Have you ever baked cookies and realized once they were cooling on their racks "Oh no! I forgot the sugar!"? Well, imagine this book is the cookies and the sugar is the romance. While The Warrior's Game is filled with rich and fascinating detail about Plantagenet England, it's sadly lacking any real relationship between the hero and heroine.
Lady Amicia de la Beres is a young widow who has become a ward of King John Plantagenet. When John calls her to his chamber for a special audience, she is sure the reason is to seduce her. She is only partially right. While John would dearly love to bed the beautiful Ami, he's more interested in playing a little game involving some of his other subjects. One of those subjects is Sir Michel de Martingy.
Michel is a mercenary cum knight, though he is viewed by most, including Ami, as nothing but a lowborn climber. He is, however, determined to gain respectability and to do that he must marry well. In Michel's eye Ami is the perfect choice, as the daughter of a knight she has a good bloodline and wealth, but not so good as to be dangerous to his future. To this end, he has secretly asked King John for her hand.
John being John, however, is content to let both Michel and Ami twist in the wind while they wonder what he's up to. Following the audience, Ami decides she has had enough of being a pawn to men and will "leash" Michel. What this means is she's going to seduce him until he is desperate for her and then refuse him. In modern days we have a term for woman who does that, and it's not very nice.
Michel's plan is no more noble. He will torment Ami and show her who's boss. After all, he is a man and she is a woman. Then he'll marry her, have her pop out an heir and live happily as a respectable man.
Ah, true love.
That's pretty much the plot. Ami and Michel play each other while John and various court rebels scheme. There seems to be no actual feelings between Ami and Michel. There is a whole lot of lust, and admittedly some fine love scenes, but no emotion. Both the heroine and the hero are using each other in such a manipulative way that it would be difficult to be sympathetic to any relationship anyway.
To her credit, Ami eventually has an epiphany regarding her behavior. She realizes that her life at court has made her as scheming and calculating as the very women she despises. She feels ashamed of what she has become and is remorseful.
Michel on the other hand is never given any other reason for loving Ami. In fact, he never even tells her he loves her, not once. Oh sure, at the end he says something like "Can't you see you are a treasure beyond price to me." but never actually "I love you" although she says it to him. It does not leave one with a good feeling.
Hampton knows her history though. The book is filled with historic detail, including some fascinating insights into the life of a king's ward. Hampton uses every sense to transport the reader into the setting, from the fabric of clothing to descriptions of medieval architecture.
The other thing I really liked about this book, and that was the matter of Ami's previous marriage. Too often previous marriages are either horribly bad or they were pleasant but the heroine never felt true passion. Neither is the case with Ami's marriage to Richard de la Beres. She thinks fondly of their time together, and how much she enjoyed the act of lovemaking with him. In fact Ami is a very sensual woman, she wants and craves the pleasure of a man. It was a very nice alternative to the quivering virgin or unfulfilled widow.
The sad thing is the reader finds more true love and tenderness in Ami's remembrance of cuddling in front of the fire with Richard than they do in her entire relationship with Michel.