Having gambled away his entire family fortune, Varian St. George, Lord Edenmont, now lives by his wits and winning ways. A man who has always taken the path of least resistance — preferably in soft beds with willing women — he does not want to become embroiled in a mad quest with a hot-tempered and heavily armed redhead.
But forced to travel together through an exotic land, the mismatched pair soon discovers that friction can produce some very dangerous sparks ...
Comment: This is the first book I try by this author. I had heard many positive comments on another of her books, which is, according to GR, included in this series titled Scoundrels. The Lion's Daughter is organized as being the first and that is why I started with this one, from this series.
In this book, whose action mostly happens in what is now Albania, we meet brave young woman Esme, the daughter of a renowned British man who has dealings with the ruler of the Albanian part of the Ottoman Empire.
Her father Jason, known as the Red Lion for his red hair, which she inherited, is considered dead and Esme only wants revenge against the responsible and that puts her on the path of Varian, Lord Edenmont. Varian has lost his family's fortune and he lives from day to day, on the charity of others masking that charity with charm and congeniality. However, he is charged with taking Percival, the nephew of the Red Lion back to England for his father will pay him well to travel with the boy from Italy.
The problem is Percival had heard a conversation between his late mother and his uncle Jason and he thinks he needs to help his uncle, not knowing he would concoct a scheme to fake his own death.
Thus, Esme and Varian meet because of Percival, sparks fly but the situation is dire and perhaps they might not be suitable after all. Or are they?
The word that more often crossed my mind while reading was "confusion". Seriously, the little blurb I tried to present above? What a task because the plot is really difficult to summarize in a way a reader might understand. It's filled with exotic-type settings, shenanigans, adventure and many things that were amazing a few decades ago but that now really feel like a mess.
It's still possible to follow the plot but let me tell you there were scenes I just had to skim because it was making me confused.
I think this book is well inserted into the notion of "old school" and the cultural aspects might be a little too badly used if one were to look at it through politically correct eyes but if one can accept that notion (and the author has Albanian roots) and just focus on the story, then it's a crazy journey but filled with interesting elements. I think, though, the way some things were stressed out in detriment of others didn't really impress me. For instance, for me, it would have been better to focus the story on Varian and Esme's relationship when they arrive in England - I felt this was not exploited properly - instead of the amount of time it took them to go from one place to another.
I'd categorize this as a "road trip" romance because most of the romance is happening while they travel. I don't mind this in general but in this book it felt like the real action was being delayed because of the anticipation created in not knowing what would happen when Esme finds out her father is not dead or if the apparent bad guy would catch them.
I get the tactic but...well, I'm a romance reader and I wanted more of that.
It's not as if the romance is weak, in fact I think the author did a good job, considering the style of novels from the early 90s, but reading it now feels rather weird. I'm not bothered by the age gap nor by the fact they don't seem to have much in common. I can accept the oddness in their pairing as special and quirky but cute as well.
I just think when they reach an understanding on how they feel about each other, the small things related to their feelings (Varian's decision to be better because he has Esme to consider, for one) and their relationship are just a given. They talk and try to act on this but it felt as if they couldn't really evolve much besides the expected since the plot mess had to be addressed.
Esme and Varian are intriguing characters. I like peeking into their heads, I liked how the author developed their personalities and how they were put together, apparently opposites but who found something special in the other. I hope the next installment can show us them, I'd like to see or know how their HEA went on.
As for the plot, well, again what a mess but let's just say all ends well and the protagonist of the next book doesn't feel as weird as it did when I started this book and read the blurb for the second one.
All in all, a good enough premiere with this author. Now that I have an idea of what her style is like, I do have better hopes for the next books I'll want to try by her.