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A Love Story with a War in the Middle

Forgive me for beginning with a completely obvious statement, but today is Valentine’s Day… and that gives me the perfect opportunity to spend a little time on the subject of romance.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a romantic… always have been and don’t plan to change… but I believe romance is less about the chocolates, candlelight and flowers of February 14th, and more about what happens the 364 other days of the year. I think I owe that first to my parents. My father did, after all, fall in love with my mother the very first night he met her. He visited her at her home four times before he went off to war in Korea and she went to a sanatorium to fight tuberculosis. By the time he returned to Newfoundland three years later, they had been out of contact for quite some time and she had a fiancé. But he took the advice of friends who urged him to call her, and they were married six months later.

I grew up on their love story –– how he looked the night he came to pick her up for their first date, how in the early years of their marriage she would wait for the sound of his steps on the stairs when she saw, through a window of their small apartment, the ship he was working on pull into the St. John’s Narrows. I watched their story play out through all the years of my childhood when they were younger than I am now. I witnessed his last lucid words – I love you – spoken to my mother just a few days before his death, and long after Alzheimer’s had stolen his words from him.

So when it comes to fictional relationships, I have high expectations rooted in this very real couple whose life was anything but easy, but who never left the house without kissing one another.

Which brings me to Ken Barron and Karen McMaster… the lead characters in the Defense Command series. I love these characters, both individually and as a couple, and I don’t say that because my son created them. What they have is patient, and deep, and it shapes each one of the twenty books in which they feature –– usually without you realizing how much, at least until the very end.

If you’re a Defense Command reader, you’ll know that throughout most of the series, it’s not entirely clear what their relationship is –– whether it’s a romance at all. It’s obvious from the very beginning that Ken is clearly smitten with the incomparable captain, or as one reader once said to me: Wow, Ken is totally crazy about Karen. And you know there is history between them.

But there are no flowers, or chocolates, or Valentines in the years we spend with Ken and Karen. There are, instead, simple dinners (fish sticks and potatoes). There is the occasional evening gown (“court dress”, they call it). There is rich banter, there are outrageous situations, and there is the occasional soul-searching conversation. There is comfortable silence. And on a few rare occasions, there is dancing.

Individually, Karen and Ken are each strong, capable, and complicated. Together they are stronger, even more capable, and yes, more complicated. They spend every possible waking moment together. They support each other in everything. They see the best in one another, and at the end of the day, they make each other better people. But you don’t… indeed you can’t… truly understand their relationship and its many layers until the very end.

I don’t want to give spoilers, so I won’t say too much more. Instead I’ll close with Kenneth’s December 27, 2011 Facebook update:

Six years, 20 books, and over 1 million words later, I’ve finished drafting Defense Command. ‘Enemies of Empire’ winds up at 58,854 words… and yes, if I’m honest, the whole series does amount to a love story (with a war in the middle). Be interesting to see what tomorrow brings.

More partnerships like Ken and Karen, I hope.