Christina Bennett's mother escaped from her tyrannical husband while she was still pregnant and ended up giving birth in a new land. Through a series of unusual events, Christina ended up being raised by Native Americans, but now she has recently returned to London to reclaim her place in society and see that justice is served for the sake of her now-dead mother. While others believe that her father is dead too, Christina is certain that he is still alive and out to kill her for the purpose of stealing her inheritance. In order to claim the money, she must marry by her 18th birthday which is fast approaching. Nearly every man in England is taken with Christina's beauty, but long ago she made a vow to marry a strong, honorable warrior just like her adoptive father. No one suits her criteria until she meets the handsome Marquess of Lyonwood.
Lyon was a spy for the British crown during the French Revolution. He is wounded in both body and spirit not only from his work, but also from a cruel betrayal by his wife which made him vow never to marry again. However, when they meet, he simply cannot resist the beguiling Christina. She nearly drives him mad with her bizarre ways and penchant for keeping secrets, but at the same time, she is like no other woman he has ever known before. Once they are married, Lyon will do everything in his power to make her happy, gain her trust, and protect her from a very real and dangerous threat.
I've considered myself to be a fan of Julie Garwood for close to twenty years now, but in spite of my loyalty to her writing and my usual ability to cut her some slack even when the story isn't quite perfect for me, I couldn't help coming away from reading The Lion's Lady with very mixed feelings. The more of Ms. Garwood's books I read/re-read, the more I've come to realize that there is a certain sameness in her characters and the development of their relationship. The hero and heroine of The Lion's Lady followed her usual stereotypes, but they seemed a bit more extreme to me in certain aspects of their personalities than some of Ms. Garwood's other characters I've read. This often made it difficult to connect with them. Sometimes it felt like there were small holes in the plot too, just some nagging, little thing that I was missing, and couldn't quite put my finger on it. I was also surprised to see some passivity in her narration. I'm not sure if this is a trait that has been there all along, and I simply didn't notice, or an anomaly in this book, but passive story-telling never works for me. I am willing to admit though that I might have been more forgiving of this flaw if I hadn't just read three books in a row with some degree of the dreaded "telling not showing" in them.
At the beginning of the story, Lyon was a very intriguing hero. I thought he was going to be a really tortured man with his scars, both inside and out, and his cynical attitude about marriage and life in general. Unfortunately, that part of his character just hovered in the background and was never really given the weight I thought it deserved. Instead, he became more of the typical alpha hero who at times was just a little too arrogant for my taste and who also on occasion behaved more like a caveman than a Regency gentleman. There were things that he did which just didn't seem to fit the social mores of the era, and several times when his actions probably would have compromised Christina, but of course, the actual compromising happened in a more extreme way too. Lyon did have moments where he could be gentler, and it was in those moments that I did like him. Some instances of his possessiveness and protectiveness were actually romantic and endearing. I thought it was sweet that Lyon was the first one to say, "I love you," and then patiently prodded Christina to do the same. However, in my opinion, he fell in love with her, and more importantly, trusted her far too easily. Considering that his first wife's betrayal had left him so completely soured on the idea of marriage that he was prepared to never wed again even to sire an heir, his quick turnaround and complete faith in Christina even though he knew she was lying to him didn't really make sense to me. Overall, Lyon was a good man, and one who certainly exhibited the patience of Job in handling a high-spirited young lady like Christina, but not a true stand-out hero like some others I've read.
Christina was so mysterious and confusing throughout most of the story that I had a very hard time relating to her. Julie Garwood has a tendency to write heroines who are strong-willed but also pretty scatterbrained which can be rather amusing, but with Christina this dichotomy just didn't work for me. One minute, she was a "warrior woman" who could most certainly take care of herself, and the next, she could be pretty ditsy which I had a hard time wrapping my head around. She could also be incredibly stubborn especially when it came to telling Lyon the truth about her past. I tried very hard to look at it from Christina's perspective and take into account her feelings about various things, but I think I would have needed more insights into her psyche to fully understand her reasoning. As written she just seemed contradictory and obstinate (though thankfully not at bad as some heroines I've read), and I thought that her lack of trust in Lyon for most of the story diminished their intimacy as a couple. Christina's best quality, in my opinion, and the one that made me like her in spite of everything, was her compassion for others. The way she pushed Lyon's mother out of her deep grief, how she cared for the servants, and how she even wanted to provide for her aunt who'd caused nothing but trouble for her were all very admirable actions.
There were two other big things that had to do with Lyon and Christina as a couple that didn't entirely work for me either. The first is the love-at-first-sight scenario which anyone who reads my reviews with any degree of regularity knows is far from being one of my favorite romance tropes. I could kind of understand it to some extent on Christina's part, because of her upbringing in a mystical culture which caused her to place instant significance on Lyon's name as well as his resemblance in demeanor to the man who raised her. When it came to Lyon, it didn't make much sense at all (see my earlier comments about his views on marriage), and in fact, his instant and intense attraction to Christina was a even little unsettling to me at first. I understand that the necessity of Christina marrying quickly called for the relationship to move fast, but it just wasn't quite my cup of tea. The other thing is that Lyon and Christina's conversations were almost always muddled and confusing to me. There's a part of me that wants to say this was ingenious of the author, because Lyon always feels confused when talking with Christina too. Julie Garwood is known for her witty dialog, so I also think it was meant to be funny. However, my initial amusement over their "Mars/Venus" interactions and cultural missteps wore thin rather quickly when it kept happening almost every single time they conversed even right up until near the end. It kind of gave me the same feeling that the "big misunderstanding" in a romance novel does, because it seemed like they just weren't taking the time to truly communicate or even attempt to understand one another which frustrated me.
I'm sure by now it may sound like I thoroughly disliked The Lion's Lady, but in all honesty that's really not the case. I simply had a roller-coaster relationship with the book. It certainly had some memorable moments not the least of which was the prologue. That part totally sucked me in and intrigued me, because I never would have expected a Regency romance to begin in a Native American village, which added a certain uniqueness to the story. A few of the other stand-out moments included Christina's marriage proposal to Lyon, Lyon finding Christina in the tavern playing cards, and Christina "divorcing" Lyon. Even though we don't get to see nearly enough of their relationship development, I also enjoyed the side romance between Lyon's best friend, Rhone, and his sister, Diana. The Lion's Lady is the first book in the Crown's Spies series, and although I could be wrong, it doesn't appear to have any carry-over characters to the second book in the series except for one supporting player, Sir Richards, who runs the spy agency that Lyon used to work for. All in all, The Lion's Lady had it's good points and bad points. I'm glad that I read it and intend to continue the series, but it won't go down as one of my Julie Garwood favorites.
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