This is exactly the type of story I adore. The woman is not a shrinking violet that screams and waits for a guy to rescue her. She doesn't pine away in a tower, watching the world drift by because she's too feeble to actually take control of her own life. Instead, she picks up her sword, grabs the dagger out of her boot, and takes a stand for what she believes in.
The heroine is Deidre, eldest daughter of a Scottish Lord. She and her two sisters have been managing the castle as their father slips into senility. Along comes Pagan Cameliard who has been given control of the castle and a sister's hand in marriage. The girls don't like this, but Deidre accepts it as her fate. She may have to marry him for political reasons, but she doesn't have to like him - or yield to him in bed.
What follows is the kind of story I love. She's a bit arrogant, having had control for so long, and has trouble realizing Pagan is actually a match for her. He's a bit arrogant too, thinking women are brainless twits. Both of them get a rude awakening that at first bothers them, then intrigues them. She realizes that Pagan is actually an amazingly good fighter and worthy of her respect. He realizes that Deidre does have a sharp mind and a well toned body, and that he is drawn to both. I love the combination of verbal jousting and physical swordplay. It's like watching scenes from Conan or Alias come to life.
I really do enthusiastically give this book five stars, as it is so much in the style that I appreciate, but I will call out a few minor items that nagged at me. Pagan is a man of honor and shows it in several ways - but on the other hand he quickly attempts something DIShonorable that really, really bugged me. It really had an impact on how I felt about his character. Also, it irks me that often in romance stories the guy has slept around with every girl he's met, is comfortable and well skilled in love as being "normal". The woman, on the other hand, is a frigid ice queen that has never even been kissed. It's the whole "new car smell" stereotype that the Victorians concocted and still affects teenagers in modern times! It really concerns me that we perpetuate these ideas that women have to be pure and chaste while guys are only "real guys" if they've slept with anything that moves. Why would sex be natural for a male, but unnatural for a female?
In any case, these are issues I have to face in most romance novels so I was able to get past them here. In general the book was brilliant, was a quick and fun read, and I'd love to see more stories come out in this style.
Note that the book was written by the voice actress who did the Rogue in Diablo and Sara Kerrigan in StarCraft - both great, strong female characters in computer gaming!! I *always* play the rogue when I game, if I can, so it was thrilling to me to see that this voice actress writes the way the games play :)