Half-Albanian Esme Brentmor is the daughter of Englishman, Jason Brentmor, who has lived in self-imposed exile in his adopted country for over twenty years. He is known as the Red Lion to the Albanian people, who have loved and respected him during his entire stay. Even though that respect extends all the way to Ali Pasha, the ruler of Albania, Ali's cousin, Ismal, is obsessed with Jason's petite, flame-haired daughter and would do anything to have her. Jason discovers that Ismal is planning to overthrow Ali, and Jason fears that Ismal may try to kidnap Esme as a way to manipulate him. Jason realizes that both he and Esme are in serious danger. Believing that Ismal will have no reason to harm Esme if he is no longer in the picture, Jason decides to fake his own death, so that he can covertly investigate this political intrigue. Jason charges his right-hand man with Esme's safe passage to England where he had been planning to take her anyway. Esme never really wanted to go to England in the first place, so when she is informed of Jason's "murder", the Little Warrior's only inclination is to avenge his death.
Varian St. George, Lord Edenmont, is a libertine who has squandered the family fortune on gambling and loose women, and now gets by using his title and charms to live off the good graces of others. During an extended stay with Jason's brother, Gerald Brentmor, Varian befriended Gerald's young precocious son, Percival. After the boy's mother dies, Gerald decides to send Percival back to England and offers to pay Varian handsomely to accompany him there. What Varian doesn't know though, is that Percival, while emulating his beloved Uncle Jason's spying, discovered that Gerald was involved in a covert arms deal with someone in Albania. Percival tricks Varian into taking him to Albania by convincing Varian that a valuable missing piece from his mother's chess set can be found there, which will lead to a large reward. Due to bad weather, their ship must anchor near a beach, and no sooner do they disembark than they find themselves in the middle of a firefight.
As Esme, dressed as a boy, was trying to escape her home, she and her small contingent of protectors were accosted by a group of bandits who were working for Ismal. In the midst of the chaotic fray, Percival is mistakenly kidnapped by some of the bandits, while Varian is knocked unconscious. He awakens to find a young boy caring for him, but is doesn't take long for Varian to realize that this "boy" is really a girl and one who stirs disquieting feelings inside him. Varian also knows that he must go rescue Percival, and with the ship too damaged by the storm to sail any time soon, there is no choice left but to go overland. Esme sees traveling with this foreigner as the perfect opportunity to have reasonably safe passage to Ali's palace, where she can exact her revenge against Ismal. So begins a tentative alliance that only solidifies as they brave all the dangers of the wild back country of Albania and later the political intrigues of Ali Pasha's court together. Their physical attraction slowly blossoms into something greater, and when Esme flees the palace, Varian will risk everything to find her and make her his wife. But even returning to England may not be enough to save her from the obsessive clutches of Ismal, and most certainly not from the financial destruction that Varian himself has wrought on the only home he has to offer his now cherished Lady.
I read Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels a while back and greatly enjoyed it. In fact, it still has a place not only among my all-time favorites, but many other romance readers' as well. I didn't discover until after reading Lord of Scoundrels that it was part of a series, and thought it would be nice to go back and pick up the missing pieces. Having read it first though, my expectations for this author were set fairly high, and unfortunately, The Lion's Daughter missed the mark. In my opinion, it got off to a very slow start. Nearly the entire first half of the book is taken up by the hero and heroine making an interminably long journey through Albania. Although a few events occurred along the way, they were not particularly compelling. This part of the story was also very heavily laden with details on the history, culture, geography and political climate of Albania at that time, which I thought also contributed to the slow pace. I have enjoyed exotic locations as the settings for other romances and I also enjoy learning new things from my novels, but in this case, the descriptions simply failed to capture my interest and imagination. In fact, I had been considering putting the book aside for a while in favor of reading something else, when their journey finally came to an end. This is the point where I felt the story really began. It slowly started to improve, building upon itself to finally culminate in an exciting ending.
In my opinion, the hero and heroine of the story did not have the same vibrant spark that I have found in other novels, and at times were difficult to relate to. The things about Esme that I did find relatable were her petite stature, and feeling that she was not as pretty as other girls her age. Unfortunately, she took the low self-esteem aspect a bit too far for my taste. Every time I thought that Esme had finally accepted that, at least to Varian she was beautiful, she would turn around and start berating herself over her looks and desirability again, which I found rather tiresome. Also, for at least the first half of the book, Esme was so stubborn, cold and independent, that she seemed nearly emotionless. Some of this may have been a cultural issue, but it made it very difficult for me to get a good grasp on her character. In spite of his libertine tendencies, I found Varian to be a bit more likable, but still rather bland and average compared to other heroes I've read. He was kind and patient with Esme's difficult nature, perhaps even more so than she deserved at times, accepting her for who she was, but overall Varian was just not a memorable, stand-out hero for me. He too showed only minimal emotions early on, and with both characters behaving in this manner, I found their falling in love with one another to be rather unconvincing. It wasn't until both characters started exhibiting some vulnerability with each other, which didn't occur until at least halfway through the book, that I finally was able to engage myself more fully in their relationship. At this point, Varian in particular began to make some changes in his life by realizing all the mistakes he had made in the past, choosing to learn something from them, and working hard to overcome the mess he'd made not only of his own life, but the lives of those around him as well. This turn of events made me able to respect him a great deal more than I would have otherwise. Esme did not change nearly as much though. Her hot-headed decisions, in part brought on by her inferiority complex, basically continued until the end of the book where she finally verbally came to terms with how much Varian loved her, but even still I was not entirely convinced that she had grown or would truly change.
I thought that The Lion's Daughter had some unique elements. As I mentioned earlier, about 2/3 of the narrative takes place in the exotic locale of Albania, with several fictional, but historically accurate scenes taking place in the non-fictional court of Ali Pasha. While some of the earlier historical details in the book were a bit dry, I found these scenes to be a little more interesting. I also enjoyed the multi-cultural aspect of Varian and Esme's romance. He was English and she, while half English, had essentially been raised Albanian. I thought that her father's lessons helped to prepare her for transitioning to life in England better than she probably would have otherwise, but there were still some cultural missteps to overcome which added some interest to the story. Another rather unique element was some extensive political intrigue, which I thought could have been very good, but ultimately wound up being a bit too complex and confusing for me to follow. It seemed that nearly every character in the book, including Esme's young cousin, Percival, was at one point or another trying to deceive someone else. In my opinion, this made it very difficult to discern who actually was telling the truth. While I like a little mystery and intrigue, I also like to see that intrigue slowly unravel and make more sense as the narrative progresses, but in this case it just seemed to become more complicated. Ms. Chase has a very intellectual writing style, which I can appreciate. However, readers should be forewarned to keep a dictionary handy, as she liberally sprinkles the story with words that may be unfamiliar even to seasoned readers with an extensive vocabulary.
Had I read the Scoundrels series in the proper order, The Lion's Daughter may not have sufficiently engaged my attention to attract me to read further in the series, in which case I would have missed out on the unforgettable, Lord of Scoundrels. It just simply did not exhibit the same wit, charm and emotional connection that I found in Lord of Scoundrels. Even though I have not yet finished the series, I suspect that The Lion's Daughter may be the weakest of the books, which is unfortunate since it is also the first. It is followed by Captives of the Night in which Ismal, the villain of The Lion's Daughter, is redeemed to become the hero. He also plays a small role in Lord of Scoundrels, the third in the series, which I believe takes place simultaneously with, but was written after, Captives of the Night. The final book in the series is The Last Hellion. The Lion's Daughter may have gotten off to a slow start for me, but I was glad I stuck with it. The improvements in the second half of the book made some of the drudgery of the first half worth enduring, and overall I found it to be an adequate read. At the very least, I still intend to finish the Scoundrels series and would like to explore some of Loretta Chase's other works.
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