Malice Mallender, the heroine of The Viking and the Courtesan, is not nearly as malicious as her name suggests. She is just trying to survive in the harsh world of 19th century London by running a business that breaks up people’s marriages. She’s also trying to distract herself from her unhappy personal life by obsessing about shoes. But one day, a lady enters her establishment who asks Malice to break up her own marriage.
Now, this is what I like about Malice: she quickly comes up with a plan not only to avoid the breakup of her marriage, but also to cement it for the future. Just as she is about to seduce Cyril, her rakish husband, she is swept away to the Middle Ages, where she is abducted by the incredibly handsome viking Sin Gudrunsson.
The heroine is faced with some grim historic realities, such as being the property of a Viking, but she also eventually finds out that her captor is not as ruthless as he appears. Could he actually turn out to be the first man ever to find her attractive?
I really enjoyed reading about Malice’s adventures because she’s so wonderfully awkward. But then again, who wouldn’t act awkwardly when thrust into the midst of an unfamiliar Viking world? Only an idealized heroine, which Malice is not. Don’t get me wrong, she’s tough, and not in that token way that romance heroines sometimes have where they can take out eight desperadoes armed with nothing but a can opener. Malice is tough because she has been forced to survive on her own in dire economic straits. She lives by her wits, whether in 19th century London or 8th century Norway.
Shehanne Moore portrays Malice’s personality so well that the reader unquestioningly accepts that the heroine will “swallow a crocodile” as she likes to say, if push comes to shove. Of course, she would rather use her guile and talk the crocodile into eating its Aunt Sally.
My overall impression of The Viking and the Courtesan is it’s like the Outlander on crack, and I mean that in a good way. While I enjoyed reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I sometimes found the pacing a little slow.
In contrast, Viking and Courtesan moves the plot forward at a dizzying speed, and it kept me compulsively turning the pages wondering what will befall the unfortunate Malice next, and unexpectedly for such a dramatic tale, enjoying many laughs along the way. It’s a must-read for all fans of historical fiction.