Highland Gladiator by Kathryn Le Veque
I have a bit of an issue with the basic premise of this series, which is that an English knight spent time in Rome fighting as a gladiator, came back and founded a gladiator school in Scotland, and now trains and fights the best fighters in the land, hiring them out to lords who can afford to pay off their contracts. So far, so Fight Club… except that this is the late fifteenth century, about a millennium too late for Roman gladiatorial contests. And I don’t quite buy the Scottish king allowing an Englishman to raise and train what’s effectively a mercenary private army within striking distance of Edinburgh, either.
Honestly, the whole Gladiator/Fight Club thing distracted from what is otherwise a very good Highlander romance. Lor is a blacksmith who takes up the sword looking for revenge for his burned village, Isabail the feisty lass from a rival clan he can’t help but fall for. And can I just say how much I loved Isabail and the fact that she was allowed to not only fight on her own terms, but to strike decisive blows when it counted, including seeing off the final villain? So rare that the heroine gets to do that in historical romance, this was a really refreshing change.
I really enjoyed Lor and Isabail’s romance, though I think part of the conflict between them was manufactured for the sake of the plot, when Isabail didn’t tell Lor who had attacked his village - it made no sense for her to withhold that information as it could only lead to misunderstandings. Not telling him until he was committed to the fight was actually a seriously bad idea as it was his own clan he would have to fight against and they had no idea if he would go through with it or not.
To sum up; I loved the characters, I enjoyed the romance, I thought part of the historical setting was shaky at best, and a bit too much of the plot depended on manufactured conflict. It’s an enjoyable read if you can look past those things, though. Four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.