Rome is being sacked by barbarians, and patrician daughter Julia Livia is trying to escape her burning house when she's attacked by rioting citizens. Fortunately, she's save by the Goth (Visigoth? Barbarian? Are they the same?) leader Wulfric. Unfortunately, he decides she'd make a good slave and carts her off to his encampment. If the tent is a-rockin, don't come a-knockin.
I first heard about this book from Penny Watson at Penny Romances, who has a talent for convincing me to read really odd books. With Virgin Slave, Barbarian King however, I didn't require much convincing. For one, I am a total sucker for romances where a woman is taken captive. I think they're hilarious and a lot of the modern ones have really interesting twists on relationship power dynamics. For two, I love unusual settings, and the Fall of Rome is a very unusual setting for a romance!
For the most part, Virgin Slave, Barbarian King was good-ish. I loved the two main characters and found Wulfric particularly interesting. He's definitely an alpha male, which one would expect from this sort of romance, but's he's not a HULK SMASH sort of alpha male. He's really intelligent and calm, and actually a nice guy. Louise Allen does a great job of rounding out his character so that he seems like a normal guy and a romance hero at the same time.
I also thought Julia Livia was a well-drawn character. The story is really about her finding a home and a family, and I love stories like that. The secondary characters were all very sweet and likable (other than Julia's rival for Wulfric's affections) and I thought they rounded out the story nicely. Her conversion from wanting to escape to wanting to stay with the Goths was also believable.
That being said, the integration of the story and the romance just didn't happen for me. It seemed like all of a sudden Julia and Wulfric were in love for no reason other than this is a romance novel, so they have to fall in love. I didn't get a lot of chemistry between them. I also felt like the sense of the historical setting wasn't really there. I kind of need more than how they heated their water and what plates they used in order to frame a time and place in my mind, you know what I mean? As a result the book came off as a little generic.
The ending also made NO SENSE. Okay, so you want a distressing haircutting incident--I got that in the first quarter of the book. But why would the character in question cut off their hair if they weren't going to live in Rome, hmm? Makes no sense. Don't just go around cutting off people's hair for no good reason. Not cool.
ANYway. Despite these minor annoyances, I honestly think Virgin Slave, Barbarian King is worth a buy, especially if you like unusual settings and characters. While it isn't a perfect romance, it does twist the expectations of a typical romance novel in a very interesting and refreshing way. Louise Allen is definitely an author worth watching, I think!