move past that. I thought the plot was great and really engaging. I love how the adventure is set up and all the players that are involved. The supporting cast rocks (complete with Precocious Child - we should be so lucky as to have a world full of Chase's literary children - being well-spoken and smarter than most adults I know) and I love love love the scene with Esme, Varian, Ismal and Ali. Trust me, it'll rock your pantaloons and you must read this book if only for that scene. My quibble with the plot is spoilerish so highlight if interested: I wish Ismal had just been a bad dude. I could have done without the bizarre angle of trying to make him seem like a misguided, love-struck kid. He was plotting to overthrow his kingdom and he was betrayed and wanted revenge. Being thwarted he goes after the girl. Fine. Not outrageously creative but believable with his character and the plot. Why try to redeem him?
Esme and Varian are great fun together. Obviously their dialogue is totally awesome (when is it ever not with Chase?) but it's also wonderful to watch the way their relationship grows. They are both pretty honest about everything and not afraid to share. It makes for a refreshing lack of Misunderstandings, though there are still several, they work with the characters and so do not feel contrived as Misunderstandings often do. One perfectly reasonable Misunderstanding was regarding marriage at one point. And from this we get one more of those great lines from Varian:
Good heavens, you do think I come cheap, don't you? That wounds me, Esme, truly it does. You think I agreed to wed you for a mere thousand pounds? My dear girl, I should not agree to shackle myself to Aphrodite herself for anything less than twenty thousand. In gold.
This book really has it all. The plot is great, the characters rock (including the secondaries) and the writing is wonderful. I know I'll be reading this one again and again. In fact, I liked it better on the second read than the first as I felt like I got to know the characters better. Esme was especially hard to get to know with only one reading. She's pretty complex and until you know her well some of her actions are a little mystifying. What at first does not make a lot of sense becomes pretty clear as you get to know her. I still don't agree with her passive acceptance to being separated from Varian while she stays with her grandmother but she pretty well made up for that once she visits his estate. Let's just say it's a good thing Varian is well-practiced at handling women because someone as awesome as Esme requires utmost skill. You can't half-ass a relationship with her; it's all or nothing.
So there you have it! A big bucket of smooches for this delightful gem. I'm sure I'll read it again soon but in the meantime make sure you get out there and find a copy for yourself.
rating: 4 of 5 stars