Readers! I’ve been remiss! I have completely forgotten to share the awesomeness that is Sandra Schwab’s latest historical romance with you. I received an e-arc of Eagle’s Honor: Banished, in May, read it like a fiend, reviewed it on Goodreads and promptly forgot to share my review here with you.
Never fear. I will remedy this situation immediately.
My guess is that you read my blog for regency romance reviews, which I am always thrilled to write, but every once in a while, a reviewer needs to change things up. My friend and stellar romance novelist Michelle Boule first recommended Schwab’s novels to me about a year ago, but only now have I finally gotten around to discovering what I’ve been missing.
I received Schwab’s e-arc at a point when I was getting a little burned out after reading one too many regency historicals. If you’ve just binge-read all of Lisa Kleypas or Julia Quinn’s back catalogue and need to come up for air, please, please, give Eagle’s Honor: Banished a shot. Set during the Roman expansion into Brittania (we’re talking 1st century), this amazingly detailed historical setting is about as far from a 19th century London ballroom as you can get. It’s a fresh take on the class-conflict / forbidden romance you often find in your favorite regency/victorian romances and a compelling change from the lords and ladies of that time period.
Marcus is a Roman centurion from a well-to-do family on leav for his brother’s wedding. While cruising the old neighborhood he runs into Titus, a childhood friend who was always more weasel than good-guy. After an awkward dinner confirms this is no one Marcus wants to hang with on the regular, he’s introduced to Lia, one of Titus’ slaves, for some post-dinner jollies. A less honorable man may have taken his pleasure and left, but of course, this is romance, and Marcus is the epitome of the noble soldier. There’s a huge power imbalance in this hero/heroine dynamic–he’s a centurion, she’s another man’s pleasure slave–but Schwab manages to create a feminist, egalitarian, and of course, devastatingly sexy romance.
Before commenting on the storyline, I’ll mention language in the novel because the author makes a point of addressing her choices in the introductory text: The dialogue is natural, spoken English similar to what you would find in a typical English historical romance. Despite some initial skepticism (and awkward use of the word “butt”), it quickly became a NON-ISSUE. In fact, like Schwab, I thought that using colloquial English was a much smarter choice than some kind of pseudo-historical formal voice which would have likely detracted from this otherwise entrancing romance.
With that out of the way, let’s get to our protagonists, shall we?
Marcus is, let’s face it, TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. He’s noble and considerate and loving and GGG and everything Lia could dare to dream to want. Naturally, a lifetime of slavery, rape, and forced “entertainment” have left Lia guarded and hidden. All she knows of the world is its worst, and she is primed to expect the other shoe to drop. In Marcus she discovers an antidote to her world-weary cynicism. His love is unwavering, and by offering a combination of steady devotion and some pretty amazing orgasms he slowly opens Lia’s heart to love. It was a refreshing change of pace from my usual reading fare of rakes learning to love while emotionally tormenting the women who adore them. This was all about a man showing a deeply scarred woman kindness and love.
The villians — Titus and Marcus’ father — were appropriately awful and presented almost too much strife to be surmounted in one novel, but nonetheless served an excellent conflict-stirrers in an otherwise straight-forward romance. Oh, I should, however, give a trigger warning to readers: There is an instance of rape in this novel, that, while brief, is still very present. It is not essential to the plot and occurs around the end of Chapter 6. Skip if you need to do so, and move on to Marcus’ time in the army, which provides a much needed break (and some comic relief) from some pretty brutal emotional angst.
The story was completely engrossing and the scene-building and history were fantastic. This was clearly well-researched novel, but it never felt like a history lesson. After finishing this book I found myself eager to read more historical romance set in unconventional time periods, and of course, more of Schwab’s writing.