The Huntress, by Susan Carroll

>> Friday, March 06, 2015

TITLE: The Huntress
AUTHOR: Susan Carroll

PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: 16th century London
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 4th in the Faire Isle series

In a time of intrigue and betrayal, the huntress is on a quest that could jeopardize two empires and two great queens: Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I.

The year is 1585–and prophecy has foretold the coming of a daughter of the Earth whose powers are so extraordinary they could usurp the very rule of the Dark Queen herself, Catherine de Medici. Dispatched from Brittany to London, Catriona O’Hanlon, known as the Huntress, must find this mysterious young girl and shield her from those who will exploit her mystic abilities, which have the potential to change the course of history.

Catriona’s skill with weaponry is all she has to protect herself and her young charge from spies who snake through the courts of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen–including the girl’s own father, whose loyalties are stretched to the breaking point. But Catriona will soon face menacing forces and sinister plots unlike any she has ever encountered.

From Susan Carroll, the celebrated storyteller of historical fiction, The Huntress is an unforgettable portrait of power and passion–and one woman’s courage to risk everything for those she loves.

Years ago I really enjoyed Carroll's Faire Isle trilogy. I loved her 16th-century France setting and the mix of history and fantasy, peopled by really interesting, fresh characters. There were some obvious threads left hanging at the end and I was really interested in reading the next book, which was not yet out. This was in 2006, but when the book came out the next year, I didn't read it. I think it was a bit on the expensive side when it first came out, and then I moved to England and got a bit distracted. Well, 9 years later I remembered the series and decided to go back and read The Huntress. I'm now really sorry I didn't read it back then, not because I liked it now, but because I think I might have liked it more back then.

The last book of the original trilogy, The Silver Rose, had as an antagonist a woman whose daughter had huge magical powers. Problem was, the antagonist meant to misuse her daughter's powers. At the end of the book she was stopped and killed (not really much of a spoiler, it's kind of part of The Silver Rose having an HEA), and her daughter was taken away by her long-lost father, Martin Le Loup, determined to keep her safe from all the other people wanting to abuse the girl's powers.

As The Huntress starts, Ariane, the Lady of Faire Isle, hears that there are rumours about where the girl might be and that a particularly powerful book, which was supposed to have been destroyed when her mother was killed, is actually still around. Ariane decides to send Catriona O'Hanlon to warn Martin about the threat to his daughter and to, ideally, bring both back to the safety of Faire Isle.

Catriona, originally from Ireland, is none to happy about having to go to London to carry out her mission (that's where Martin and his daughter have settled), but she considers herself Ariane's "gallowglass" (I had to look that up: it's "(in Ireland) a mercenary or member of a special class of soldiers in the service of a chieftain.") and is steadfastly loyal, so she'll do her best.

But once she finds them, Martin won't even consider going back to Faire Isle. He's sure he can keep his daughter perfectly safe himself, plus, he's spent many years setting himself up as a respectable Englishman, and he wants to give that status to his daughter and help her make an advantageous marriage. Cat considers just kidnapping the girl, but after seeing the love between her and her father, she decides to simply stick around and add her considerable powers to Martin's protection.

There were some good things about this. The Elizabethan London setting is vivid and rich, and there's plenty of intrigue. Martin has got himself involved with Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, and is in the uncomfortable situation of having to spy on a nobleman who helped him with his patronage, while hoping against hope he doesn't discover anything damning... like, say, that the man is involved in the plots Walsingham knows very well Queen Mary of Scotland is hatching against Elizabeth.

My problem was that the book had a very old-fashioned feel that put me off. Cat was a particularly frustrating character. She is genuinely powerful and is no unbelievable virgin warrior, but way too much of her characterisation is stereotypical "fiery Irish lass". She's stupidly impetuous and confrontational when it doesn't make sense for her to be, and even worse: she speaks like Nora Roberts' Irish characters.

Martin I just found annoying. I did sympathise with his love for his daughter and his wanting to give her the world, but he came across as yet another man who thinks he knows best and refuses to even contemplate that a woman might have ideas of her own. He is completely blind to all evidence that she might have some interest in magic and still some mixed feelings about her late mother. Oh, no, Martin has decided that it is best to just completely forget all that happened in the girl's life before he came into it, and therefore she has forgotten it. Period. Honestly, I thought he was rather thick.

I read about 2/3 of this pretty long book before realising there was no point forcing myself to pick it up every time I put it down (which was usually after about 20 pages, as I got bored or annoyed). I wasn't really interested in the plot (other than in the very peripheral thread of Ariane's pregnancy, which seemed to be dangerously sapping her strength), and I didn't see any chemistry whatever between Cat and Martin, so the romance really wasn't working for me.

Very disappointing. I think back when this came out I was a bit more tolerant about some of the things that annoyed me here, so it's a shame I didn't pick it up then.



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