Beginning a new series about a kingdom which has far too many daughters, The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory forms a swashbuckling romp on the high seas.
Princess Clarice is the eldest daughter of the king of Swansgaarde, a small principality hidden within the mountains. They have twelve daughters, but the new addition of a son means the kingdom will pass to him. As the nation is only small, they don’t have the money to afford a dowry for each daughter, instead bestowing each one with enough to make their own way in the world.
Clarice is the first daughter to take up this opportunity, desperate to become a renowned swordsmaster and set up her own training school. However, no one will take her seriously unless she has a legacy behind her skills, and her gender makes it even more unlikely for someone to give her a chance. Instead, she disguises herself as the male, Clarence Swann, and buys passage on a ship bound for new lands, the Asesino. The captain is a force to be reckoned with, but money talks and his reluctance to let her aboard soon dissipates.
As a guest on the ship, Clarice is not expected to assist with the day-to-day sailing, and is at leisure to talk with the crew. She takes a particular shine to Dominick, the navigator, with whom she shares a lot in common and learns the ways of the sea. However, when the crew rebels and her sword skills are need in disposing of their captain, Dominick is placed in charge of the vessel. With new lands and treasures awaiting them, Clarice is torn about revealing her identity – would he accept her if he knew she was a princess?
I was expecting a fun-filled and adventurous romp in this book, and I wasn’t disappointed by the ship’s crew. They are frequently involved in bouts of civil unrest, struggles with the weather, and mutiny from a select few traitors. I hadn’t anticipated the dangers they would meet when they finally set down in the land of the Four Winds, but at the same I thought that this was vastly under-used and could have been expanded upon much more. I also felt that, given the excitement when Clarice first boarded the ship, the ending should have matched up to what came before, but I was sadly let down.
I think this ending was so disappointing for me because of the protagonists, Clarice and Dominick. As much as I loved her fiery nature and desire to make a name for herself amongst the men, I also became frustrated at the number of times she tried and failed to tell Dominick the truth about herself. She succeeds in infiltrating each area of the ship, but at the same time doesn’t seem overly attached to anyone on board, except for her navigator. I found her feelings for him a tad trifling, as she claimed to be falling in love with him but it didn’t seem real. Their whole relationship was formed upon a lie, an obstacle which is removed exceptionally easily at the books close.
Similar feelings are shared by my reaction to Dominick, who never seems fully-formed as a character. Yes, we learn his emotional history and witness his struggles as captain, but there never seems to be any depth to him, or any real connection to Clarice. He was an interesting character, but seemed to be more instrumental in filling in gaps of knowledge about sea life than in making his presence felt. Considering his level of intelligence, I also found it hard to accept that he hadn’t suspected anything about Clarice sooner, as the description of her disguise doesn’t seem to be that effective.
On the whole, I did enjoy the plotline of this story, especially after the mutiny left the crew with the fear of being considered pirates and traitors. This is cleverly reconfigured after they touch down on some dubious land, but at the same time left some unanswered questions. I enjoyed the drama onboard the ship after their encounter with the House of the Four Winds, but as a build up to an ending I found it to be rushed and confusing at best. The final stand is over in the blink of an eye, with the ending left a little too open for my liking. Nevertheless, I still look forward to the second book in the series as the world building was superb, and I can’t wait to meet the second sister of Swansgaarde. Verdict
A swashbuckling adventure on the high seas with an added dash of romance, this book had moments of excitement, but was also in need of more character development. I liked both Dominick and Clarice, but their relationship was sadly lacking in romantic development and seemed almost instantaneous. There was a good plotline running throughout, but I found the ending a bit lacklustre. Rating: 3.5 Stars
The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory (One Dozen Daughters #1) Fantasy, Romance Tor Books (5 Aug 2014) Ebook: 256 pages
Over the past year I have fast become a Kristen Ashley fan, having read the entire of her Rock Chick and Dream Man series. I was intrigued by her Fantasyland series and when it went on offer on Amazon, I couldn't resist. Wildest Dreams is the first in this fantasy based series, where the heroine of the book gets whisked off to a parallel universe and finds herself living in the shoes of her parallel twin. This is a world of magic, elves, dragons, and talking cats. Where technology does not exist.
In Wildest Dreams, our heroine Finnie finds out about the existence of this parallel universe, and grieving the loss of her parents, who are still alive in the other universe, she makes a deal to switch with her counterpart. Things naturally do not run quite to plan and she finds out that while her 'twin' might be a Princess, there is also a lot of things she didn't disclose to Finnie before the switch. Including a marriage to a certain intimidating Drakkar.
The book is written with Ashley's characteristic humorous and serious page-turning writing style. Although, I have to say, I think this book took a little bit longer to get into than some of her others, and to get hooked into the story and the characters. There were also a few writing glitches that made me wonder if this was one of Ashley's earlier works as it wasn't as smooth as the writing in her Rock Chick books for example. There were a couple of instances where she would make the story work by saying, oh by the way I told this character this a while ago - and that element would be quite a major plot point, and would have worked a lot better if the scenes had been woven into the plot at the relevant time rather than added in as an after thought. It turns out it isn't one of her earlier works, which means it wasn't the smoothest of writing I have seen from Ashley.
Don't worry, while this did niggle, it didn't ruin the story. I loved the rich fantasy world Ashley created, including Finnie's immense wardrobe! The chemistry between Finnie and our hero, Frey was fabulous, and Finnie was such a great heroine who embraced life and all of its experiences to the fullest. The story was funny and sexy and thoroughly enjoyable.
That being said, I didn't always like Frey's authoritarian manner. Ok, yes I know he's an alpha male etc, etc... But he made a few too many decisions behind Finnie's back for my liking. He did of course get discovered and face the consequences, but I'm afraid he did still occasionally annoy me.
There was a great cast of secondary characters, again something Ashley does well. I loved Apollo and Frey's shipmates, as well as Finine's handmaidens. They made the story richer and I enjoyed watching Finnie's friendship with each of them develop.
My final criticism of the book was I felt that it could have been a smidgen shorter. There were sections that needed snipping. In general my main feedback really is editing, it needed better editing with plot threads and overall length. These were the two failings of the book, although it was still a great book, it could have been better.
Do I think this is Ashley's best book? No. But that certainly doesn't mean it isn't worth a read. I went straight onto read book two immediately (which is loads better), and I'm still a fast Ashley fan. I did enjoy the fantasy setting. It has dragons and elves and the parallel universe added a different twist to a romance story. Rating: 3.5 Stars
Wildest Dreams by Kristen Ashley (Fantasyland #1) Fantasy Romance Self Published (August 2011) Ebook: 536 pages
I've really enjoyed all the previous books in this series but I just couldn't get on board with this one. I couldn't connect with the two main charactI've really enjoyed all the previous books in this series but I just couldn't get on board with this one. I couldn't connect with the two main characters, who I actually disliked. It's a shame, but I really tried to finish it as I do hate not finishing books, but after nearly three months of trying I had to admit defeat....more
Not my favourite book by Sarra Manning, but it did have some tender moments, and as always the writing flowed well. However, I didn't really3.5 stars
Not my favourite book by Sarra Manning, but it did have some tender moments, and as always the writing flowed well. However, I didn't really like any of the characters, they were pretty stereotypical which is unusual for Manning. There was the evil, selfish mother, cheating boyfriend, heartless best friend. But in all this darkness shined one beacon of light, and that was Wilson. I wished there had been more of him.
Interesting concept but I can't say I was overly happy about the ending....more