All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The French Prize – Cathryn Hein

on September 8, 2014

The French PrizeThe French Prize
Cathryn Hein
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2014, 339p
Copy courtesy of the author

Ever since her grandmother told her the stories of Charlemagne warrior Roland and his sword Durendal, Dr Olivia Walker has been hooked. Now an Oxford scholar with a premier reputation, she has dedicated her life to finding out everything she can about the possible location of the famed sword. And now she has had a break through.

Olivia is bankrolled by the Frenchman Raimund Blacard, a descendant of Roland and his family but Raimund has his own ideas about what they’re going to do with the sword when they find it. Generations of Blacard men have protected its location but not without personal cost. When Raimund’s brother was kidnapped, tortured and killed by a man who believes he is the rightful heir to the sword, Raimund made a vow to himself – and it’s a vow he intends to keep at all costs.

Now Olivia, who wants to find and preserve the relic for all to experience and enjoy, finds herself torn. On one hand, she has hunted for the sword, seeking to solve it’s mystery for almost her entire life. The scholar in her wants to preserve and study. But on the other hand, Raimund is the man she has fallen in love with and she may not be able to stop him from seeing his promise through and destroying the sword.

The French Prize is a new novel by acclaimed rural romance author Cathryn Hein – but it is definitely not a rural romance! In this one she moves away from farm boys and country Australia and instead we’re in Europe with a sexy but rather aloof Frenchman and the search for an ancient relic. As a reader, it can be quite difficult when an author you enjoy tries something new – will you like it as much as the others? Will the differences make or break?

Fortunately I found it all too easy to celebrate the differences in this book. The action is fast paced and clever, with Olivia and Raimund battling to stay one step ahead of Raimund’s murderous foe, who killed his brother and will stop at nothing to deliver the same to Raimund in order to claim the sword. As the last of the Blacards, Raimund is the only thing standing between him and the sword. A soldier in the French Foreign Legion, Raimund is skilled and capable but also grieving and weary. He’s tired of this game, centuries spent protecting something that has caused much heartache and loss. Raimund is very different from the previous heroes in Hein’s books but he’s still undeniably attractive. He’s much more closed off on the surface – definitely a soldier used to following orders and giving them. At times Olivia wonders if he actually has a sense of humour but scratch the surface and Raimund is full of surprises! Olivia is smart and capable, extremely dedicated to the quest (at times almost to the detriment of her own safety) but the further along they get, the more confused she becomes. She started out wanting to discover the sword for the academic benefits, giving the world a chance to see learn about something that most people thought was just a fairy tale. It’s consumed a lot of her life, it’s often made her the topic of ridicule but she’s never wavered in her beliefs that it existed and that she would be able to find it. But the more time she spends with Raimund, the more she learns of how this has almost cursed his family, how it has taken so much from him and how desperately he wants to destroy it and end it once and for all, the more she becomes torn between the academic side of her and the romantic side of her that wants Raimund to be happy. The two of them have some really good chemistry, made complicated by Raimund’s promise and his reluctance to become involved, seek a happiness for himself that he doesn’t believe he can achieve.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been much of a history buff. I never took history in high school, never picked up an elective at university and it’s only later in life that I started to find an interest in it. I learn through reading now – fiction leads me to research and non-fiction a lot of the time and I’m slowly attempting to fill in the (large) gaps. I loved the historical element in this because it wasn’t too extensive – it was fun and exciting and just enough to get you intrigued. There’s lots of mystery and puzzling out of clues as well as some tricky gadgets and fast cars. This book is a virtual treasure hunt in an exotic location, filled with vivid descriptions of food and wine that’s enough to make anyone’s mouth water. I found myself wanting to drink a wine I’d never even tried before – and the thing is, I don’t even really like wine!

The French Prize has a little of everything – romance, mystery, action, food and fun. It’s taken Cathryn Hein out of the rural romance box and proved that she has a lot more to offer readers with a complex and enjoyable story. I’ve always loved her rurals but I have to say, I love this one just as much!


Book #177 of 2014


The French Prize is book #66 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014


4 responses to “Review: The French Prize – Cathryn Hein

  1. I love the sound of this story especially because of the eclectic mix of everything I enjoy in a good novel: mystery, romance, exotic locations and great food! I’ll have to check this one out 🙂

  2. Rik says:

    Great review. I really enjoyed reading it.
    I’m not being pedantic but I believe it should be ‘breakthrough’ not ‘break through’ (first paragraph, last word). Cheers.

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