by Marie Lipscomb
Series: Hearts of Blackmere #3
Also in this series: The Lady's Champion, The Champion's Desire
Publisher: Violet Gaze Press
Publication Date: March 3, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from BookSprout. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
“I’ve faced the meanest, toughest warriors in Aldland, I’ve been stabbed and sliced and lanced, but I never trembled until I met you.”
After years of humiliating defeat, Brandon the Bear has at last found his strength renewed by the love of Natalie Blackmere. When he and his lady are called back to the Champion’s Guild, and the hosting nobleman demands they take part in the Grand Tourney, Brandon sees a chance to prove his worth once and for all.
Natalie is finally free to love her champion, but finds herself struggling with the newfound pressures of notoriety. Suffocating in silk and wilting under the prying eyes of Aldland’s nobility, she dreads the day she must return to her duties at the castle. But when she and Brandon return to the Champion’s Guild, she must decide who she wants to be; Lady Natalie, or the Lioness of Blackmere.
I’ve enjoyed following Natalie and Brandon through their travels and trials, but all good things must come to an end. This is the third book in the series, and the final book for Natalie and Brandon, so I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book.
“But I was forced to choose between that life and Lady Natalie. I chose the woman I love, and I’ll never regret that decision. It feels like I gave up my arms to make way for wings.”
Natalie and Brandon are now famous after she saved his life during the Midsummer Melee. Visiting the queen gets them away from the Guild Master and whatever punishment he wants to inflict on them, but neither of them are very comfortable with the nobles. Brandon freely admits he misses the Guild, but he knows he had to give up that life – and the possibility of being the next Guild Master – if he wanted a life with Natalie, so it’s an easy decision for him. Natalie still feels guilty, though, and when a chance comes for them to both compete in the Tourney while still being together, they seize the opportunity. Even if Natalie will only be a champion in name only, it’s still the fulfillment of a childhood dream, and it gives Brandon a chance for one last tournament. But while many of the Champions are happy to welcome them back, some resent Natalie’s elevation, and a much chastened Henry has been chosen by the Guild Master to be her teacher. While Brandon seems willing to forgive him, Natalie is still unsure, and even more worried about their future when she sees how happy Brandon is with his found family. Torn between the Guild and Blackmere, can they find a place where both Natalie and Brandon belong?
“You don’t just remind me of my strength, my lady. You remind me of my weaknesses, or rather, that I’m safe to share them with you, without judgement, without you thinking I’m any less. And I love you, now and always.”
Natalie and Brandon are both at a good place in their relationship. They’re deeply in love and they know they want to spend their lives together, but the question of what that looks like still remains. Natalie still sees the attack at Blackmere as her failure to protect her people, and she dreads returning back there. Even worse, though she doesn’t doubt that Brandon loves her, he hasn’t asked her to marry him, and she worries about how happy he’d be as Lord Blackmere. His life – his family – is the Guild, so how could she take him away from that? But she hesitates to have that conversation with him because she’s afraid of what the outcome would be. I love how, even though she has a lot of worries about her future, she never gives up on her love for him, and she’ll do just about anything to protect him, which is certainly a new experience for a guy who’s spent several decades winning tourneys. On his side, Brandon worries that since he’s past his prime, he’ll have another poor showing at the Tourney, and that he’s taking a spot from a younger warrior who deserves a chance to shine as a Champion. They’re still adorably sweet with each other, too, especially when they’re communicating. It’s just very nice to read about two older people who are so very much in love and know it.
While the plot’s a bit predictable, it’s an enjoyable journey, and both Natalie and Brandon ended up in a place where I felt like they had a solid HEA. A few lingering plot threads get wrapped up, as well, and we get a little bit more to set the stage for the next book with Jenny and Genevieve. Overall, I’ve very much enjoyed this trilogy and can’t wait for the next book!