When I saw that debut author Kate Forrest had written a medieval romance, I knew I had to take a chance. The Crusader’s Heart is romance set right after the Crusades (duh) in Scotland.
I think there is a reason there is a void of medieval romances right now, and that’s because they’re tough to write convincingly for any author. Compound that with most debut novel’s most significant problem: general lack of flow, The Crusader’s Heart just missed the mark a bit for me.
To start with the positives: I can tell that Ms. Forrest put in a lot of research into the history of the area. You can tell that she loves Scotland and its history and is really trying to do it justice. Incorporating the historical events of the time period as well as using actual historical figures was clearly important to her. Alex was a sweet beta hero, and I enjoyed many of the secondary characters, especially in the last third of the book
Unfortunately, a lot was going on in this book, and it almost seemed like three different novellas shoved into one book without enough segue. One section our heroine Isobel and hero Alex are racing to hide a religious relic, the next section Isobel and Alex are hiding at a cottage and meeting critical secondary characters, the last section they are trying to save Alex’s castle and lands. I liked all three sections well enough, but they seemed almost entirely to stand alone which is odd. I think part of the problem was the changeable villains. There are three and only two are connected, and all of them had rather anti-climatic endings.
Isobel was one of my main points of contention. I loved that she had violet eyes as a throwback to the classic medieval romance novels, i.e. Johanna Lindsey and Julie Garwood, but that was about where I stopped enjoying her. Her characterization was choppy at best. At times, she was headstrong and stubborn, other times she was a little ridiculous, and yet still at other times, she was practically perfect.
The intimate scenes were hard for me as well. They are relatively tame, and there aren’t many of them, but the first one goes like this: the virgin Isobel reaches over and grabs Alex’s penis, a little over the clothes foreplay, Isobel and Alex have a full conversation, Alex thrusts home, fade to black. It was all very abrupt, and I didn’t think Alex was even going to go through with it until it was over. I seriously had to read that scene twice to see if I missed something. The whole scene wasn’t romantic, and I don’t know how many virgins are ok going full under the pants crotch grab as a first move.
Much of the book was disjointed in that way. There was a lot of telling instead of showing. I often thought both Isobel and Alex came off as flat because there was a lack of emotional description. The last 25% of the book, so many new characters and plot points were added my head was spinning a little bit.
Overall, I really admire Kate for writing a book that clearly means so much to her. There were defiantly some good moments in this book. It was a decent first attempt (hey, I didn’t even enjoy Lisa Kleypas’ first novel, everyone starts somewhere). And I hope she has a great writing career moving forward!
**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**