The Lord and the Scorpion by Shiree McCarver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I can definitively say I have never read a romance novel quite like this. Ms. McCarver really accomplished something with this wonderful story. Sauda is a heroine that you will come to admire, will laugh with, and will cry with. Her journey is unforgettable. Ethan is a hero that will steal your heart away. What I really loved about this story was how three-dimensional Sauda and Ethan are. Their love is tangible and poignant. It reaches off the page and into your mind and heart. It doesn't matter that Ethan shouldn't fall in love with a Blackamoor assassin who is clearly not a suitable wife. It doesn't matter that Sauda is a foreigner whose freedom is not her own, and thus shouldn't even consider falling for the golden, beautiful lord. It happens anyway. And the development of this affair is incredible to read. At times, I felt like I would be overwhelmed with despair, knowing in my heart that this couldn't end well, but hoping that Ms. McCarver would manage to pull off the happy ending I craved. Well, we do get our happy ending, but you should read it to see how it unfolds.
Prejudice is an ugly thing. This story shows how a worthy, incredible individual can be judged and maligned for the simple characteristics of being of another faith, dark skin color, and having hair that is curly instead of straight, despite traits that show her to be an excellent person. Her good heart and her sense of honor mean nothing when someone cannot look past what is so different. The great thing about this story is that from the first moment, Ethan looks at the outside and the inside and has a moment of clarity that this is the woman that he loves. His heart had been broken by the loss of his young wife in childbirth and his subsequent slavery in a Turkish prison, in which unspeakable things were done to him. Life means little to him, other than the freedom of sailing the seas, although he knows he will have to eventually marry to ensure his family's earldom secure. When he sees Sauda, it's like he comes alive again. From that point on, he is very focused on having her, in any way he can.
Sauda sees the beautiful Englishman and knows he's not for her. Her life has been nothing but death and discipline. She is a very skilled assassin who has had to seduce men to get close enough to kill. Her heart is merely an organ that pumps blood through her body. Love does not enter into the equation for her life. But love finds her, and a passion that she had never known.
This is a very raw and earthy romance, but at the same time, sublimely beautiful. Set during the Elizabethan period, you are privy to the very raunchy natures of Elizabethans, and not spared some of the less pleasanter aspects of living in the 16th century, but it works very well. It felt so authentic, and Ms. McCarver does a great job with the language and the terminology for this period. It is more than clear that she has done careful research and has a love for this period. As a lifelong reader of historical romances and a woman of color, It was great to see a heroine of color living and finding love within this time period. I was drawn into this story and I felt like I was right there in the late 1500s during Queen Elizabeth's reign.
The love scenes were tender yet vivid and very raw. The powerful chemistry between Sauda and Ethan really blazes in their private moments. There is an element of time slipping away from the starcrossed lovers as Ethan will have to marry soon and Sauda must leave to stay one step ahead of the hunters who want to take her back to her owner. I hated that aspect, but it brought dramatic tension and poignancy to the storyline. I wanted them to run away into the sunset together, but I could see how that would be a selfish thing and not feasible for either of them.
Sauda is very convincing as a formidable female warrior and assassin. She shows the discipline and skill of a woman who was heartlessly trained from the young age of eight to kill and to kill effortlessly. She has no moments that cause a lapse in her credibility as a warrior woman. Yet at the same time, she shows a humanity and a capacity for love that gives her the depth that I want to see in a romance heroine.
She is definitely a great heroine for those readers who like to see a woman who can handle herself.
Although Ethan's friend Lucian annoyed me with his narrow-mindedness for some time in this story, I began to see why he was so fixated on his view of what was good for Ethan (and thinking that Sauda wasn't it). He got my attention and make me anxious to read his story and see him conquered by love in the most unlikely of packages. I also enjoyed seeing the interactions with Thomas, Ethan's younger brother, as well as Sir Nichols, and Mary, Ethan's former nursemaid.
This book took me away and seduced my senses. It kept me guessing, as I truly didn't know how things would end. There was a complexity to this plot that really did challenge my thought processes to see where things would go. The action scenes were well done, mixing swordfighting and martial arts. I loved that you did get to see Sauda show her abilities. Yet you also see that Ethan is a warrior in his own right. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to see this beautiful love story unfold between two people that are so very different, yet are soulmates in every way. Bravo, Ms. McCarver.
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