|Jennifer Blake has written an epic in her series about the swordsmen of New Orleans in the late 1840s. Triumph in Arms features Christien Lennoir and his quest for vengeance. It gets a little convoluted and bogs down a bit, but generally is a tale worth reading.
Christien has been asked by his mentor to avenge his daughter’s death. This young girl was seduced by a married man, then died giving birth after the man abandoned her, accusing her of being a loose woman. When called out to duel, this man Theodore Pingre, ran. He is now believed to be dead, but is he?
Reine Cassard Pingre is a widow, or so she believes. Her husband Theodore’s body was found in the river under less than pristine circumstances. It has been two years. Reine mourned him, even though he did not treat her or her daughter well and she was not truly saddened. Theodore was often out carousing with women and blaming Reine for a lack in the bedroom. Reine’s young daughter Maugerite has nightmares, stating that a monster keeps coming into her room. There is mystery surrounding this and much more on the plantation of River’s Edge.
Christien comes up with a scheme to draw out Theodore and find out what the River’s Edge people know of him. He cheats Reine’s father out of his deed, coming to the plantation saying he is the new owner. He promises to allow Cassard, his wife, Reine and her brother to remain on the plantation if Reine marries him. It is hoped that Theodore will show himself rather than allow another man to have Reine. What Christien doesn’t count on is his feelings for Reine, his growing love of the land and the acceptance of a young girl’s hero worship.
The first half of the story sets everything up. Reine is at first reluctant and feels threatened. Then she finds herself attracted to Christien and wonders if she really can respond to a man. They are both keeping secrets. Christien has not told anyone of his scheme, of course, and all believe that he won the plantation in a fair game. All grow fond of him and he of them. As their relationship becomes one of friendship, Reine resigns herself to her new marriage. But when Christien starts leaving at night and returns one night having been shot, she begins to question things again. Trust is a big question mark.
The last half of the book deals with Theodore and his now-open threats. It deals with Reine and Christien figuring out what this means for them. And there is a lot of interplay with other members of the group of swordsmen called the Brotherhood. There is a good fight scene and rescue, but it took a long time to develop and there was a point in the middle where I wasn’t sure we were ever going to get to the resolution.
Reine is a good heroine, although she is both trusting and not. On the one hand, she wants to believe, but she sees things that make her wonder. I liked that she wasn’t blind. But I disliked that she never confronted anything. She just sat back and waited for things to happen.
Christien seems a good sort, but it took a long time for his plan to be fully revealed, shrouding him at first as a possible villain. Once he started enjoying his relationship with Reine and her family, it was easy to fall for him. His motivation was clear but emotionally, the reader never really felt why this became so consuming of his life. Maybe if I had read more of the other entries in the series, this need to avenge his friend’s dead daughter would have felt more essential.
Over all, as Blake often does, she weaves a grand story with lots of descriptions and depictions of the life of the characters. The story does bog down and that keeps me from giving a stronger recommendation. Overall, though, you won’t go wrong picking up Triumph In Arms.