I’ve loved Gina Conkle’s books ever since I read her first book back in 2014. She writes well-researched Viking romance that has everything from hot romance, actions and a healthy dose of what you’d call the ancient Viking lifestyle. Book 2 of her newest Viking series Forgotten Sons wasn’t any different. Her Viking Warrior had everything that you can expect in a romance novel.
The series titled Forgotten Sons is based on a band of Viking brothers where they’re mainly connected by circumstances, rather than bloodline. Book 1, Kept by the Viking largely focused on the H and h’s relationship and everything surrounding it, rather than building up a backstory for the heroes of the Forgotten Sons, as they call themselves. Then again, with 6 of them in total, I’m sure the author will reveal their stories one by one in their own books. This, I’d say, works as an element of surprise since right now you don’t know much about the Sons except for the 2 who had already had their stories told. These 6 Viking warriors had known each-other since childhood. They share a very strong bond and would do anything for one another. They’re called Forgotten Sons because of some circumstances or the other has made them leave their own home in search of glory, financial stability and, if possible, a home of their own where they can settle.
In Kept by The Viking, we’re introduced to the leader of the Sons, Rurik and a Frankish slave girl called Safira. They weren’t meant to be together though Safira needed Rurik’s help in getting away from a sh!tty household. In the end it was discovered that Safira was abducted from her wealthy merchant father’s household and sold into slavery. She wanted to get away and return to her family. Little did she know while she was planning that, that a handsome Viking would escort her. She wasn’t expecting much, but got more than what she bargained for. The story had actions and suspense, as Rurik was fighting for a land to settle down, but in a twist of fate he would have to fight someone with whom he shares his bloodline, even though no love was lost between the two. Someone who he’d hated all his life and tried his best to avoid. One of the reasons why he left his home and became a mercenary. Thankfully, with Safira by her side, Rurik would find the strength to claim what he can then rightfully call his own.
The Sons had a plan to become rich and famous, and they thought Will Longsword, the famous jarl, was the man who could help them accomplish this. Employed under him, they could do a lot! As Safira and Rurik finally settle down in the land bestowed to them by Longsword, the other Sons were trying to plan what’s next for them since their leader is now happily settled, a very different outcome than what they’d expected for their group. The next in line for leadership, a big and strong Viking named Bjorn, had already begun working for Longsword. Rurik then chose him to be the Son’s leader, and though Bjorn thought he wasn’t ready for it, he knew if this was his destiny he’d do anything to make certain he and his brothers shine.
As book 2 opened, we found Bjorn had just returned home with news for his jarl that could help them tackle a very shrewd and vicious enemy who had been the thorn in Longsword’s side, the Bretton Queen. Instead, he finds that a sliver of his past coming to visit him in the present, not exactly to haunt him but to intrigue him nonetheless. It took Bjorn a while to figure out that this elegantly dressed beautiful woman who had sought him out was the Ilsa he’d left behind in Vellefold! Bjorn hailed from that place; he was the illegitimate son of the jarl. And though he thought his father loved him, he got booted from his home because his father’s wife demanded him to be gone from the vicinity. Bjorn had loved his father as any child would so it was completely incomprehensible for him, to even imagine his father would just abandon him like that! Since then, he’d decided that he was done with Vellefold and any business associated with that place. He was now on the path of glory for himself, making a name as one of the Sons; a band of warrior everyone knows and reveres! Why would then Ilsa be here, wanting to have a word with him? What the hell does she want? Bjorn couldn’t imagine that lanky young girl, his former best friend, becoming such a graceful young woman. Tall and statuesque, blonde and extremely attractive. Bjorn was very intrigued by that part, though when she opened her mouth and said the word ‘Vellefold’, he was ready to turn his back and never see her face again.
It turns out Velleforld was in jeopardy of becoming extinct. The past few years have been ravaged by war with attacks from a neighboring tribe called Aseral. What I could gather was that Vellefold wasn’t a big place to begin with, but a small port-side town or something? Even though they’ve been very much self-sustained, the last years of war had completely destroyed their economy, as well as killed many able bodied men. It killed Bjorn’s own half-brother, the legitimate heir. His father was injured so badly that he’s on his deathbed. There’s also the talk of corruption and how things weren’t managed as they should’ve been. Ilsa could go on and on about all these, if only she could convince Bjorn to return with her to help her rebuild her tribe, ‘their’ tribe, even if Bjorn doesn’t want to do anything with them, and rightfully so because Ilsa knew what had happened. She had been forlorn without him but knew she’d probably never see him again. Ilsa had been married to an a$$hole for many years, a forced marriage that his greedy pappy arranged. It almost ruined her life too. If she wasn’t strong enough to resist the abuse she’d suffer in her husband’s hand, she’d have been done a long time ago. Now with him dead, Ilsa at least don’t have to worry and look over her shoulders.
When Londsword took Ilsa’s side and asked the Sons to go help her, Bjorn was beyond irritated. He then found out that Ilsa had ‘bought’ their services from Longsword by exchanging expensive walrus tasks, with the lure of more ivory in the future, as she could since her father used to be a famed ivory hunter himself. Yet the moment they arrived at Vellefold, Bjorn understood the depth of Ilsa’s desperation. Deception too. How big of a lie she’d woven to get him to be here, risking her life, cause there’d probably be no ivory trade from Vellefold with Longsword in the near future. It was now simply a charred, broken down wreck.
Bjorn would soon assess the whole situation, feeling deep in his bones how correct Ilsa had been all along. Vellefold was in the brink of annihilation, with so many dead and no definite way of sustaining themselves any longer, especially with the hard winter on the horizon. The boats and other vessels were all burned down except for Ilsa’s small boat that brought them here. Women and children needed protection and they, as a whole, were badly in need of guidance. But most of all, with the jarl in his deathbed, they needed to figure out a way to fight the next wave of attack. As soon as was humanely possible. It seemed a lot to take in at once but Bjorn and the Sons were up to the task. Even though he tried to work it all as a part of his ‘hired service’, that little area in Bjorn’s heart where the long buried love for his home had remained untouched, threatened to spill over. He couldn’t deny that call. He needed to help them as best to his abilities. Whether he’d stay or not, that was something to be seen. Even with the lure of Jarldom, Bjorn wanted to leave this place as soon as he was done settling them to a better situation than they were in.
While working on sorting out the whole mess that was Vellefold and guiding the remaining inhabitants, training them for any incoming attacks, Bjorn and Ilsa begin to become intimate. Not physically, nope. They still weren’t as trusting of one another. Bjorn for obvious reasons and Ilsa, cause of the shitty marriage she’d had. She wanted Bjorn, she already knew of it. She craved him, hoping he’d stay. But she didn’t want to be burned with a broken heart once he leaves. Ilsa didn’t think she was beautiful enough to lure him to stay, even if Bjorn thought the complete opposite. His reason to eventually leave was very different. If only they’d talk one-on-one and let it out. But that wasn’t happening and misunderstandings were happening. There was a lot going on and our lovebirds hardly had enough time to talk without getting involved into some sort of word exchange that inevitably left little for them to think of romance-wise. Even when they kissed, what she wanted and he wanted clashed, resulting in a chasm.
But if there was one thing they both wanted, was to make everything right for Vellefold. By then, Bjorn was very involved in its business, appreciating what Ilsa had done to keep her people at least in a semblance of comfort in these difficult times. She’d made certain they were fed, made certain to bring back enough for them from her trip so they can sustain through the long winter that’s coming. She had made a promise to his father that she’d bring him back to Vellefold. And here he was.
Bjorn’s meeting with his dying father was equally bittersweet, especially when every indication he found was that his father had regretted his decision every day ever since he’d abandoned Bjorn. He didn’t know how to react to that anymore, even if that part of his heart still hurt at times thinking of the time when he was abandoned. It rebelled. But Bjorn was here until his work was done here and he has to leave.
For me, the story wasn’t predictable at all, especially because I envisioned Ilsa to be a little different than how she turned out to be. I thought she’d be a highborn woman who had no practical fighting skills, even if she’s strong and smart. But Ilsa was all that and more. She’d not only had to suffer through her own life, but now she had the responsibility of taking care of her people. A lesser mortal would’ve just crumbled, the way Vellefold was before Bjorn’s arrival. Tell me what’s not to like about a strong, smart woman who'd do anything for her people? In general, when this trope is used, it’s more often than not the hero of the story. But not in this book! I had a little tough time with Bjorn, not knowing what to think of him. I understood his need to get away from a place that only held bittersweet memories for him. And even though it took them a long time to come to the point, he and Ilsa finally realized that they can only do better things when they were together. That the bond that had connected them since childhood, had never been broken. Years may have passed and they may both have been experienced in the ways of the world, but when they were really together, thinking of nothing but themselves, they could only think of fond memories.
The only issue I had with Bjorn and Ilsa’s relationship, however lovely it was, that they didn’t have enough time together where Vellefold’s business or something else didn’t invade. Their chemistry could’ve been explosive but they were always getting sidetracked by other things. But I guess it was understandable seeing it was a matter of life and death where Vellefold was concerned. I wasn’t surprised to find Bjorn finally wanting to stay back, leaving the Sons to about their own business. Bittersweet for the Sons but much happiness for Ilsa and the people of Vellefold.
The Viking world and their ancient lifestyle fascinate me a lot and I've been waiting for Ilsa and Bjorn's story for a while. I wasn’t disappointed. Looking forward to the next book in the series, which I think is of Erik the dark Viking’s. 4 stars for Her Viking Warrior and recommended.
I received a review copy from Carina Press, thanks to Gina and Carina. x