In Debt to the Enemy Lord by Nicole Locke

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“You have a debt to pay. You owe me your life.” 

Anwen, bastard of Brynmor, has fought hard to find her place in the world. But she’s forced to rethink everything when she’s saved from death by her enemy Teague, Lord of Gwalchdu. Instead of releasing her, he holds her captive…

Teague trusts no one. So, with ominous messages threatening his life, he must keep Anwen under his watch, no matter how much her presence drives him wild. And when passionate arguments turn to passionate encounters, Teague must believe that the strength of their bond will conquer all!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, December 2016

Time and Setting: Wales, 1290
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

I have always been a fan of medieval historical fiction written by authors such as Elizabeth Chadwick, and was therefore attracted to In Debt to the Enemy Lord, which I found to be well written with nicely developed and intriguing characters. In fact it was the description of the characters which drew me to the book in the first place.

Teague, Lord of Gwalchdu, is the kind of dark, brooding, solitary character, that often appeals to me if done well – and in this I was not disappointed. His subordinates respect him, but also fear him, even going so far as to cross themselves as he passes them by. With no close friends, his only real confidant is his brother, Rhain. Teague’s innate loneliness is apparent from the beginning; he is in the unenviable position of having a foot in two camps with an English father and Welsh mother. And when these two nations went to war, Teague fought for the English, in the process earning himself the moniker of traitor by the Welsh. The war is now over and they are all living an uneasy peace under the reign of the victor, King Edward I, who defeated the armies of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (the last ever King of Wales). Much has been lost, and he is fighting an uphill battle in order to win the trust of the defeated Welsh. This has only compounded Teague’s isolation and loneliness further; and even though there are mitigating factors – which are revealed later on in the story – he refuses to justify his actions in siding with the English. He has learned to fully trust only himself, and to a lesser degree, his younger brother.

On a ride around his holdings, a beautiful girl literally falls out of a tree, demanding as she does that he catch her. He does so and it doesn’t take Teague long to realise that his life will never be the same again. Alone and unloved he may have been up until now, but this girl, Anwen, from the neighbouring castle and who considers him her enemy, will shake his – until now – unshakable foundations. Anwen is the beautiful, illegitimate daughter of a Welsh prince and even though Teague manages to break her fall, she still hits her head, and from the description of her injuries and behaviour is suffering from severe concussion. She is nursed back to health by Teague’s servants and his aunt, a religious zealot. He is intrigued by the golden beauty and feels compelled to watch over her at night while she is still unconscious and helpless – holding her hand whilst she hovers between life and death.

Teague has been receiving mysterious threatening messages and is, quite understandably, unnerved by them. He mistrusts anyone and everyone, even the young woman who quite literally drops into his life; although the idea that she could fall into his arms at the exact moment he was underneath it in order to gain access to the inner sanctum of Gwalchdu is rather a stretch. For one thing, the letters appeared long before Anwen comes on the scene and for another, the fact that Teague would even consider such a scenario goes against the picture the author has drawn of him as a master strategist and nobody’s fool.

Once Anwen is reasonably recovered she is anxious to return to her own people, but she comes across as fickle and rather shrewish, quickly forgetting the kindnesses and care she has been shown and constantly throwing the word “Traitor” at Teague. Anwen, it seems, will never forgive what she perceives as the wrong he did to her people by fighting for the English. The spark between them that ignites after Anwen’s fall grows into a full blown attraction once she is conscious and aware of him, but I grew a little fed up with her constant carping and nagging. It is very obvious as the story progresses and we learn more about Teague that he is a good and honourable man. Nevertheless, Anwen continues to berate him to such an extent that when she finally accepts that he is rather a decent chap – I wanted to cheer.

The relationship between Teague and Anwen continues to grow and the author does this very well. In fact I loved her approach in the more intimate scenes between them, which, although reasonably explicit, are subtle and tasteful, with none of the sensuality being lost with the lack of vivid description. But each time I thought that they had finally reached an understanding, she doubts him again –  or when he is more forceful in his authority than she likes – we are back to square one. Misunderstandings per se are not a problem with me generally, but I do get irritated when there are too many or they go on for too long as is the case here.

On the whole, most of the characters are rather dark and complex and I found this novel to be no light, comfortable read; which is not necessarily a bad thing as I like some angst, but I found I was forever looking for hidden meanings and depths which I felt I could be missing. Although this is a medieval romance, the story is rather intense with little light relief which is fine in historical fiction where we are dealing with historical facts but is not what I look for in a romance. Plus on two occasions I was taken completely out of the story when the author used the word ‘centimetre’! The identity of the villain is obvious from the start, although there’s a twist at the end that I admit I hadn’t seen coming. On the whole, In Debt to the Enemy Lord is a nicely written story and I wouldn’t mind reading more by Nicole Locke, but perhaps not stories set in this era – my preference is definitely for medieval-era historical fiction. However, my prejudices are my own and I can recommend the book to readers who enjoy medieval romances.

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