This is the fourth volume in Moira J. Moore’s Lee and Taro series, which as a whole is awfully hard to classify. At first it rather reads like Fantasy, but then there is repeated mention that the people that populate the novels are descended from forefathers that arrived from the stars with a lot of big machinery that for some unknown reason stopped working, so from that perspective it looks like Science Fiction. Except that the central conflict of Heroes at Risk is mostly about magic, and at the novel’s end it appears highly likely that it actually does exist in this world, which would make the series Fantasy after all… The world the series is set in reminded me very strongly of early nineteenth century England, or more precisely the Regency period – and even though this is the by far most popular era for Historical Romances, and this series is about a couple it did seem at first like things were not going that way – until they took a sharp turn in the third volume most of which the protagonists spend abroad and where they finally discovered their love for each other; and continuing in that vein a substantial part of Heroes at Risk concerns itself with the relationship between Lee and Taro.
In fact, it would not be wrong to say that this relationship and the aftermath of what happened in the third volume is the main subject of Heroes at Risk, and that it delegates the plot about magic, a strange plague, and an assassination attempt on Lee to the rank of a mere secondary plot. While this brings the Romance of the series solidly into the foreground for this installment, it does not do so in the way one would expect – instead of enjoying their happiness of having found each other, Lee and Taro’s love seems increasingly like something as exotic as the lands where it first blossomed, and like an exoctic flower transplanted into foreign soil it threatens to whither and die in the cold light of common day. While the “exterior” plot was rather more unexciting than we’re used to from previous volumes and I suspect serves mainly to set up things to come (the ending is almost a cliffhanger), I enjoyed the “interior” plot quite a bit – Lee has obviously been changed by her experiences in the South, and while everyone tells her so, she herself is trying her hardest to ignore and to fit her new, liberated self back into the old, familiar constraints. Obviously, this can’t work, and in consequence she is very grumpy throughout a lot of the novel and – sometimes quite hilariously – keeps complaining about how everyone and everything else is different from before her absence. I really liked this for its emotional honesty – Moira Moore is not going the easy way here but opts for a realistic depiction of someone who has become unsure of herself and her place in the society she grew up in. It is also very deftly handled, making good use of an unreliable narrator and shows how far the author has come since her occasionally awkward first volume in the series.
And as all novels in this series, Heroes at Risk has a ludicrously inappropriate cover that does not give even a faint hint of what is going on inside the book, neither in terms of plot nor of general atmosphere – likely as sign that her publisher did not quite know under what genre to file it either, and possibly one of the reasons why they dropped it after the sixth volume, thus cutting off yet another excellent series before it reached its conclusion.