The Chick: Lady Alaida of Alnwick. When her grandfather's sent to prison for treason, King William II decides to hand her land - as well as her hand in marriage - over to a total stranger.
The Rub: Marriage puts a crimp on her independence, but at least he never appears to her during the day.
Dream Casting: Felicia Day.
The Dude: Ivar Graycloak, a.k.a. Ivo de Vassy. A Viking cursed with an immortal life as a human by night and an eagle by day, when his spying work lands him a castle and wife, he decides to grab the chance to settle down for as long as he can.
The Rub: His friend's visions predict that their curse might be passed on to their children - which means no nookie for him.
Dream Casting: Alexander Skarsgard.
9 Hot Vikings: TREASURE! :D
Cwen, Evil Witch: You killed my son! :*(
9 Hot Vikings: Whatevs.
9 Hot Vikings: :0
Cwen: *evil spell* >:D
9 Hot Vikings: Crap. *animalified*
200 Years Later
King William II: You get a free castle!
William: And a wife!
Alaida, Wife-To-Be: >:(
Ivo and Alaida: *sexytimes*
Brand, Ivo's Hot Viking Friend: But wait! You can't have kids 'cause they'll be cursed, too!
Ivo: No more sex!
Alaida: Too late.
Alaida: Hey look, the baby's fine!
Ivo: Great! *eagle-ified* Squawk!
Alaida: 0_0 *flees*
Brand: Ball up, dude.
Cwen: Seriously, dude.
Cwen: That's what I'm talking about!
Ivo: *spell broken*
Cwen: Crap. *_*
Ivo and Alaida: HOORAY!
Romance Convention Checklist
3 Hot Vikings
1 Romantically Lacklustre Rival
1 Feisty Redhead
1 Date Rape by Bath Oil
1 Evil Witch
1 Nice Witch
1 "No Sex" Agreement Doomed to Failure
1 Plucky Orphan
The Word: Now, I'm not usually the type of romance reader to gravitate towards Dude-Group Romances. You know the ones I'm talking about - a romance series based around a group of Dudes Who Are Too Sexy For Your Cat, who fart around together doing all sorts of bromantic activities like Avoiding Marriage, Spying for the Crown, Reminiscing About Their Time in Special Ops, or being Vampire Gangstas. With each book, one Dude will emerge from the brandy-, cigar smoke-, and Axe-Body-Spray-scented Dudecave to take centre stage while the others pose like angsty, steroid-addled Abercrombie & Fitch models in the background.
But for some reason I was attracted to Lisa Hendrix's Immortal Brotherhood series, mostly thanks to the paranormal element which sounded pretty cool (especially if you're a fan of LadyHawke). In the late 800s, a group of Hot Vikings decided to steal a treasure that happened to be guarded by an ornery witch named Cwen. When her son is killed in the fray, Cwen seizes the nine surviving vikings and curses them: each of them is rendered immortal, and has to spend half the day as an animal, and the other half as a man. It varies for each of the nine - some are men by day and beast by night, and vice versa.
The novel jumps ahead 200 years to 1095, Britain. Ivar Greycloak (now known as Ivo de Vassy) uses his partial awareness in his eagle form during the day to spy for King William II, and as reward is given the land of Alnwick, upon which he is ordered to build a castle to help fortify England against the Scots. In order to ensure the loyalty of the populace, King William also orders Ivo to marry the granddaughter of the former Baron of Alnwick - Lady Alaida.
This marks a change in the habits of the Dude-Group. Most of the nine Vikings are scattered about Europe, living in forests and rarely coming near people for fear their curse will be discovered. Even Ivo knows that, if he accepts the wife and land, he won't be able to hold them forever - sooner or later he'll be caught changing or his immortality will become apparent. However, he decides to give it a go and live a normal life for as long as fate will let him. Teaming up with Brand (who becomes a bear during the day) and Ari (who turns into a raven at night), he heads off to Alnwick to claim his reward.
Unfortunately, Lady Alaida of Alnwick is not pleased by this turn of events. King Willie arrested her grandfather for treason, after all, and now she's being handed out like a royal party favour. However, after Ivo foils her last-ditch effort to flee to a convent, she gives in for the good of her people but resents her loss of independence. She thaws a little when Ivo demonstrates his generosity and patience and award-winning bedroom skills (a prerequisite to joining any Dude-Group), but she fails to understand why he appears to her only at night. During the day, he and Brand disappear ("hunting" is their excuse, much like "fishing" to the Brokeback Mountain dudes), while their friend Ari runs the castle as their seneschal.
Immortal Warrior is an impressive start to a paranormal romance series. The Dudes are dark and tormented without being overbearingly so - they're Vikings, after all, and know how to enjoy a nice horn of ale now and then. Also, we're not bombarded with all nine Dudes at once, trading lusty banter like some testosterone-drenched Greek Chorus, which would have been ridiculous and distracting. We just get the Dudes we need, and they're intriguing enough - Ari (the raven) is a nice supporting character with enough spark to make his upcoming story very interesting, and Brand (the bear) is hilarious, although as the leader of the Vikings and the Dude who killed Cwen's son he's most likely destined for Book #9.
Also, according to Lisa Hendrix, each book in the series will take place in a different time period, leading all the way up to modern times. How AWESOME an idea is that? If Hendrix's superb skills at developing a colourful and detailed historical setting in Immortal Warrior are any indication, historical romance fans of pretty much every English stripe (Medieval, Tudor, Georgian, Regency, Victorian) will get a kick out of this series.
We also get a deliciously evil - but still sympathetic - villain in the sorceress Cwen. Maybe I'm a hopeless 'shipper, but I don't think she's all bad. After all - she was only defending a treasure the Vikings were trying to steal and then her son got killed in the bargain! I can't wait to read more of her, and I find myself wanting a happy ending for her as much as the Hot Vikings.
In the not-as-good department: for a book with such a large build-up of magic and backstory, Immortal Warrior doesn't really have a plot, but is mainly character-driven with a sudden magical climax at the very end. In the end, it's not a displeasing character-driven story, but if you read into this expecting a lot of action and magic powers and spells, you're going to be disappointed. Don't go expecting Immortal Warrior to be a shape-shifter romance where the hero's POV as an animal is explored in depth either (as I did). They barely remember anything as animals, particularly Brand - who lives in fear that his bear will hurt someone without his knowledge.
Instead, the story of Immortal Warrior revolves around how Ivo and Alaida adapt their relationship around the restrictions of the curse - particularly Alaida. At the beginning of the novel, she has no desire for a husband. She should be glad that her husband only comes to her at night. She should be glad that, after the first life-changing bout of sex, Ivo no longer touches her. As the novel progresses, however, she grows to discover it's not enough, and this inspires her to take initiative - while her wedding was forced on her, it becomes her choice and her decision to fight for their marriage. I appreciated this.
With Ivo, he marches through the novel with a mixture of hope and terror. At the beginning of the novel, he's not at all picky about who his wife turns out to be, so long as she has the correct number of fun parts in the right places - and he's also prepared for when the relationship will inevitably end. It's lovely to watch this hero walk in with his lowered expectations, only to find himself unable to keep his distance, unable to give up the idea of forever.
All in all, Immortal Warrior is a solidly enjoyable book, and fantastic introduction to what seems like a truly interesting series. Immortal Outlaw is on my Wishlist (but sadly not my TBR, as I've given up buying books for Lent), and I look forward to reading Lisa Hendrix's other books.