My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Olivia Fields’ debut medieval romance, Her Heart’s Liege, was a pleasant surprise for me. The storyline was pretty exceptional for one, and definitely well-written. Apart from a few things here and there, I largely enjoyed it.
The story takes place in the medieval East Anglia. Our h, Alexandra, or Alex as she goes by, is the Captain of the King’s Elite Guard and a veritable tomboy. I mean she was more of a man than our ‘Brat Prince’ (as Alex liked to call him) Holden, the King’s spare. At least in the beginning she was. Alex trained as a soldier pretty young, and though I don’t know what inspired her to become one, she excelled at her job. Motherless at a young age, Alex had grown up mostly around men, especially the Princes, Gavin and Holden (as far as I could assume) as her father is the general of the King’s army.
Gavin, the Crown Prince, is the responsible one. I assumed him to be much older than Holden. He seemed to have been a treasure to the Crown, a help to his father, King Anselm, in running the empire. Much like Alex, everyone was aware (or so they thought) of Holden’s mercurial temperament. But she was acquainted with his spoiled and callous behavior more than anyone else because Alex had acted as Holden’s bodyguard time and again over the years. Holden was... well, there’s no nice to way to describe him when we meet him first. A rake with a really horrid reputation, it seemed that no pretty maid that came to the Castle was safe from his ‘clutches’. No one took him seriously, so he did what he was expected to do; skirt-chasing and spawning illegitimate children that he didn’t either know or didn’t care about. Alex knew it all and had already been warned by the King and her own father to stay away from Holden. Not that she cares about him in that way. But even then, there was an underlying affection between them that was revealed at the later stages of the story.
Alex herself has mostly led the life of a common soldier. Though she has breasts and long hair, she’s like one of them without any femininity in her behavior. She excels at every battle technique that’s thrown her way, proving that she’s the right person to be leading the King’s army. She’s also no blushing virgin and had had more lovers than she can count; all one night stands, no-strings-attached kinda thing. I was a little surprised when she acts quite worried as her father warns her about dallying with Holden and as a result, getting with child. I mean, she was used to with sex and had not yet had any children, legitimate or otherwise. Then why was she so scared that sex with Holden will surely result in a child, when with so many others it didn’t? She must’ve known some way to prevent it, or so I would’ve thought. It would’ve been one thing if she was a virgin and/or less experienced, so her worry was a little strange to be sure!
But I digress... When things begin to go downhill politically in East Anglia, as they face war with the invading Danes, Alex is promptly ordered by the King to take Holden out of the city as far away as possible in case he and Gavin fall together. In that case, Royal lineage needs to be kept alive. Poor Holden, that was as much worth as he had to his own father. :(
Even though our whiny Prince puts up some resistance, it was apparent that he’s willing to heed Alex. She, Holden and her trusty right-hand man, Carl, begins their journey very soon. And this journey proves to be an eye-opener about many things. Alex comes to learn that Holden has much more depth and brilliance than what meets the eye. It’s just that no one has ever given him the chance to prove himself or paid attentions. Holden begins to show interest in various battle techniques. Though both Alex and Carl, at first, thought it was the whimsical Prince’s passing fancy, that he’d never stick to it like he never does in anything in his life, Holden proves them oh-so-wrong! Little by little, he convinces Alex with his persistence that he’s willing to be trained as a soldier. Alex begins to trust him, realizing that she does like him despite his faults, giving him that chance to prove that he can become a man who knows how to protect his own. As time went on, and their journey brought them together, it also becomes clear that for all his peccadilloes and indiscretions, Holden has harbored a secret crush on Alex for a long time. But time will tell if he’s worthy of her attention more than what’s required, let alone love.
In one of their stops, when they arrive in a village, Holden first comes face to face with one of his by blows. It was an experience he’d never forget! It seemed, with the view of that little boy clinging to his mother, whom he couldn’t even remember, Holden’s world suddenly begins to become clearer And definitely more real. Even though they’re saved from the girl’s father’s wrath by Alex’s quick thinking, it does drown Holden into a deep sorrow and regret. He knew he can never claim that boy or any other children that he doesn’t even know about, as his own. The joke was on our Brat Prince, that he’d probably never even know those children he’d so callously fathered! It was then, my view of Holden began to change. It was becoming clearer to me as well that he really was as callous and spoiled as everyone thought him to be because after this experience, he was determined to change his way once and for all.
On another of their stays at another village, they survive a fire, where Holden actually save a sleeping Alex from burning to death. Later on, Carl would boast of the Prince’s bravery to her, proving that his loyalty has somewhat shifted; that he now supports Holden. But IMO Holden deserved that praise. Carl also tries to hint at Holden’s crush, the fact that he probably has fallen for her, which Alex would just laugh off. But the thing was, it shook Alex quite badly after hearing the account of how Holden ran into the burning barn to bring her out. He definitely could’ve perished with her, yet nothing could hold him back. Alex’s hidden affection for the Prince had begun to blossom into something else the moment she’d started training him. He doesn’t look as pale and gawky as he used to, putting up good muscle and tan. With his already handsome face, it was becoming more and more difficult for Alex to thwart their growing attraction. Holden didn’t make it any easier. He wasn’t at all subtle about the fact that he digs her rather bad. He has already tried talking to her, but knew that Alex is not like the other girls who have chased him to bed. He understood that he had to work hard to gain her trust. For such a rake, Holden’s words to Alex were rather simple and straight forward. He didn’t use any dirty language, just the simple fact that he wants to marry someone like her (and blushed to boots after that, seriously! LOL).
When a drunken kissing goes a bit too far, Alex decides it’s time she takes a lover; a passing fling in a village that she’d probably never return to again. With that planned, she goes out to a tavern, all alone, while Carl and Holden remain in their campsite. Alex finds a pleasant young man named Edgar and spends the whole night shagging him, in hopes that this’ll tamp down her attraction to the Prince, because surely, it was the result of celibacy she’d been forced to while in the journey! *eyeroll*
Now here is the thing. I don’t mind my heroine to be experienced but I’d rather not read detailed sex scenes between her and the OM. Same goes for a hero and the OW. It’s one of my greatest pet peeves. I absolutely didn’t like that scene between her and Edgar and skimmed through it because it was way too detailed for my liking. I’d also have loved it if Edgar was never seen in the story ever again, but sadly for me, he’s seen again alright, even becomes quite an important secondary character too. Needless to say, Holden understood where she was whole night, and wasn’t amused. Alex felt guilty of ‘doing the same as Holden’, while I was thinking ‘what the hell is going on with these two?!’ Honestly, I wasn’t sure where this ‘relationship’ is going because I was a little frustrated with the lack of romance or any kinda chemistry between her and Holden. And there’s no big chemistry killer for me is a detailed sex scene of the sort I mentioned above.
When the news of the Danes’ violence and story of their looting and destruction reach them, Holden begins worrying over the state of his country, also his father and elder brother. He begins pondering on doing something about it. Again, both Alex and Carl had their doubts but they’ve also come to trust Holden quite a bit in the passing months. The opportunity to prove himself comes to Holden soon enough where he and Alex is rather forced to battle a group of Danes, killing most of them from the battle techniques and traps they’d been practicing all these months. It gives Holden an immense satisfaction, also a new hope, an encouragement to carry on with his plan. He decides that he’s not going to hide away like some coward. He’s gonna fight with his own small band of scrupulously trained soldiers. He was confident he could do it with Alex and Carl by his side.
It was high time for Alex to show her support by bequeathing her trust and complete fealty to the Prince. If she listens to Holden, who just countermanded the King’s order, deciding to return to the castle, she might as well offer her head on a platter, because if Holden is punished for his actions, she’d surely be punished with him. But by then Alex knew Holden was almost ready for some real action; to take up the command and prove himself the Prince he was always meant to be. She knew in her guts that Holden was worthy of her support... and maybe something else too. Something that she didn’t care to voice just yet no matter how tempted she was. They had a magnanimous task ahead, for which they’ll need to keep their heads afloat.
Their training and attacks on the Danes go hand in hand as Alex, Holden and Carl begin a return journey to the capital, hoping to aid King Anselm and Prince Gavin. At one point, they reach quite a few villages that have been massacred by the Danes, all but a few inhabitants living. Soon, they reach another village that might be the center of the next attack. With a jolt, Alex realizes it’s the same village where she had her tryst! And lo and behold, Edgar comes forward with some of the local youth, grinning ear-to-ear at her return. He tries to re-associate with her, but this time, Alex rebuffs his advances, all the while thinking of the Prince. As I mentioned above, I’d rather that Edgar wasn’t seen again because I found the whole thing quite awkward, more so because Holden instantly guessed the type of Alex and Edgar’s association.
The news of Holden’s small but successful skirmishes had already spread, even to the King, a fact he wasn’t aware of. So when he announces his true identity to the villagers and asks for their help, he finds many youths wanting to be a part of his plan, willing to leave their families behind if it’ll help in keeping them safe from the murdering Danes. The training begins in earnest, and with it, new plans of thwarting the nearby Danish camps from attacking the surrounding villages were being formed. Holden understood that if he wants to keep a private army he’d need the fund. He’ll have to return just because of that as they didn’t have that kinda money with them.
After sometimes, they finally reach the castle, where Holden and Alex find a very unhappy King waiting for them. Later it’s revealed that thru some unholy association, the King has planned to make peace with the Danes, even if it means to sacrifice a part of their land along with the people in it! The King is SO blinded by this that he refuses to even consider Holden’s plan. Instead, he shows anger and resentment towards all of his previous successful skirmishes. According to him, this will only hinder their ‘peace treaty’.
But both Holden and Alex knew best. They’ve experienced the Danes first hand and knew these people are not here to uphold peace of any kind. Each day a new boatload of Danes arrive, multiplying the remaining by hordes. There’s nothing peaceful about this aggressive encroachment, whatever their leader told the King and a Duke who’s been acting as the middleman. Holden is instantly put under lock and key so that he doesn’t go about his ‘fool errand’, as the King would like to term it. But Alex had every confident in Holden, knowing he was correct. Something was definitely needed to be done. Even though Gavin was skeptical of the treaty, he decides to side with his father and lend his support, a folly that’ll cost them very dearly in the end. By that time, seeing how poorly the King treated him, I couldn’t blame Holden for the kind of life he’s led in the past. He was completely reformed only by having a serious purpose of his life; to serve his country. And by the looks of it, now he’ll have to save it as well.
Alex proves to be a staunch ally in Holden’s plan, so does Carl. Even though Gavin doesn’t side with them, he does send a group of his men to train with Holden’s under Carl’s expert supervision. When things were looking so grim, Alex’s thoughts also begin to wonder. Would she always wonder what could’ve been if something happens to Holden? But was she ready to take for the next step in their relationship? She wasn’t hiding her affection for him anymore but they haven’t had the chance to become physically intimate. This time though, Alex is decided on trusting Holden once more by giving her his heart once and for all. She finds a way visit Holden at night and they proceed to consummate their feelings for each-other. Alex also accepts his proposal of marriage gladly, hoping to do the deed once the trouble subsides.
The final climax of the story takes place as the Danes make their moves by betraying the King. The war they’ve been trying to avert breaks loose anyway, with the King, Gavin, as well as Alex’s father getting killed in the process. Holden goes missing, as does Edgar and some other men from their own army. Because of their earlier hunch and the caution they’d taken, Alex is able to take control of at least a part of this whole mess, thanks to General Pelley, a close friend and subordinate of her father. Though it minimizes the casualties somewhat, the leader of the Danes and the betrayer who led the King and the Crown Prince to their demise, still manage to escape. Without the King and his heirs, Alex is pronounced the Queen because she was the closest next in line of succession. Alex was injured in the battle, and when she comes to, she vehemently denies this. But in times of war, a country can’t go on without a leader, and so, she’s forced to accept her ascension, her heart heavy and distressed over Holden’s fate... Would Holden return to her or is Alex fated to live alone, with only the memory of her Brat Prince to keep her going?
I already mentioned one of my pet peeves in the story that bugged me. I also felt that there was a lack of romance as Alex and Holden spend the first part of the story training and learning the medieval war techniques. Then there were those obstacles that were thrown in their path as if to test their devotion to each-other. Their attraction was a slow burn and took quite sometimes to emerge, even more time to act on it due to all the trouble. Another thing I couldn’t help noticing is this—as noted previously, there are many medieval battles/skirmishes throughout the story, which I thought were quite well-narrated. But TBH, it’d probably bore readers who’d go into this largely seeking romance. For me, it was somewhere in the middle. I did wish that Holden and Alex shared a bit more chemistry but I also understood the need for Holden’s transformation.
So in the end, for me, it was Holden’s astounding transformation from an apparently silly, aimless Prince to a man to reckon with was the best part of the story. Much like Alex, I had my doubts but the author successfully transformed him into someone to be trusted and highly admired. I also loved his complete devotion to Alex throughout the story (NO cheating, imagine that!). The fact that he realized early in their association that the fight to win her trust and love would be worth it in the end was the cherry on top. I definitely wouldn’t have found it believable if Alex transformed from that tomboy solider to a feminine queen overnight.
Overall, I’d say it was all good, though you must read Her Heart’s Liege to find out the fate of Alex and Holden’s seemingly doomed relationship. 4 stars and recommended!
I received a review copy as a part of Her Heart’s Liege NBtM blog tour (May 25, 2015), thanks to Goddess Fish Promotions.