- Title: Lord of the Shadows
- Author: Kathryn Le Veque
- Series: N/A
- Genre(s): Historical
- Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, September 2012 (originally published February 2011)
- Source: Amazon, free promo ($2.99 ebook)
- Length: 273 pages
- Trope(s): Perfectly Perfect Heroine, Deadly-Yet-Sensitive Assassin Hero, Evil King, Instalove, TSTL Sibling, In Disguise, Intrigue & Espionage
- Quick blurb: Feared royal enforcer falls for daughter of king’s most hated enemy
- Quick review: Not bad, exactly, but…you know, it’s not quite… Oh, just read the damn review. That’s what you came here for, isn’t it?
- Grade: C-
Like the allure of a good beheading, it was pure entertainment.
OK, I will admit I was wrong. I WAS WRONG. During the first read, this seemed pretty dreadful, and I even tweeted some snotty things about it.
But after finishing this, I read By Royal Command, aka Death By Thesaurus. And then I read a certain gay BDSM mistorical (Full Snark Bitchfest coming soon!) that will forever be the definition of “dreadful.”
So I upgraded Lord of the Shadows from a D+ to a C-. I can’t really recommend it, but it’s a helluva lot better than some of the other dreck I’ve been reading.
In 1215 England, our hero, Sir Sean de Lara, is a long-time enforcer for the disgusting King John. But when he meets Lady Sheridan St. James, the daughter of the monarch’s most hated enemy, he’s tempted to sacrifice his decade of soul-crushing espionage for the chance to live a normal life.
We’ll just ignore the dorky and unrealistic names so we can move along to the important stuff. Like kissing. And sex.
And history. MY GOD, the history. THE FATE OF ENGLAND IS AT STAKE, PEOPLE, YOU HAVE NO IDEA. You’ll see what I mean when we get around to more of Sir Sean. And there’s a LOT of Sir Sean.
The meet-cute, part 1….
Insta-Love from the get-go. Our Dark Lord gets his first glimpse of His Beloved as she tries to prevent her TSTL younger sister from flinging herself out a window:
His attention then moved to the woman attempting to prevent the suicide; he couldn’t make out the features at this distance, but he could certainly distinguish the blond hair that shimmered against the afternoon sky as gold would shimmer against the sun. He found himself more intrigued by the beauty of the hair than by the chaos unfolding around it.
Unfortunately, our heroine isn’t much of a crisis negotiator, because — oops…. But never fear! Sir Sean is here!
She was still screaming when he caught her.
After accepting their gushes of gratitude, our Hero of Darkness mysteriously disappears (he does this a lot) and waits patiently to see His Beloved again. Which, of course, happens in the very next chapter.
The meet-cute, part 2….
Our Lady of Loveliness and Her Large Lord are reunited a few weeks later during a Secretly Secret Meeting of the Moguls at the Tower of London. When Lady Sheridan is forced to flee the attentions of a handsy (and footsy) priest, Sir Sean follows for her protection:
“Come no closer. If you try to take me to the king, I’ll scream as you have never heard screams before. I’ll fight as you have never seen a woman fight. I’ll… I’ll kill you if you try, do you hear me?”
It all came out as a rapid stream of high-pitched threats. Sean stopped in his tracks and his eyes widened. After a moment, he broke out in laughter. In all his years, he’d never seen or heard anything so hilarious. For a man who had not openly laughed in ages, it was a liberating experience.
But why is our heroine so distrustful of the man who saved her sister’s life? Because he has a, well, um…you know…reputation.
“I was told that you are not only the king’s protector, but that you assist him in his… his dastardly and distasteful deeds.”
You don’t see much “dastardly” nowadays, and here we get some AND with bonus alliteration! If that’s not good writing, I don’t know what is.
Where were we? Ah, yes — a quiet evening walk along the Thames. They chit-chat for a while (RU my enemy? Nuh-uh! Yeah-huh! Whatever. *Flounce*) until…
He caught the glint of a blade and knew before the shape came fully into view that it was an assassin sent to kill him. In his world, it could be nothing else.
I hate it when that happens, don’t you? Despite the “eerie cry of death” sung by the assassin’s expertly-wielded lightweight sword, Sir Sean quickly disposes of this annoying intruder:
Sean stood there, gazing impassively at the corpse. This was not an unusual occurrence and he had faced better.
Lady Sheridan reacts in true dimwit damsel-in-distress fashion:
“Are you saying this sort of thing has happened before?”
[My Kindle note: "He's an ASSASSIN, you dumbass!"]
And then it’s HER turn to save HIM when her own security force (yes, really) finally arrives to Protect Her Virtue. After that we get some intrigue and some TSTL sister antics and more intrigue and whatnot.
The wooing and the lusting….
He gave her a look that suggested she was in for a spanking if she didn’t curb her mouth.
Don’t worry, the perfume merchant’s stall isn’t a secret BDSM lair — that’s the one-after-next book in the review queue. Besides, no one actually did that sort of thing in the Middle Ages because everyone was a virgin until they got married and sex toys caused leprosy.
He shook his head as if she was the most unintelligent creature on the face of the earth. Throwing caution to the wind, he threw an arm around her slender waist and pulled her hard against him…. He held her fast, a great warm embrace, his face lingering an inch above her own.
“Aye, you silly wench,” he growled. “In case you have not yet understood my meaning, you will marry me. There is no one else on earth worthy of you.”
I can’t decided if that last line is supposed to mean what I think it means, or if it’s code for something subversively sinister.
*AHEM* We interrupt this Snark Fest for a brief outburst of Good Writing:
All he knew was that, from the moment he first spoke to the woman, she cleared all else from his mind like a divine flood, washing away the old in favor of the new. He’d hardly spent more than an hour of combined time with her, but still, that time had been nothing like he’d ever experienced. She made him feel alive and warm. She made him feel that life was worth living. He wanted to feel that way forever.
Done. Carry on.
At this point in the narrative, we’re introduced to the obligatory Sudden Appearance of Former Childhood Pal All Growed Up and Sexy. This, of course, causes Sir Sean the Kitten-Hearted to elevate his angst level even more.
The wedding and the bedding….
But never fear! All is right with the world when Bad King John’s anger issues…
John took one look at Sheridan and Sean knew they were in for a world of trouble.
…force Sir Sean and Lady Sheridan to become ♥Sean&Sheridan♥ in the obligatory Secret Ceremony Under the Stairs.
Then, FINALLY, the long-awaited deflowering. They only have five minutes, but they make Every. Second. Count.
Sean’s gaze was powerful, consuming, as his hand gently tightened over the delicious fleshy mound. Then his lips descended on her again, with such passion that she sucked in her breath at his lustful attack….
Though she was a maiden, Sheridan knew she must have more of him. She must have all of him. The man was her husband and she would know him.
Not done yet….
The more he moved, the more heated her loins became until she gasped his name.
…he felt her tender walls pulling at him…
Done. Carry on. But I must note that the author wisely resisted the “oh, he’s so tall and broad his Mighty Penis of Manhood will be MUCH too large for my Untouched and Delicate Velvet Channel” nonsense. So, major bonus points for that.
The traumatic separation….
No, not THAT one. Or that other one. THIS one:
“If I do not make it out of here alive, then know that it is my wish for you to marry de Braose. He is an honorable man and will be good to you…. You are my angel and I will be with you, and no other, in this life and beyond.”
Tissues. I need tissues.
And wuv…twu wuv….
(I waited THIS LONG for a Princess Bride reference. I have such admirable self-restraint.)
Tissues. WHERE ARE MY TISSUES, DAMMIT???
And they all live happily ever after:
The Shadow Lord died on that cold January night; Sean de Lara, however, did not. He lived through the [NO SPOILERS! BE PATIENT!] and the cause that he had fought so hard to ensure…. He lived through the Chronicles that his wife had kept for safekeeping and in the love he had for her. Most of all, he lived through the nine children that he and Sheridan eventually had. The beautiful twin girls born in October of that year were only the beginning.
The de Lara legacy lived on.
Forget tissues. Pass me the barf bucket.
Yes, I’m making you wait for Sir Sean. You need to understand why our Heroic Assassin is so angsty:
“For nine years I have catered to his every repulsive whim. For nine years, I have kidnapped men’s wives and delivered them to the king like a gift on Christmas morning. For nine years, I have cleaned up his leavings, disposing of the women who have died as a result of his lust and delivering those who managed to survive back to their homes.”
If that doesn’t drive a Sensitive Giant like Sean to the edge of the Cliffs of Angstiness, I don’t know what would. That passage and a few others would have been more than enough to fix an image of John as the worst type of lecher. But then the author just…can’t…stop with the repetitive “ew, gross, ick!!!” descriptions every time John appears:
…Physically, he was a man of small stature, bad hygiene, and one heavily lidded left eye that gave him a rather dull appearance.
…a short man with a droopy eye and noticeably bad hygiene.
…a short, weak, twisted man, hardly enough of a male to be in the same category as men like Sean.
In other words, the EXACT depiction of Prince John in Lion in Winter…
…which for me turned him into an over-the-top, almost comic, caricature instead of a truly menacing bad guy.
*AHEM* We interrupt this blog post for yet another bit of irrelevant but completely fascinating historical trivia:
A castle in Ireland once captured and nearly destroyed by King John commemorates his legacy in this moving tribute:
“Moving” tribute — get it? get it? Hahaha! He looks so forlorn. What do you suppose he’s thinking?
I do believe this Epic Opus of Visual Snark requires further study. Anyone wishing to fund my research sabbatical to Northern Ireland, please email to request my PayPal information.
Nothing about her was foul or defective. She was, in a word, perfect.
I probably shouldn’t have used a quote with the word “foul” immediately following an image of a medieval toilet.
How perfect is Lady Sheridan St. James? In addition to her glorious blond hair, luminous blue eyes (see below), creamy skin, pert nose, slender neck and shapely shoulders, and “lovely white teeth, with slightly protruding canines,” she’s also a filthy rich heiress with actual political power:
Though as a woman she should have kept silent, as Henry St. James’ heiress, she controlled the powers of the earldom. She would speak on behalf of her father….
Henry St. James had no sons, and Sheridan had been inevitably directed into the role. She was the eldest child, intelligent and wise, and like her father in every way. She would have made a fine son and heir, and Henry had raised her as if she had been male… As Lady Bath’s daughter, she wielded the power of an important earldom and in these days of political upheaval, wise council was needed more than ever.
But her womanly wise councilship lasts for exactly one scene before Fair Maiden Mode kicks back in. She gets kidnapped a few times, goes shopping (she has a fabric fetish), rides a stolen horse into the middle of a battle, gets stabbed in the thigh whilst hiding in a hay wagon…
It hurt terribly and Sheridan wasn’t very brave…. She gazed up at Guy with her luminous blue eyes. “I do not want a badge of honor.”
…and proves her fertility by getting pregnant with twins during her deflowering.
That’s pretty much all you need to know about Lady Sheridan — she’s just a prop for the Evil Villains to abuse and the Manly Men to rescue. Which is a HUGE loss for the story, because she could have been a kickass partner for Sean.
As he arrived on scene, the few people that [WHO, not THAT, gah] were standing about noticed his presence and quickly moved away from him. The movement was innate, like oil parting from water. No one with a sane thought in their head would dare stand within proximity of Sean de Lara. Like cockroaches, they scattered.
He’s large and in charge. He’s feared and fearless. He knows all and he sees all. He’s the Devil’s Disciple.
And he’s MASSIVE. How MASSIVE is he? He’s described as MASSIVE (as a whole, as individual body parts, and as articles of clothing and/or weaponry) at Kindle locations 513, 686, 944, 1333, 1475, 1815, 2109, 2199, 2645, 2682, 2931, 2946, 3043, 3455, 3541, 3701, 3852, 3883, 3885, 3977, 5005, 5280 and 5301. So, you know, pretty big.
Who is this Shadowy Specter of Stealthy Strength, you ask?
Oh, wait – never mind. Our hero doesn’t have much of a penchant for random rhyming. Sir
Ulrich von Liechtenstein Sean de Lara (aka Viscount Darlington, but DON”T call him “Darlington”) has his hands full being King John’s enforcer extraordinaire — and his fearsome reputation isn’t based solely on his ginormousness.
He’s earned the title of Lord of the Shadows…
He walked with the stealth of a cat, disappearing into the shadows from whence he came. As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.
…and he has a LOT of whatever the medieval equivalent of “street cred” would be:
…He had been rumored to kill men with his bare hands, appendages as large as trenchers, and there wasn’t one in the room who did not disbelieve that.
….“Not only is he physical power, but he has intelligence. His tactical knowledge is without compare. No army will go up against John during these times because of de Lara’s very presence.”
…“His presence, his very name, is synonymous with pain and death. If you see the man, run for your life.”
And yet, he’s kind of an angsty emo whiner. Which is understandable when you remember that Sir Sean has been living a lie for nearly ten years. Every evil deed he performs for Bad King John is all in the name of Justice.
“Never in my life have I ever wanted anything other than to serve the cause,” he growled. “Since I was seventeen years of age, I have been completely selfless and dedicated to my task. You have seen nothing but flawless duty from me and it was because I had convinced myself that someday, I would be rewarded for my service. I knew this world would pass away and a new England would take hold where I would not have to stay to the shadows, where I would not be feared and loathed, and where I would not have to defend my life every moment of every day. Now, when I can see the light at the end of the road and I have found the only thing I have ever wanted, you are telling me that I am going to have to fight for this, too?”
So, you know, like a double agent with a license to kill:
But instead of taking orders from Judi Dench (Best. Casting. EVER.), Sir Sean has sworn allegiance to his mentor and father figure, who just happens to be…wait for it….
The door to the confessional suddenly flew open. William Marshall stood in the entry, his weathered face taut with rage.
Yes, THAT William Marshal(l). Are you keeping up with all this? Massive yet stealthy, deadly yet sensitive. Still with me?
If not, hang on, because there’s more!
Are you ready for this? This is that EMPERILED ENGLAND ZOMG history stuff I mentioned way back up yonder.
All righty then, don’t say I didn’t warn you:
“I nearly forgot to ask. The document I wrote; did you receive it?”
“Father Simon delivered it. That is what we were examining the other night when you saw us in the St James’ apartment.”
“I thought as much. Did it incorporate everything it should?”
“That and more. Your text is brilliant. You clearly have a talent with written prose.”
“Under your direction, of course. But remember; I do not want my name mentioned anywhere. I am not responsible for this document that will change the course of this country. I would rather be an invisible contributor. Leave the glory to those who wish it.”
Are you getting the vibe here? Was that enough of a teaser/hint/foreshadowing? What if I give you a reminder that this story is set in the year 1215?
Maybe a visual hint would help:
No? Oh, fine then:
“Have no fear. The impression was given that the Bishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London were the authors. No one will ever know that you are the true creator of the Magna Carta.”
“Is that what you are calling it?”
“Fitting, is it not?”
I shit you not — our hero is the author of the Magna Carta. Which means we have to add…
…to our character inspiration board. So, if you’re going to write Sir Sean Fan Fic (SSFF), keep this equation in mind:
…It was like being in a roomful of predators; each man had the look of both killer and prey.
Despite all the snark in this review, this book did have nearly all the elements for a great story — the only thing missing was a strong heroine.
Unfortunately, the snark was necessary because some seemingly minor, but cumulatively damaging, flaws proved too distracting, kicking me out of the story often enough to think snotty thoughts about the characters.
The nitpicky it’s-probably-just-me annoyances included typos (…her distain); anachronisms (corsets, pantalets and bloomers, silk and porcelain); anachronistic language (orchestrate, flighty, ruckus, blow his cover); clichés (“He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing….”); thesaurus abuse (…able to discern one prevalent concept); and (yawn) platitudes (“War was never easy…..”).
In addition, the head-hopping was Out. Of. Control, flitting back and forth between major characters, flinging over to a one-scene-only cameo character, then zooming out for an ominiscient perspective that lasts all of one paragraph.
Let’s not forget the repetition and redundancy — oy, the REDUNDANCY and the REPETITION. In the last third of the book, I made notes like “you already told us this!!!” more than a dozen times.
And the author even managed — quite remarkably — to work some of the “well, DUH” and “WTF?” moments into single sentences:
…The panting had been a dead giveaway that something terrible was amiss.
…The voice hissed, the gesture of an individual with strong opinions.
…“Sean, Sean,” the voice moaned, sing-song.
…men were non-committal and easily distracted creatures.
…If she were to purchase a wonderful fabric and have it back to the apartments by the nooning hour, her maid could baste together an acceptable gown by suppertime.
…One must always look their best when challenging the king.
…“Will these events in the future affect us?”
Do poorly-edited conglomerations of verbiage like this negatively impact my opinion of self-published books? Yes. Yes, they do.