Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
If you’re a romance writer who values rigorous historical accuracy (not all do—I see and love those writers who give me Ye Olde Ballgown Fantasia, because sometimes we all need that), the medieval period presents a particular set of challenges. If you’re going to be even vaguely accurate, you have to acknowledge that the era in Europe was dirty, dangerous and rife with inequality of all kinds. Elizabeth Kingston’s Desire Lines does more than just acknowledge the uncomfortable realities of the medieval period—it uses them as the foundation for one of the most moving love stories I’ve read this year.
Set in England and Wales during the 13th century, Desire Lines begins as Gryff, a falconer held captive by a band of thieves, is liberated by a mysterious and deadly woman whom the brigands make the fatal mistake of attacking. Nan, a servant to a powerful Welsh family, has no need or desire for a companion while traveling to find her long-lost sister. But she allows the obviously traumatized and lost Gryff to travel with her, unaware that he is a Welsh nobleman who, after years of captivity, stands to either inherit his father’s lands or be executed by the English king who conquered them.
Having been targeted for harassment and worse due to her beauty, Nan deeply distrusts men and doesn’t hesitate to protect her person with physical force. Her incredible skill with throwing knives is portrayed through Gryff’s eyes with suitable awe, and it is wonderfully satisfying to read a romance where a woman’s martial abilities aren’t something she needs to set aside in order to be properly “swept away by love,” but something that is a vital part of her. Her habitual silence is another, particularly brilliant weapon. Having so often lacked a voice in her own fate, Nan only talks when absolutely necessary, carving out power from the very lack of it by making her voice so scarce that when she does speak, everyone around her listens. It’s been several days since I finished Desire Lines and the grim, clear-eyed persistence of that, that insistence on her own sovereignty despite an entire world stacked against her, is still lodged firmly in my memory.
Meditating on class, trauma and gender as Nan and Gryff grow closer together through their travels, Desire Lines explores all the obstacles between its central couple, making their eventual HEA feel all the more precious. The way Gryff and Nan find hope in each other, and allow the other the space to express or not express all that has happened to them is quietly, achingly lovely, and it is rare that I finish a romance believing that a couple deserved their happiness as fervently as I wished it for the two of them.
It began in beauty and in blood.
He saw her face in an improbable moment, amid chaos and carnage—startling blue eyes and a soft mouth set in perfect, graceful lines—and then he saw the blood. Not a drop of it touched her. It was all around her, and all of her own doing. Ferocity and beauty, that’s how it began.
At first he only saw men dropping on the road, an incomprehensible sight. Eight men, vicious criminals, who had lain in wait behind the trees and sprung themselves on the small party with whom she traveled. They had done everything as they always did, Baudry and his men. Their habit was to fall on the armed knights first, while the women and children screamed in terrified confusion. It was always over quickly.
But this time Baudry and his men only crumpled to the ground one after the other, though it was clearly not the armed knights who caused it. Gryff looked up to the trees for archers, but there were none. This was not a rain of arrows. The horses reared and the women screamed and the attackers merely fell down dead, as though form a plague.
She was the plague.