Title: The Lion’s Daughter
Author: Loretta Chase
Review number: 32
Genre: Historical Romance
Stand alone / series: It can be read as a stand alone but some characters reappear briefly in Captives of the Night which has the villain in Lion’s Daughter as the Hero. He also appears in Lord of Scoundrels later on.
Esme Brentmor doesn’t care that revenge isn’t a suitable job for a woman. She’s determined to avenge the murder of her beloved father, an enigmatic English aristocrat who lived in self-imposed exile. Honor demands that Esme let nothing and nobody stand in her way. That includes the handsome wastrel who’s become entangled in her life, whose charm does NOT make up for his lazy and irresponsible character.
Having gambled away his entire family fortune, Varian St. George, Lord Edenmont, now lives by his wits and winning ways. A man who has always taken the path of least resistance—preferably in soft beds with willing women—he does NOT want to become embroiled in a mad quest with a hot-tempered and heavily armed redhead.
But forced to travel together through an exotic land, the mismatched pair soon discover that friction produces dangerous sparks…
Why did I read the book: I could read Loretta Chase’s groceries list if it was available.
If I had any doubts that Loretta Chase is one of the best historical romance writers out there, if not THE best, they have been shattered to pieces. The Lion’s Daughter cements it: the book is FANTASTIC. And it’s even more impressive because this was her first full-length novel. I will even say that it is almost as good as Lord of Scoundrels, my all time favourite romance novel……It has all of her distinctive traits, the typical lorettachaseness: strong protagonists, excellent dialogue, the inner thoughts of each character that is pure golden, funny moments and passion enough to fuel a castle.
Varian St George is another one of those adorable reprobate rakes in need of redemption. Not only that, he is penniless – he has spent all of the family fortune, leaving behind debts, and the shame of ruining the family’s name and his two younger brother’s prospects. He has spent the past ten years in the Continent in the company of the likes of Lord Byron, jumping from bed to bed , living like a leech, a parasite, out of non-aristocrats, who by rubbing shoulders with a real member of aristocracy think themselves better off. For the past month he has been living with the Brentmor family and when the mother dies, he is asked by the father to take his son Percival with him to Venice, all expenses paid. Eve though he would prefer to shy away from any responsibility he is hardly in a position to say no to any amount of money to help him get by the next month.
But Percival who is a precocious 12 year old, has overheard a must worrying conversation between his father and an unknown man about a plot to smuggle British weapons to Albania where his uncle Jason lives with is daughter Esme. He feels he should warn them so he concocts a lie to Varian and convince him to take him there with the prospect of making even more money.
Little does he know, that Jason who is known in Albania as the Red Lion, is more involved in the situation then they ever thought and has faked his own death in order to discover who is working behind the plot to overthrow Ali Pasha, the rule of Albania. Jason’s daughter Esme doesn’t know that he is alive and believes that the cousin of Pasha, Ismal, is to be blamed for Jason’s “death” – Since Ismal has been trying to get her for himself, she plans to marry him and then avenge her father by killing him – she knows that this will mean her own death but since she has no one left in the world, she worries naught about it.
Until that is, she stumbles on Percival and Varian and Percival is taken by the villains who mistake him by Esme – they are the only two red-headed people in all of Albania. Now, Esme and Varian must join forces to find him. And this my friends, is only the beginning of the story!
Off they go in a road trip through small towns and Varian is almost driven to madness as he is stranded in a strange land, and has to rely solely on Esme – who is half-Albanian, prolific in several languages, practical and yet temperamental , who knows nothing of the silly rules that Western women must leave by . And who will stop at nothing to avenge her father.
She is a terrific heroine. Her temper is something to be reckoned with as is her bravery – in her short life she has faced a lot of dangerous situations and has been shot twice, the scars left, displayed with pride. She is guide, interpreter, diplomat and above all temptress – the one that sees through Varian and makes him try to act *gasps* honourably.
She puzzles and of course, attracts Varian who tries his best to stay away because he knows he is not good enough for her. He is penniless, he has never thought about the dreaded Tomorrow. And Tomorrow is what happens when he falls in love and decides that he can not leave her – and so they marry and go back to England where intrigue follows for Percival still holds something that is important to both his villainous father and to Esme’s future. And there they have to face that danger while trying to start their lives together. Varian leaves her with her grandmother and goes to London to try and sort his finances and to reform his estate which is in shambles.
If Esme is the brains of the book, definitely Varian is the heart. He goes through a lot when he realises what he has made of his life and tries to make himself worthy of her, by shutting her out until he can be prepared for her. But she does not want that – she wants to be by his side, loving him as he is. I think this is true redemption: the one that comes from accepting who they are, not who they could become – although he does tell her that she should at least work on her temper enough not to kill their children when they annoy her.
One of the things I love the most was the fact that the book is set in Albania for part of the story. I found out that Loretta Chase has roots in that country which could account for her knowledge of the language and the customs but it seems she also spent a lot of time researching old accounts of travellers in Albania for there is a lot of detailed description of 19th century geography and history. Esme’s voice was also very particular, I am pretty sure she sounded like an Albanian when speaking English even though I must admit I have no idea how an Albanian would sound like.
I can not begin to describe how much I enjoyed reading this book and how much I loved both Varian and Esme – definitely a couple who should make more of the top 10 lists out there. If you like romance novels and it you like Loretta Chase’s books, you should not miss this one.
Notable quotes/part: When Varian realizes what he has done to his family and to the estate he was supposed to have taken care of. He has left Esme behind and making a survey of his house and when he reaches the nursery he breaks down:
“He closed his eyes against the shattering grief. He’d been away from her not even three days and he was lost, sick with loneliness. But that was nothing to this. He’d no one else to blame. He’d shaped and carved this day for himself these past ten years. Now at last, when he’d learned to love, when he wanted to love and look after one brave, beautiful girl and give her children they might love and care for together….now the Devil laughed and demanded payment. Now (he) understood that fire and brimstone were not wanted, nor even death. Hell was regret.
It was tomorrow.
And Varian pressed his face to his arm and wept”
Additional thoughts: Every single character was interesting and well drawn from the two protagonists, to Percival, to Esme’s Gradmother, to the villain Ismal who had so many layers to his villainy and personality that when it came to the final showdown he had stolen a tiny piece of my heart. And it’s no wonder that another one her books, Captives of the Night, has him as the hero!
Verdict: BUY it now. Do everything you can to get a hold of this book.
Rating: 10. Yes. Another ten. This book is romance at its best – quality writing, amazing protagonists, well-researched background. In my opinion, it should be as much as a classic as Lord of Scoundrels.
Reading next: Demon Night by Meljean Brook