The Sea King by Jolie Mathis
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) (Price, ISBN 0-425-21065-0)
Reading The Sea King by new author Jolie Mathis was a pleasant surprise. The Sea King is an historical set in Anglo-Saxon-era England, in the time prior to King Alfredís reign. Every holding had its own king, and competition for land and power was fierce. The setting is perfect for this turbulent romance.

As the book opens, the heroine, Isabel, has sneaked away from her half-brotherís keep to spend some time galloping alone on her horse and jumping obstacles. An accident causes her to fall, stunned, into the river. Just as she begins to drown a mysterious savior pulls her out and saves her.

When Isabel is awakened from her stupor she finds that her savior has been tortured and imprisoned for attacking her. For some reason no one wants to hear the truth, so Isabel sneaks down to the dungeons to free the prisoner. She finds him in very bad shape, but is able to rouse him and help him escape through a secret tunnel.

Two years later, the hero, Kol Thorkelsson the Viking Warlord, returns with an army and over-runs the Saxon stronghold by utilizing the same secret tunnels shown to him by Isabel. His plans for revenge against the king who tortured him do not include the serving girl who saved him, for she is revered by Kol and his men for his rescue and safe return. Kol is surprised to find Isabel standing with the other noblewomen of the household and is chagrined to learn that Isabel now has a son.

Terrible misunderstandings occur almost immediately. Isabel has hated Kol since the day she discovered her pregnancy, assuming that he violated her while she was senseless from the near-drowning. Kol doesnít know anything about the paternity of Isabelís son and believes Isabelís animosity is all on behalf of her half-brother, the king whom Kolís men defeated. Kolís hope of rekindling the romance begun during his escape is shattered.

Although this is a somewhat short book (my ARC was only about 240 pages), there is a lot of drama. Backstabbing and violence are prevalent, as are twisted family relationships, jealousy, spite and revenge. Overlaying it all is a very sweet romance between two injured, yearning souls who are meant to be together but face huge obstacles.

Kol is scarred emotionally from a very tough childhood, and physically by his ordeal in the dungeon, but remains a strong, compassionate, loving person. Isabel, too, has had one too many setbacks in her life but finds in Kol a kindred spirit. Before her near drowning and mysterious pregnancy, Isabel was a young girl dreaming of a man to love and thinking to have found him in her savior. As a grown woman she comes to know the real Kol and soon realizes that the man is as attractive as her fantasy. She also is finally convinced that Kol could not be the father of her son. So, who is?

This is a good book, but it isnít without problems. The wording is pretty florid at times, especially near the beginning of the book, which may turn some readers off. My copy has some pretty bad editing mistakes which will hopefully be corrected in the finished product. The internal dialogue sometimes has a strikingly overly-dramatic tone for which the author uses sentence fragments to Make. The. Point. While distracting at times, these problems do not detract from the excellent story.

Fans of Shana Abe will undoubtedly enjoy this book very much, as it has the same fairy-tale quality as Ms. Abeís writing. Also, the valiant heroine and to-die-for hero, along with an entertaining cast of secondary characters, a truly evil villain, and some great plot twists make The Sea King a must for your summer reading list.

--Wendy Livingston

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