Outcast by Kathryn Hockett
(Zebra, $5.99 PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7257-0
**
Rangar Lonsword is a Viking jarl in need of an heir. Having none with his wife, he realizes his only chance may lie with the offspring from his raids in the British Isles. He had three lovers, one in Eire, one in Alba (Scotland) and one in Briton (can you just smell the series brewing?). To each he gave a pendant set with a jewel from his sword. Ragnar sends his right-hand man, Torin Rolandson, to find his sons, starting with Eric in Alba.

Eric, it turns out, is really Erica of the clan MacQuarrie. She is proud of her Viking heritage although all she knows of her father is a raven pendant with a garnet eye. With her mother dead, she longs to follow her Viking blood and meet her father. When Torin arrives searching for Ragnar’s son, she finally has her chance.

This book started out with promise. The authors obviously did their homework in Viking history and present a lot of interesting detail about their customs. Historical details alone, however, no matter how well researched, cannot hold up a novel for very long.

The characters are wooden and one-dimensional, particularly the hero and heroine. Erica hates woman’s work, as we are told several times to the point of tedium. She likes to fight with swords, hike up her skirts and play sports with men. She’s feisty, she’s a hellfire; she’s a caricature.

Torin is no better. The title of the book exclaims he is an outcast, and the reader is reminded of this fact many times. The thing is, for an outcast, he’s pretty well treated. The Viking leader accepts Torin nearly like son and he can rally up a supportive team of men in record time. Basically, the only people who treat him like an outcast are the bad guys, and no one likes them anyway. So, all Torin’s supposed angst of being an outcast amounts to nothing.

There is no basis for the relationship between Erica and Torin. They meet, Torin thinks she’s hot, kisses her and tells her there is a magic spark between them that makes him want to be naked with her. Erica tries to push him away but he continues, so she knees him in the groin. Their next exchange goes a bit like this:

“But couldn’t you just say no?”

She glared at him defiantly, hiding behind a veil of anger. “I did and ye didn’t listen.”

“Because I didn’t want to hear you deny me what we both wanted. Still want, despite what you did.”

They argue a bit more and Torin ponces off in a snit. From this wonderfully romantic interlude, Erica and Torin fall madly in love with each other. Magical spark, or no magical spark, I’m not buying it.

The story is also riddled with inconsistencies; a hallmark of two person writing teams. During a banquet scene, Torin points out Erica’s evil uncle Herlaug, telling her to be wary of him. Erica makes note of his features and vows to remember his name. The strange thing is she already met him a few chapters earlier. Erica also fluctuates wildly between despising her father for abandoning her mother and loving him unconditionally.

The subplot involving the kidnap of Erica’s brother Geordie amounts to little more than filler. Contrivances abound, such as Geordie somehow being able to speak and understand the Viking language and Torin’s sixth sense as to exactly where the kidnappers are heading. There is no suspense and never any sense of real danger to the characters.

Outcast is a perfect example of good research gone to waste. After finishing the book, I certainly knew a lot of fascinating facts about really period clothing and food, but no sense of satisfaction from the story. If the authors had put forth the same effort to develop the characters and plot as they did showcasing their knowledge, this would have been a much better book.

--Anne Bulin


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