~* 3.5 Stars *~ Needed More Tathan Princess Kimri of Anagard is furious with her brother the king. He has traded her hand to the King of Helsmont for an...more~* 3.5 Stars *~ Needed More Tathan Princess Kimri of Anagard is furious with her brother the king. He has traded her hand to the King of Helsmont for an alliance and weapons. A worthy enough cause, given the toll the ongoing war with Kenasgate has taken on her land and people, but that doesn't excuse him bartering her like a piece of property.
Especially not to the enigmatic king rumored to have a dragon guarding his mysterious kingdom.
Arriving in Helsmont to meet her betrothed brings all manner of surprises to Kimri. The king is neither old nor unpleasant as she'd feared. In fact, he's quite arresting in stature and gracious in nature, and instead of a quick wedding, he is abiding by mountain custom and allowing her a year to make sure they suit before committing to the marriage.
As Kimri settles herself into an unfamiliar kingdom and acquaints herself with her betrothed and his people, finding acceptance and freedoms she hadn't even enjoyed in her own land, Kimri can't help but start to think that when it comes to betrothals to a handsome and kind mountain-king, perhaps a year is too long.
This was a lovely little tale, and despite having some issues with several elements of the storyline, I enjoyed it. The characters were likable and the writing was well-crafted and wonderfully descriptive. There was a fantastic amount of world building, especially throughout the first half of the book, and Kimri's character, as well as a couple of secondary characters, were memorable.
It's good that I enjoyed Kimri's character as much as I did, though, as she was the sole main character, and that's where my problems with the book started. At best, Tathan was an ancillary character in the story, sharing only a handful of scenes with Kimri. They spend a bit more time together off page, as Kimri refers to sharing their morning meals and accompanying him around Helsmont, but it still wasn't close to enough for me to be able to consider him a romantic lead character.
Kimri spends far more page time with Prince Herrol of Kenasgate, and while those scenes were nice enough to build towards the plot elements late in the book, it hampered my appreciation for the romance between Kimri and Tathan. That romance was understated nearly to the point of nonexistence and I felt Tathan, who I liked very much from what little I saw of him, was painfully underutilized. It was truly a shame, as this could easily have been a story I absolutely loved had he and their romance had more presence in the tale.
I did love the big reveal during the book's climax, even though I saw it coming, but that's about all I loved in the final quarter of the book. The storyline, which had been evolving at a relatively slow but pleasant, steady pace once Kimri arrived in Helsmont, started to come apart a bit for me as layers of external conflict were added into the plotline. The pace definitely picked up, and that would have been fine, but I thought the various plot points and elements of conflict got glossed over and rushed through as the story reached its climax.
Still, there were very many good points in this read, and I enjoyed Lee's authorial voice. Had the story evolved just a little differently towards the end, and had Tathan had a much larger role, this could easily have been a five star read for me. It fell short in that regard, but I would still love to revisit this world if given the opportunity. Several characters, Commandant Beatris in particular, left a lasting impression. I was saddened by how her role in the story ended and would love to know what becomes of her.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
~* 4.5 Stars *~ My Favorite of the Series He was the youngest of the four royal children of Elden when the Blood Sorcerer conquered his kingdom and slau...more~* 4.5 Stars *~ My Favorite of the Series He was the youngest of the four royal children of Elden when the Blood Sorcerer conquered his kingdom and slaughtered his parents. Prince Micah had been saved along with his siblings by the powerful spells the king and queen cast with their last breaths. Saved, but thrust far from his homeland, no memory of who he is or what was done to him almost twenty years ago.
He knows only that he is Lord of the Black Castle, Guardian of the Abyss, powerful in both form and magic. He hunts the souls of evildoers, casting them into the Abyss beneath his castle to suffer unending torture for their sins. He is darkness, feared by all and alone in his reign.
Then a homely young woman shows up in his castle, full of prickly attitude, daring to look at him and speak to him as no one ever has. It perplexes and intrigues him.
Liliana has secrets she's keeping from the imposing master of the castle, and time is running out. She has risked everything to find Micah. Now she's got to stir the memory of a prince who has no recollection of his past, no knowledge that her own father killed his parents, destroyed his homeland. And she can't ever let him know that she is truly her father's daughter, a blood sorcerer like him.
The horrors that her father visited on her as she was growing up are unspeakable, but they forged in Liliana a fiery determination to end his existence. She will do whatever it takes to bring Micah back to himself, get him to Elden. Only then will her father's brutal reign end and the four royal siblings be able to reclaim their heritage and heal their land.
And Liliana understands and accepts all the impending sacrifices that will be required of her to assure it.
The Royal House of Shadows series has had highs and lows for me, but overall, I ended up liking the concept of the series more than the books included in it. Until this one, anyway. I waited a long time to read this, despite Nalini Singh being one of my favorite authors. I just wasn't convinced even her considerable skill would deliver on what would have to be, by design, the most important book of the entire set.
Yeah...about that... My bad.
I loved the story of Micah and Liliana. Loved it. And I loved them. Singh kept the storyline relatively simple, focusing on the main characters and their evolving relationship, with a few threats from the Blood Sorcerer thrown in for good measure, including a few scenes of Liliana's past that were...suitably horrifying.
That simplicity served the tale well, giving Micah and Liliana a chance to spend quality time together. There were tons of priceless moments between them and I loved every one. Unburdened by much in the way of secondary characters, the relationship the two of them forge while awakening Micah's memory and falling for each other was fabulous for me.
Micah is an oddly innocent man-child in ways, one that's also scarily powerful and commanding, comfortable in his role as Guardian but oblivious in interpersonal niceties. He lives a very black-and-white existence that I found compelling. Liliana is resolute and self-sacrificing, but also surprisingly strong and delightfully impertinent when dealing with the growly Micah. I loved that she is a homely young woman, and I loved that Micah thought she was beautiful.
I stopped caring how these books fit into the series a couple of books ago, but still enjoyed the closer connection to those story elements. The familial connection between Liliana and her father, rotted and corrupted as it was, made this book seem more relevant to the quest to defeat him.
Maybe that's why the climax of this story was such a disappointment to me. For all that I loved Micah and his Lily, the great battle between the siblings and the sorcerer that has been building through four different tales was utterly anticlimactic and abrupt. Maybe it had to be. Maybe the nature of four books by four different authors demanded that it be so. I had hoped otherwise and was disappointed.
It was, though, my only disappointment in this particular story. The romance between Lily and Micah and the whole of their tale up until its climax was a thrilling and satisfying read in every way. This book includes a second story by Singh, Desert Warrior, originally released back in 2003. That story was not to my personal taste in any way and I skimmed through most of it. My dislike of it, however, did not impact my appreciation for Lord of the Abyss, and my rating is for that first story only.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
Too Dry for Me She was never supposed to do it. Jaines Cord should have very politely refused any orders for the Arcane Bounty Hunter. They were too da...moreToo Dry for Me She was never supposed to do it. Jaines Cord should have very politely refused any orders for the Arcane Bounty Hunter. They were too dangerous. Too deadly. It is harder to refuse, though, when the dangerous male is standing right in front of her in the gun smithy she works with her husband. Even so, the Bounty Hunter's request for a very special engraving on a gun with a very evil feel chills Jaines to the core.
Too nervous to decline, and too mindful of the coin the order will bring, she does the engraving on that death pistol, etches it with magic that hums under her fingertips. Then she loads it with the bullets she's made. Once done, she only wants to see it and the Bounty Hunter gone.
He doesn't stay gone for long, though, and upon his return, Jaines learns the true price of her brush with the Arcane Bounty Hunter...at the sharp retort of the gun that Jaines had engraved and with the bullets that she had made.
Devastated by loss, consumed by regret, she vows to hunt down the Bounty Hunter and do to him what he did to her husband. But she can't do it alone, and when she meets Obsidian, the only man still alive who can help her, she does what she can to convince him to try.
Their journey will be dangerous, and along the way Jaines will find out more about the world she inhabits and the woman she is than she'd ever imagined. At her fingertips is the chance for a forever and a life she'd never dreamed with a man who could be everything. If they live long enough to grasp for it.
Husk impressed me here with a completely original read set in a unique and imaginative - if grim - world. I don't often come across books that just aren't like anything else I've ever read before. This one is. It read almost like a cross between post-apocalyptic science fiction, fantasy, and historical western. An odd combination, but it worked for this story.
I wish the main character and the narrative had held equal appeal. The telling of the story, from Jaines' perspective in first person point of view, seemed a very dry and often emotionless rendering of events. She certainly has reason to be emotionally damaged after losing her husband, so part of the problem may have been that, but even after some of the grief is processed, Jaines never really emotes well enough for me to connect to her on an emotional level and I never really felt anything deeper than a shallow empathy for her struggles and story.
Obsidian, on the other hand, was great. I liked him. But he didn't show up in the story until almost the 40% mark in the book. Once he did, several good things happened in relation to the story and Jaines' character that made for a more engaging read, but that's a large portion of the book to be alone in Jaines' head with nothing to focus on beyond her thoughts and experiences as she relates them.
I did like Obsidian and Jaines working together in the story, though. I just don't think Obsidian had the character depth he needed for me to be able to embrace him as the male romantic lead. He worked much better for me as a secondary character as Jaines' partner. Then again, the alleged romance between him and Jaines didn't work for me on any level or at any point, and I'm sure that's part of the reason why.
Because of the lack of emotional inflection in Jaines character, I struggled with every story element that related to her feelings, even her vow to avenge her husband, even the rage and disillusionment she says she feels as truths come to light later in the story. I kept feeling like I was being told she felt things, but couldn't quite believe it given the passionless narrative.
The story itself, though, the plot of the book, was solid and imaginative. The world was unique. It's a dry and grim world and women sure aren't considered equal citizens among the general populace, but it would work really well as the backdrop for a series. I'm not sure if it's intended to become one, though. I'm also not sure I'd want to continue in it if it were, especially if there weren't some significant changes in Jaines' narration or didn't have a different narrator entirely. She's just too dry for me.
That fact, and the complete fail of the romance, is what most limited my full enjoyment of this read. The solidness of the story and the uniqueness in the world and mythos just couldn't balance out those two issues enough for this to be more than an okay read for me.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
~* 3.5 Stars *~ An Ambitious and Expansive Debut The Elgean kingdom is ruled by a tyrannical king intent on racial cleansing, but non-human races and th...more~* 3.5 Stars *~ An Ambitious and Expansive Debut The Elgean kingdom is ruled by a tyrannical king intent on racial cleansing, but non-human races and their human sympathizers have formed a unique alliance, a gathered in a Resistance against the genocide. As Elgean forces are set to march against the Resistance, four people will rise up for the cause, going above and beyond to secure the freedom of all.
A shape-shifter named Ranealya breaks every one of her own rules for a human who showed her unusual kindness. That human, Gregor Meritis, lives a quiet, scholarly life in the woods, content with his studies until the wounded Ranealya drops into his life. Knowing her will change him forever.
As leader of the Resistance, High Elf Galen has more responsibility on his shoulders than many could imagine. It makes him wary and suspicious of strangers who could threaten the growing group of rebels he leads. When faced with the magician apprentice Kira, his reaction is dire and forbidding. She is a young human woman who stirs his suspicions and his desires and until he's sure of the one, he can't risk giving into the other.
Kira, overwhelmed by the Resistance stronghold after a sheltered city life, is tentative but captivated by the High Elf, but she's determined to give her aid. Even as she struggles to understand how Galen makes her feel.
The four of them will seek out the Tears of Elios in a desperate gambit that could kill them all. More than the hope of peace between the races is on the line. They fight for life, for the basic freedom from extinction. And they must not fail.
McHugh kicks off The Elgean Chronicles in this series debut, introducing her readers to an imaginative world with a solid story, one that appealed to me on a lot of levels. It's an ambitious endeavor, creating a world, defining it, inhabiting it, and stirring up conflict for the plot, then setting that conflict alongside two separate threads of romance. That's a lot to accomplish in one book, and there certainly were a plethora of diverse characters and a wealth of story being told in this one. It ended up, for me, being a bit too ambitious.
With so much going on and so many things and people being involved, the book really could have used another fifty to a hundred pages to get into the sort of depth of plot and character development necessary to be completely successful for me. What's there is nice, and McHugh has a talent for creating intriguing, unique characters. It's a double edged sword for me in this book, though, because I wanted to spend more time with them and I wanted to know them better than I was given a chance to do.
The shifting focus and different points of view between Ranealya and Gregor's thread and Kira and Galen's worked well in this book. It provided a wide, panoramic view of what is going on in Elgean from several different perspectives and kept me engaged in the threads as they progressed. McHugh was adept in shifting story focus seamlessly and fluidly, drawing the reader along with her as she weaves the characters lives together until all four intersect.
In truth, though, I found myself more personally invested in Ranealya and Gregor. No disrespect intended to the other two, but I thought everything from the shape-shifter mythos and Ranealya's individual backstory to Gregor's talents and familial connections were original, imaginative, and enjoyable, and I liked seeing them learn to trust each other as their relationship evolved. I spent most of the book yearning for more of them even as I enjoyed what was there.
But that sums up my largest issue with the book as a whole. For all that I liked what was there, there just wasn't enough to fully flesh out the world, the characters, and the story that was being told. McHugh has written a tale that kept me guessing and drew me along, she created and maintained characters who fascinated me and engendered sympathy, but it wasn't quite the layered, rich, and vibrant reading experience that it could have been had there just been more of it. I do hold out hope, though, that the continuation of the chronicles, now that the introduction is over, will be.
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
It Wasn't Just the Dragon A lot can change in ten years. Éibhear the Blue is now Éibhear the Contemptible, Squad Leader for the loathed and feared Mì-r...moreIt Wasn't Just the Dragon A lot can change in ten years. Éibhear the Blue is now Éibhear the Contemptible, Squad Leader for the loathed and feared Mì-runach, a band of warriors roughly akin to a Black Ops unit for Queen Rhiannon. For ten years the Mì-runach have battled the Ice Land dragons, but now that the force invading the Northland has been smacked down and rubbed out, Éibhear's got a bit of vacation time in front of him.
And a commander who insists he be a good son and visit his family.
Stopping off to see his sister Keita is a bit of a mixed bag, but it does present Éibhear with a unique opportunity. Keita's mate Ragnar lets slip...accidentally, of course...that Iseabail the Dangerous, also known as, well, so many other titles it's almost ridiculous, but most importantly the source of all Éibhear's past idiocy, is needed back home. Ragnar and Keita were planning to pick her up and accompany her there.
Well that just wouldn't do for Éibhear. Not when he's perfectly capable of seeing Izzy home. He's got a few things to say to the woman, things he's left far too long unsaid. Like a sincere apology for their regrettable past. So he'll go. And apologize. Sincerely. To the one woman in all the known universes least likely to accept an apology without making him pay very dearly first. Possibly in blood and body parts.
Good thing he's spent ten years as a mighty and feared Mì-runach or that might actually send the monstrously large Éibhear into a panic.
I have to admit, I'm loathe to write this review. I had quite a few problems with this book, but this is one of my all time favorite series and Aiken (aka Shelly Laurenston) is one of my favorite authors. I usually love and adore everything she's ever written. I didn't adore this.
There were parts I enjoyed. Elements of the book I loved just as much as every other book in this series. Unfortunately, they weren't in the majority. And I had some big issues that I don't want to belabor...mostly because it's just too damn painful to do so...but I do want to mention.
Too much of the first half of the book, especially the events prior to Izzy and Éibhear returning to Garbhán Isle, seemed almost like meandering filler and failed to hold my interest. It dragged down the pace of the story for me and overwhelmed any potential for insight into Izzy's or Éibhear's matured characters. I enjoyed Éibhear's Mì-runach squad, and I didn't mind getting a glimpse of where everyone is ten years after we last saw them, but it plodded on too long before the plot started to feel like it had a definitive direction. And there was far too little that featured progress in the relationship between the alleged main characters.
I say alleged because though this book is touted as Éibhear's and Izzy's show, it felt like they were only in about half of it. Considering there were several significant plot threads that soaked up a large amount of page time and a couple of them didn't even include Éibhear or Izzy, I suppose I should be glad they were in that much of it.
There were plenty of other characters in it, though. So very many, in fact, that it seemed like everyone ever mentioned in the previous books (with the exception of Ren), as well as several new characters introduced here, were included in what was one of the most populous casts of secondary and ancillary characters I've ever seen in a book. Football stadiums don't hold as many people as were in this book.
For all of those characters, and for all of the many, many things going on in this book, some of which were truly wonderful and some simply overkill, the one thing that wasn't included was anything resembling a romance. Given Izzy's and Éibhear's rocky and painful past, then suffering through all the waiting and dealing with all the buildup, that one point of contention was especially hard for me to forgive.
That's what drove me absolutely crazy about this book. That's what pushed me over the edge. Nothing - not one single issue from their past was hashed out or resolved in any satisfying manner, even the ones I felt truly deserved to be addressed. At best, a couple of things became punchlines, when they were brought up at all.
Éibhear apologizes to Izzy early in the book, an apology for which Izzy does most of the talking. They get groiny about halfway through as if it's some sort of cosmic inevitability (in an odd scene that didn't feel all that natural to the storyline in either setting or character to me). Then they get together late in the book. It was, without a doubt, the most underwhelming long-awaited relationship pairing I've read in a book in recent...and not so recent memory.
If I hadn't been so hopeful, or so intent on reading how they finally clear the slate on their past while they acknowledge long-held feelings, maybe my overall impression of the book would have been more positive. I did think there were several interesting developments in the second half of the book. For a transitional novel, which this book clearly is, there is a huge amount of depth in the multi-leveled storyline in that latter half.
I wish I could have appreciated it more.
I wish the first half had been severely edited, the second half expanded, and more room made for Éibhear and Izzy to have a relationship that evolves throughout the book. That didn't happen for me this time. From all appearances, however, there are big things brewing for the characters I've grown to love in this series. There is certainly no shortage of story potential. I just hope that in the future more of the plot is focused on the main characters and their romance.
"You are a callous cow, Branwen the Awful. A cruel, callous cow...and I adore you like the suns." Branwen shrugged, black eyes twinkling, "And I you, cousin, for together we are a true blood-filled nightmare - which I find nothing but entertaining!"
"I'm still not talking to you." "Still? When did you start? The not talking, I mean, because usually I can't get you to shut up."
"I thought I told you to wait." Izzy gave a light, carefree laugh. "I simply adore how you think I'd take your orders at any time or for any reason in this known universe. That just amuses me so much. Such a sense of humor you've gotten."
An Excellent Read She's heard it all before. The rumors. The fear-driven warnings. And each time they're stirred, tavern owner Selia's business takes a...moreAn Excellent Read She's heard it all before. The rumors. The fear-driven warnings. And each time they're stirred, tavern owner Selia's business takes a hit. People don't venture out when they think the Svistra are coming. The monstrous Svistra; a race of blood-drinking, murderous, ravening beasts. They are on the move from their lands in the north, intent on slaughtering everything in their wake.
They are the boogeymen her people fear.
That doesn't mean she believes the Svistra are actually close, though. She's heard it all before...but...admittedly, not like this time, her source a company of the King's soldiers who stop at her tavern on their way to track a band of Svistra allegedly attacking some of the northernmost villages. Then a week passes and Selia figures the new rumors are just as baseless as the rest. Until the night she comes back from checking her traps and finds three thieves beating a man on the path to her tavern. After dispatching them and going to the prone body on the ground, Selia is stunned to realize the victim isn't human.
But his very presence, the fact he hadn't fought back against the thieves when Svistra were known to be powerful enough to handle ten men in battle, and his broken, polite, raspy-whispered request for water... None of that tracks with the horror stories she's heard. His behavior doesn't make sense if everything she thought she knew about Svistra was true. That contradiction makes it impossible to end his life as easily as she ended those of the three brigands. She can't trust him, but Selia can't kill him, either.
With the help of Oren, the man she considers her both her brother and her responsibility, they nurse the Svistra back to health. His name is Jaden. Saving him, though, will have wider ramifications than Selia could ever imagine. In fact, sparing his life, then helping him heal, will alter the course of history for both their races...and it will forever alter Selia's heart.
Complex, dynamic, and powerful, this fantasy romance by Thomas hit every one of my happy-reader buttons. The world-building was a little on the light side, without a whole lot of explanation for some of the things that exist in that world beyond the barest of understandings of the human kingdoms and the history of the Svistra, but the ensemble cast of main and secondary characters were richly defined and vividly drawn and their multi-faceted story was engrossing.
The Svistra's backstory and their dubious nature were at turns fascinating and heartbreaking...and disturbingly vicious. I loved that Thomas didn't go the easy route and paint them as the mindless villains in the piece, but I liked that they certainly weren't sympathetic fluffy bunnies of love and peace, either. Not even Jaden, really, the most human-friendly of the lot of them. Their diet and abilities couldn't help but remind me of vampires, but other elements of their nature kept that from being too much a problem for me. And I think it would have been a problem for me in this sort of fantasy novel. Instead I was able to enjoy their place in the world and understand their motivations...if some of their actions were a bit on the coldly ruthless side.
The plot threads of the increasing hostilities between humans and Svistra, alongside those of the power-mad actions of Jaden's brother, and Selia's and Jaden's struggle to survive, were more than enough to provide a layered and intricate plot that grabbed and held my attention at every turn. That being said, it was my utter enchantment with the characters that pushed my enjoyment of this book to the highest levels.
I adored Selia for her independence, survivalist intelligence, and strength, and appreciated her dedication and loyalty to those causes and people she believes in. She is a strong and self-sufficient lead character with a sense of honor and decency that mark all my favorite fictional heroines. Jaden delighted me for his unwavering belief in his ideals and his desire to save his people, his protectiveness and dedication to Selia, and his ability to rise above his nature to be what his people deserved to be long before they had the means to be it. The romance between Jaden and Selia is subtly written, probably more so than strict fans of romance will likely enjoy, and it's not a primary plotline in the story, but it is inexorably woven into every story element and raging external conflict and is the driving force in many of the actions and attitudes of both characters. It was enough for my tastes, and I loved it. I loved even more how their feelings for each other had such an impact on the surrounding story.
This book was a nearly flawless reading experience. Through the high points and lows, through the risks, dangers, and threats, through the revealed truths and uncovered deceits, through heart-breaking loss and clench-fisted triumphs, this story wound around my heart and sunk in deep. It drew me in and forced me to feel the full sweep of emotional entanglement for the characters as it was entertaining and impressing me with its well-written plot. For all the books I read in all the genres in which I read them, I don't actually find a lot of books that I consider truly five star reads. For me, this is one of them.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Ambitious Series Debut Delivers The hellish embers of a war waged centuries ago are once again being stirred into conflagration. The king of the Bane,...moreAmbitious Series Debut Delivers The hellish embers of a war waged centuries ago are once again being stirred into conflagration. The king of the Bane, a demon who kills humans and subsumes their souls, demands his son Icarus bring him a young woman named Ravyn. Only by taking her soul into him will he have the power to open the Abyss of Souls and command the Army of Souls within it. Only with Ravyn's power will he finally be unstoppable...unconquerable.
He must have Ravyn's soul to wipe the world of the last, persistently lingering traces of the Bringers, a race of people with the ability to destroy the Bane.
Sequestered from the world since birth and raised in an abbey, Ravyn has led a cold, relatively lonely life. Beaten and feared for the force she has inside her, she struggles to control the confusing flares of fire, a power she's been told - convinced - is proof of her inherent wickedness. And until she is faced with true evil, true wickedness, and feels the sting of it on her skin, feels the fire in her rise up to battle it, she is certain in her beliefs.
Being snatched by Icarus, the Bane king's son, however, as she flees a force of insidious corruption within the abbey and slips beyond the relative safety of sanctified ground, makes it clear that things are not as she's always believed. Ravyn smacks face-first into a destiny she could hardly conceive. With the help of the last full-blooded Bringer in the world, Rhys Blackwell, a man who rescues her from Icarus and opens her eyes to her true nature, Ravyn will stand on the precipice of war and serve as the fulcrum for a paradigm shift of world-altering proportions.
As the attraction between man and woman sparks like tinder and rages like wildfire, a proud but forgotten group of warriors will discover long-buried truths that serve to renew their purpose in the coming battle. It must. For if it cannot, if the Bringers falter in their destiny and duty, life - all life - will end and the Bane will rule forevermore.
If you're fond of series debuts with a lot going on and a hell of an introduction to a complex world, this exciting jump start to the Bringer and the Bane series shouldn't be missed. Set in a fantasy world that looks vaguely like medieval England in social structure, but ripe with the demon Bane and their magically gifted counterparts, Bringers (the demon/angel correlation is both obvious and acknowledged in a nicely concise way in the story), this book offers a lot to readers.
On the surface, it's a fully entertaining fantasy romance/paranormal romance book with two characters, Ravyn and Rhys, who are appealingly strong as the protagonists, and a cast of secondary and ancillary characters who are just flat-out fantastic. For that alone I would have enjoyed the book. It's what lies beneath the surface, though, and what has been woven into the book beside the main romance plot line, that offers the truest flashes of story excellence and the potential for series greatness.
This is a world with more than one face of evil, where those carrying the diluted bloodlines of supernatural protectors have become leaders grown fat off their own superiority, where human factions have questionable agendas and keep dangerous strengths carefully hidden. It's a world that has lost touch with its history, where ancestral knowledge and magic has slipped through the cracks formed by the relentlessness of time; a world so out of touch with reality that most live in a bubble of self-satisfied contentment that is nothing but a chimera, a gaping maw of sharp teeth hidden behind slack complacency. It's a world that needs to wake up, with a small band of protectors who are ready to do the waking and are just now starting to learn how.
The story potential in all that is as limitless and as imaginative as Brux's ability to dream it, conceive it, shape it, and create it.
I also give full credit to Brux for main characters Ravyn and Rhys. Both of them had backgrounds that were nicely fleshed out and their evolution through the book, particularly Ravyn's, was smooth on paper, but reflected a genuine sense of human nature in the back-and-forth confusion of action and reaction one would expect from someone in their situation. In short, they were perfectly plausible.
That's not to say I didn't want to clobber Rhys more than once for his persistent chauvinism and over-inflated hero complex, because I so did, but he is definitely a product of his past and his nature. One of my favorite moments in the book, too, is Ravyn's initial reaction to her first encounter with a horde of Bane following the massive shift in her understanding of herself and the world around her. This innocent, quietly raised young woman reacts swiftly and negatively. This is not the life she wants, being a warrior is not a job she thinks she can do, and she intends to let Rhys go on without her. I loved that.
Hey, don't get me wrong, my preference in heroines may be the sort that kicks ass and doesn't bother taking names, has control of her destiny and her power, and knows herself inside and out, but if you're going to give me one that's led a cloistered, secluded, more than vaguely abusive life from birth, then yeah - Ravyn's reaction fit her frame of mind and her situation at that moment perfectly. Of course, she does change her mind after the initial terror of the battle wears off (wouldn't be much of a book otherwise), and she does have her moments later in the book that are in the general vicinity of ass kicking, but that initial reaction was spot-on proof of some of the touches of awesomeness that this book offers.
I have to admit, I didn't think the romance between Ravyn and Rhys was terribly complex or unique. She's an innocent, he's an over-thinker with a misguided idea of protect-and-serve, and the conflict in the relationship revolves around those two facts. I think the romance was probably the most predictable and pedestrian element of the entire book. Satisfying for a romance lover like myself, with plenty of chemistry and some hot sex, but fairly average for the genre.
Icarus, on the other hand, was nothing close to average in any way, shape, or form. Son of Vile, the Bane king, Icarus was a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. Easy to hate for his crimes, which are, admittedly, expansive and vile (no pun intended), there's still something about him that screams for redemption. He's not like other Bane, and that major plot point is what held me most captivated by this book.
I am a total sucker for redemption threads and anti-heroes. I love them. Give me a flawed, broken character or a bad-guy-does-good and I yearn for their triumph over the darkness that coils through their souls. Icarus embodies all of that and more. Is he a bad guy? Oh, yeah. And the good guys loathe him and want him dead. Are his motives murky and self-serving? Absolutely. All evidence points that way, at least. But there's just something about him that drew my attention and kept it, and every glorious glimmer of the slightest difference between him and other Bane was savored and studied. I loved him. I want more of him. More of the series, certainly, but definitely more of Icarus.
I do feel the need to warn readers about one thing. Shield of Fire may annoy or frustrate those who prefer their books to be wrapped up in a tidy bow at the end. There's no cliff hanger - I hate those - but the only plot thread that truly reaches a conclusion is the romance thread, and even that conclusion left me with a lingering sense that the story between Ravyn and Rhys wasn't quite done being told. I hope that's the case, actually, as Ravyn seems to be a fairly large factor in the war brewing between the Bane and the Bringers and I still have a lot of questions about her past and her identity. But that's exactly my point.
The sheer number of plot threads left dangling at the end of this book make party streamers seem understated. They're everywhere. So, too, are the unanswered questions. Nothing much is really resolved, concluded, discovered, or revealed in this book beyond the most basic elements. No, I'm not complaining. I actually enjoy series that lay down questions and conflicts at the beginning and answer/resolve them throughout the series arc. It doesn't bother me at all that so few of my questions are answered at the end of this book. I know it bugs some readers, though, and I wanted to mention it.
My personal caveat, and I do have one, lies elsewhere. Now that the world has been established, mythos created, characters introduced, and history fleshed out, some of those danglies and unanswereds need to start getting resolved/answered very soon. The appeal of future books in the series will depend on that for me.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was received from the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Lotta Story, Little Space - That's Magic In the darkest days of the kingdom of Arandal, the castle is under siege from the barbaric Lubantans. For two...moreLotta Story, Little Space - That's Magic In the darkest days of the kingdom of Arandal, the castle is under siege from the barbaric Lubantans. For two weeks the castle has stood against the forces from the south, but food is running out and their stranglehold is unwavering. Princess Devon, daughter of the king, is in despair as she kneels in her room and prays to her goddess for guidance and assistance.
A sound from her room is the only response and she whirls to see a large, imposing figure shadowed against the wall. As the man steps forward, the princess is torn between fear and an unfamiliar yearning. He is a stranger, but before she can call for a guard, he's on her, and the dark intent in his eyes holds her in thrall.
His name is Galladar and despite herself, he stirs her soul and, for a few blessed moments, makes her forget. Then he disappears. But not before he reminds her of an ancient tale of magic and mystery, of dragons and maiden sacrifice, of protection for a long-lost kingdom. Not before he seals her fate and gives her soul wings, condemns and frees her, and makes her burn. Not before he sets her on a path that will alter kingdoms and change...everything.
~*~ One of the reasons I don't read all that many short stories and novellas, or care much for anthologies that feature them, is that too often the stories seem very two dimensional or lacking in the sort of depth of history and world building, plot and character development that I prefer. That was far from the case in York's short but delicious little story Dark Magic.
I was impressed at how quickly but thoroughly York snapped the world and backstory into place, dropping the reader into the tale towards the end of a hopeless defense of a kingdom and using that as character motivation and story progression. Princess Devon was nicely fleshed out as an innocent with a fiery spirit and fighting nature. Galladar was a seductive mystery who actually benefited by the lack of development. They had chemistry and individuality I appreciated.
The plotline, too, was surprisingly robust considering the short length. Maybe it's not the most original plot, but I've got a weakness for dragons and I liked how it all came together. No, it didn't answer all my questions, and the story ended more with hope for the future than absolutes, but I can't honestly imagine how it could have ended any differently in such a short tale.
For a short story, Dark Magic offered a surprisingly well-rounded world and likable characters, a plot that appealed, and a sexually charged romance that ended with promise for a future. I honestly couldn't have hoped for much more.
Disclosure: An ARC of this novella was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
~* 3.5 Stars *~ Multi-Author Series Debut The king and queen of Elden were brutally slaughtered by a power-hungry Blood Sorcerer, their dying breaths gi...more~* 3.5 Stars *~ Multi-Author Series Debut The king and queen of Elden were brutally slaughtered by a power-hungry Blood Sorcerer, their dying breaths given over to the spells that would save their four children and secure their kingdom. It didn't quite work out that way, though, and their eldest son, crown prince Nicolai, was cast into a slave market and sold as a sex slave, his memory stripped from him by a vicious master. The only connection he had to who he was, to his younger brothers and sister, was a timepiece that was stolen from him.
Nicolai isn't a normal prince. His queen mother was a witch, and his father an intensely powerful vampire. Nicolai is both. He casts a spell for help, reaching across dimensions to another world and bringing quantum physicist Jane Parker into his realm. She's been dreaming of vampires for months - one vampire in particular, actually - so when she receives an odd package containing a peculiar book, and reads from it's pages a story of a vampire that is as familiar to her, she's not sure what to think.
When she passes out and wakes up in another realm, however, then comes face to face with a stunning specimen of masculinity locked in a cage, Jane knows exactly what to think. Come to mama. She knows what he is, has seen others of his kind in her own world... experimented on them...but this one, Nicolai, stirs things in her soul. Freeing him from slavery is hard enough, dangerous enough, but what Nicolai needs is his memory back. She has to help him before she slips back to her own world and loses him forever.
I'm a Showalter fan from way back. I love the humor that she threads into her stories, the sizzling sensuality, and the lovable characters. And all those things shine brightly in her newest book, Lord of the Vampires. Jane and Nicolai were a lot of fun to read. The chemistry between them was smoking and I loved how Nicolai got all überalpha when Jane was threatened.
Their story was enjoyable, the external conflict well-executed, and the romance arc rather typical for the genre, but entertaining. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series by the other authors.
Where this story started to falter for me was with Jane's shaky backstory. The science stuff was very sparse and ill-defined, her history a quagmire of half-explained comments and alluded to events. It's never quite clear just what she does in the human world beyond being a scientist of some kind, and how that relates to her being able to move between realms is a mystery that's never suitably solved.
My issue with that aspect of the story led me to notice other holes in the plot, or developments that were a stretch to believe. I was never sure how Nicolai got the book to Jane, not once but twice, and never clear on why his spell would cross realms and work on Jane but the witch's magic didn't. And I have no clue why Jane was able to do what she could do by - seemingly - force of will alone. I had issues with other aspects of the plot, and the ubiquitous relationship conflict fell completely flat when Jane's presence in Nicolai's world was at risk for an event that took place in her very shaky backstory that was never suitably fleshed out.
This is a book that had fully entertaining highs and some pretty big lows. Showalter fans should enjoy Jane and Nicolai, but the plot holes and ill-defined gaps in world building and backstory kept me from enjoying the book as much as I'd hoped. It's a series I look forward to continuing, though, because one of the aspects that did appeal was the glimpse Showalter gave at Nicolai's siblings' and their history before everything went so horrifyingly wrong in Elden. It'll be interesting to see what the collaborating authors do with their tales.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
The Fearless and The Abhorrent For five long years the war has been waged against the Irons of the west, the alliance between the Southland Fire Breath...moreThe Fearless and The Abhorrent For five long years the war has been waged against the Irons of the west, the alliance between the Southland Fire Breathers, the Northland Lightnings, and the Mad Queen Annwyl the Bloody holding strong against a force of almost unimaginable numbers. For five years mates have been apart, children have grown, life has slogged on. And everyone, frankly, is tired of it.
Ragnar the Cunning is the master strategist of the dragon forces, and he's got a plan underway to finally bring an end to the war, but not before some choice intelligence drops in his lap (courtesy of his love's...skill...at torturing) that could change the course of battle and break this vicious stalemate. The safety of Annwyl and Fearghus' twins and Briec and Talaith's youngest daughter are at stake, and the choice of whom to trust with that information, who to send to secure them, is one that could affect not just the war, but the lives of everyone in two different kingdoms.
The plan starts simple, Keita and Ren will travel to the childrens' sides and secure them, their safety across a war-torn land assured by Rhona the Fearless, a highly skilled Cadwaladr dragoness soldier in the Queen's army, and Vigholf the Abhorrent, brother to Ragnar and second of the Olgeirsson Horde of Northern Lightnings, who is determined...in that totally chauvanistic and not the least oblivious way he has...to protect the weak female warrior on her cute little trek.
Rhona calls him Commander Pest. Vigholf calls her The Babysitter. She hates him. He watches her. And their epic journey starts here.
"I'm a dragon, my lady. Dragons don't become martyrs. We create them."
There are books that I adore, authors that I follow rabidly, series that I love, and a myriad combinations of all three. Then there is G.A. Aiken. Or Shelly Laurenston, as she is otherwise known. Regardless of the name on the book jacket, over the course of all her published works Aiken/Laurenston has - hands down - given me the most entertaining reading of my long, long experience.
In short, her books make me happy.
I'm not talking about whether or not I liked, loved, or was ambivalent about an individual book's content or characters, I'm talking an overall feeling of general happiness when I read them. It goes beyond appreciating technical writing skill or how creative and imaginative the world. It's not just about how well a series is fleshed out or how lovable the characters are that inhabit that world. It's even more than the fact that every one of the featured female characters in her books are all brutally strong (physically, mentally, or both), independent women who are more than capable of taking care of themselves - something I'm known to favor. Of course that all plays a significant part. How could it not? But it's also in large part the way Aiken/Laurenston thinks and relates those thoughts in her books; the humor - the bawdy, rowdy, bloody fun of it all, and yes, even the moments of drama and angst, that combines with the rest to put her books head and shoulders above other reads.
There's just something about the Dragon Kin series...and the series/books she writes as Laurenston...that intrinsically appeal on every level, even if (as in the most recent book in the Pride series), the stories or characters aren't always my favorites in their respective series. I just think of these books differently than others I've read, feel differently about them. Bluntly put, I'm a fan. A huge, huge fan.
That being said, The Dragon Who Loved Me is one of my favorites in the Dragon Kin series. Not because of Rhona and Vigholf, really, though they are adorable, perfectly matched, and a lot of fun as individuals and as a couple. In truth, their relationship evolution was one of the more peaceful and easy I've read by Aiken/Laurenston, and the characters themselves are a bit more low-key than the royal dragon contingent so the romance story arc lacked a little of the intensity of the other pairings. In this book, though, it's the scope, the depth, and breadth of the surrounding story, as well as the feeling of seamless reconnection to previously featured/introduced characters who I've long since loved that worked so well for me here.
Everyone's back, and I applaud the attention to detail and continuity that Aiken/Laurenston maintains as the war plods on, battles get fought, lives are saved...and lost, and characters and relationships tested. It's fairly amazing, actually, just how huge and complex this book is as far as plot and pacing and characters. Definitely the most dynamic and multi-layered I've seen in the series so far, though perhaps not the most emotionally powerful. It certainly didn't turn me into the blubbering mess I was during What A Dragon Should Know, the third book of the series (and I thank hell for that, because I'm quite happy never to go through that again). It is the mark of an accomplished author that so very many characters and such divergent plot threads were woven together into such a rich and satisfying tapestry of reading entertainment. I loved it.
Maybe the humor that Aiken/Laurenston brings to the table isn't for everyone. It's certainly bawdy and crass and no-holds-barred. So is the sexuality in her books. Hell, so are the lives of her characters and many of the characters themselves. The books also tend to be bloody with the occasional pillage and plunder and more than occasionally a dismemberment...or ten. I can't fault those for whom that may not appeal. Maybe it says something about me that I find it so very appealing. Don't really care, actually, because there's no other author I've ever been able to come close to saying this about (though I for sure wouldn't mind a legion of them): Whether it's G.A. Aiken's Dragon Kin series or Shelly Laurenston's various series/books, her books make me happy.
And I like being happy. A lot.
"Right now she hates me. That is a form of caring, which could easily, with some skill, turn to love and eventually adoration." "My mum was right. You are thick as two planks."
"The beauty of Mum is that she never gets bored. She can kill and kill for days at a time without ever feeling boredom. I think that's a foreign word to her. Like rational. Or caring."
"So what are you going to do? Wander around all evening bleeding like a stuck cow until you pass out and die and we're forced to quickly burn your remains so the stink of your corpse won't bother the children?" "Your concern for my well-being overwhelms me, Sergeant."
"You are, however, surprisingly light of touch." "Pardon?" "The way you're holding my hand. I always thought you'd be more of a mauler. Like a diseased wolf chewing the knuckles off me fist." "That's very nice." "Not really." "I was being sarcastic."
"I'm irresistible." "I've been resisting you for five years." "Because you're stubborn and unreasonable. I thought we already established that."
"Your cold, inflexible heart makes me burn to be inside you." "Charmer."
~* 3.5 Stars *~ This book was originally slated for release on 8/2/2011, but the release date has been pushed back to December 2011 and it is currently...more~* 3.5 Stars *~ This book was originally slated for release on 8/2/2011, but the release date has been pushed back to December 2011 and it is currently going through some re-editing in the interim. It will also be re-titled.
I will be reading and reviewing an ARC of the newly edited version as soon as it's available. My rating is for the unedited version of Resurrection.
Wereleopards, and Dragons, and Fae! Oh, My! Switched at birth with the daughter of the Fae Queen Graciela, the struggling Moira, who has always felt mo...moreWereleopards, and Dragons, and Fae! Oh, My! Switched at birth with the daughter of the Fae Queen Graciela, the struggling Moira, who has always felt more like a warrior yearning for battle than a Court Lady, is grief-stricken when her spying uncovers the truth: she is not the Fae princess she always thought she was, and her "mother" the Queen has known the truth all her life. As if that deception isn't enough to shake her to her foundations, Moira not only doesn't know who she is, but as the war between Light and Darkness continues to build and rage in Earth, and her uncanny but confusing gifts of becoming invisible and fighting with sword and fire start to become more and more apparent, not knowing what she is troubles her even more.
Well...that and the disturbing and traitorous reaction that her body has whenever she catches the scent of wereleopard Major Steve Taylor...like she wants to stretch out and lick him when he gets close enough. And that's just not acceptable. She's tricked her mother...and just about everyone else...to get a taste of freedom from her home in Otherworld and join Steve in the quest of finding the queen's birth daughter and two granddaughters, and she's not about to let some odd sexual yearning turn her from her path.
Steve doesn't know what it is about Moira that makes his inner cat purr, but he's got a mission that doesn't allow for keeping time with kids who think they're warriors, no matter that said kid smells like...like...well, like his...and is over a hundred to his mere forty years. He's got to find and terminate an evil dark mage, former senator and current head of the Humans First hate group, Carlson, then he's promised to coordinate the search for the Fae queen's missing progeny. All in a day's work for a warrior fighting to save Earth and Otherworld from the Dark Lord.
But good Goddess, the purring!!
One headstrong, independent, and very wily...whatever she is...and one stubborn, controlling, alpha-of-all-alphas wereleopard together on the path of warriors and battles for the Goddess and Light? Oh yeah...someone's gonna lose an eye, or at least a heart or two.
Picking up shortly after the events of Warrior's Rise, L.J. DeLeon has catapulted herself and her series over the dangerous pitfall of the sophomore slump and created a story that was tighter and more cohesive, with a greater sophistication and polish, better editing, and all around stronger writing technique. With characters familiar from their introduction in the first book and the groundwork and worldbuilding that was set up there, I wouldn't suggest missing Warrior's Rise. In my opinion, it's not quite as strong a book, but there isn't much in the way of exposition in Dragon Child, and not much put into reaffirming the events that have come before. New readers might feel a little lost and a lot of the emotional impact of this book would be missed. In fact, Dragon Child hits the ground running and expects the reader to keep up in the same fast-paced and slickly dangerous style familiar from its predecessor, while managing to be an all-around better, more entertaining read that worked very well in so many different ways.
The heart of that leap in my esteem comes from Moira and Steve. I loved them. Especially Moira. She embodies just about every single one of my preferences for female characters. She's strong, independent, smart, sly and wily, and while she may not know what she is, she definitely knows what she wants and what she doesn't, and fights for it, standing up for herself, her needs, and the needs of the people and beliefs that matter to her. I admired her as an individual and was very impressed that DeLeon managed to perfectly blend ferocity, sensuality, and a strong code of honor with tendrils of uncertainty and sheltered naivety that fit perfectly for Moira's backstory and character. I thoroughly enjoyed her.
I also loved Steve, though I'm far less picky about my male lead characters and I had already liked him from the first book. Still, he added a dimension of light humor and a ton of alpha-male idiocy (always fun for a laugh when pitted against a truly strong female) that was missing in the first book, and as that sort of thing always makes me grin, I found myself captivated and enchanted with him and the relationship between him and Moira. And not for nothing, but there were some smoking hot sex scenes in this book that were extremely well written and totally sexy.
Maybe it was the fact that so much of the groundwork had already been laid, but I loved how the plot arc of the war between Light and Dark was more a subplot in this book. The narrower focus of finding and ending the evil senator (redundant, I know) kept the plot more tightly contained and allowed for a much stronger romance plotline to evolve throughout the book. That, too, is much more my preference than the too-quickly formed relationship that Deva and Padraig had in the first book.
That was another source of appreciation for me, as well, because while the book had a narrower focus, the plot still maintained a satisfying depth with the various plot threads and layers, most notably the continuing evolution of Sabina that I so admired in Warrior's Rise. I found myself doubly impressed, because that sort of tightening of the plot often leads to a shallower, less satisfying read, and that wasn't the case at all here.
There were still a few issues - far fewer than the previous book, of course. There were some pacing issues and abrupt bursts of development in the first few chapters of the book, where Moira goes from sheltered princess to warrior woman in mere pages. I was a little jarred by the characterizations of Moira and Graciela in the first chapters, too, because they didn't resemble the characters introduced in the first book, and character inconsistency between books is a pet peeve of mine. Graciela, in particular, who seemed the epitome of poised Fae monarch in Warrior's Rise was virtually unrecognizable at the start of this book.
The book isn't about Graciela, though, and I liked Moira so much in this book she was an improvement over the glimpse of her I had in the previous one, so that helped.
One of the few issues that exist in both books is the tendency towards almost too-easy resolutions to some issues or too-convenient information falling into place at just the right time. In the first book, that happened all too frequently just about every time the very present Goddess of Light helped or guided Deva. It got on my nerves then. In this book the situations were different and it wasn't as glaring or noticeable, but it did happen occasionally. Another issue in this book was the too-quick about face that Steve had about not wanting a mate, then wanting Moira.
And again, none of those issues could take much away from the compelling story. Once into the book, it was almost like I was driven to finish, and my investment in the story and the characters had a grip on me that wouldn't let go until I read all the way through to the end...missing several hours of sleep in the process. All for a good cause, I say, as I not only completely and thoroughly enjoyed this book, but have now become a bit addicted to the series. The third book is due out in May, if what I read at the end of this book is correct, and frankly, with some of the nifty new developments and twists in this book, I can't wait to get my hands on it.
Disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge by the author for the purpose of an honest review. All ratings, thoughts, comments, and opinions are my own. Getting me hooked on the series, though, is totally the author's fault.
~* 3.5 Stars *~ Well Written Romantic Fantasy Giving Renee Wildes the credit she deserves, Hedda's Sword is better written from a technical standpoint t...more~* 3.5 Stars *~ Well Written Romantic Fantasy Giving Renee Wildes the credit she deserves, Hedda's Sword is better written from a technical standpoint than Duality, a book I had difficulty with in several spots for the choppy and abrupt narrative and lack of exposition throughout. This book doesn't suffer the same fate in that regard, as the narrative is much smoother and the plot flows far more cleanly and clearly. It's quite obvious that Wildes had a better hand on those aspects of writing than she had in the first book. I still think there are some issues with world building to be ironed out, because while I enjoyed the story, I never felt like I had any true picture of the land of Shamar and it's people and traditions beyond the dubious scope of Hedda's Own. The quest and the pacing of the story were satisfying, though, and I was familiar enough with Cianan from the first book to enjoy his travails.
At the urging of dark and foreboding nightmares, the elven Cianan has travelled to Shamar to find and save his elingrena, his soul mate - a woman he's never seen with his own eyes, but a woman he knows hefts a flaming sword and is in dire danger of falling beneath a skeletal army foe. Upon arriving in a bleak and hopeless land, he is conscripted by his honor as champion of Light to aid Hedda's Own, his elingrena, in the fight for freedom against a mortal but insidious foe, the evil Queen of Shamar, Sunniva. With Cianan comes rebellion and a fight for freedom for all of Shamar's people. His boon should they all survive, perhaps the love of the one woman for whom his heart beats.
It was a good story, solidly told, but I don't think Cianan and Maleta's story quite matched the level of intensity, danger, and emotion that was evoked in Duality. It may have been technically better written, but I didn't feel nearly as intensely for Cianan and Maleta as I did for Loren and Dara. Despite the technical issues I had with the first book, I felt that story was a true triumph, and would have preferred suffering the slights of technical imperfections for the joys of emotional investment in story and character.
I just felt everything came too easy and was too quickly resolved in Hedda's Sword, and while there were moments sprinkled throughout that did engender an emotional connection, I wasn't able to keep that connection steady and never felt that any of these characters truly wavered on the precipice of victory or defeat. It was a solid story, told well, but no true risk was realized before resolution was afforded, and that doesn't make a sweeping epic tale. I did very much like Cianan, but even his character lacked the depth of Loren's, who never struck me as too good to be true like Cianan did a time or two. I guess that's what bothered me the most about the lead characters, there just didn't really seem to be many layers or much complexity to them. Even Maleta with her dark history and deep pain seemed to triumph over her issues too quickly and easily.
I feel almost churlish complaining about that, though. I don't want my lead characters to suffer miserably...but do tend to find them more interesting when they do. That's horrible of me! Still, it kept this particular book from being more than a 3.5 star read in my opinion - technically well done, but lacking the impact to really wow me.
Ambitious Series Debut In the opening salvo of the impending Great War, a war that could scour Earth and Otherworld of all life, the Dark Lord prepares...moreAmbitious Series Debut In the opening salvo of the impending Great War, a war that could scour Earth and Otherworld of all life, the Dark Lord prepares to release his demonic hoard from the Abyss and set them upon the planet to destroy everything in their path. The Goddess of the Light has touched half fae, half human Deva Morgan, calling her to duty as the Caidh Arm and awakening in her the power and abilities that come with being the Goddess' Holy Weapon. By her side is the emissary of the Queen of Otherworld, the fae warrior prince Padraig. He was sent to both protect and train the Caidh Arm as her powers start to manifest and the forces of darkness try to hunt her down. He becomes her heart, her home, and her soul. Around them are an elite team of military supernaturals, magicks, and a gargoyle. They are her family.
Together this small band will rise up to unite the worlds and all its peoples in an effort to triumph over the evil of the Dark Lord. Not all of them will survive, some have been compromised, and as legions of warriors are drawn forth into the fray, it is Deva alone who must stand as the paladin for forces human, supernatural, and divine.
Ambitious and far-reaching, Warrior's Rise is an appealing story of love and war, faith and courage, and it entertained on several levels. The concept for the story was impressive. Compelling and complex, there were a lot of layers to the plot, and the shifting viewpoints between the Light and the Dark provided balance and added some interesting plot twists to the whole. Both Deva (eventually) and Padraig were strong lead characters and I loved their relationship. Their scenes together as they deepened their bond, and those with Padraig's family, were some of my absolute favorites in the book.
There were, however, execution problems, and I had some issues that hampered my full appreciation of story. The writing mechanics weren't always the greatest. Awkward grammar and several typos disrupted the narrative flow in several places, and a few repetitive concepts, themes, and thoughts got hammered out far more than necessary. Those are all pretty big issues for me in most cases, but I have to admit, I found myself so absorbed in what was going on in the story that it was less 'total deal-breaker' and more 'noticeable but relatively easy to ignore.'
The larger problem for me is the very scope of the story arc. Ambition is a double edged sword in this case, for while there is a lot that happens in the book, and a multitude of different species, groups, and creatures involved in those happenings, much in the way of description and explanation, world building and mythos creation, fell to the wayside to make room for it all. Secondary and ancillary characters had little to no individuality or character definition, conflicts rose and fell in abbreviated fashion, and emotions were glossed over or relegated to a bare minimum.
The first third of the book took the biggest hit in this area, and the initial trek of the team from the bar to the Goddess' Sanctuary was often confusing and muddled, with inconsistency in time passage. I never had a clear idea from whence they came on their trip across the country, but it sure did seem to take them a darned long time getting to where they were going, with sudden inexplicable jumps in the timeline in some places, and attention to daily developments in others. Yet while they were traveling, the daily battles and subsequent fall out left no room to get to know the characters or their world, or build up much fondness for them. That was a problem because it lessened the significance of the lives lost along the way. I never felt connected to them.
Too, the massive paradigm shift that occurs to the world's population was accompanied by a tremendous amount of external activity in a stunningly brief amount of time. I found it difficult to maintain a willing suspension of disbelief in the face of such sweeping change for Earth as it was portrayed here.
Then Deva and her group of warriors got to where they would make their stand and run the war. The book settled soon after, smoothed out, and started to add in those juicy plot threads about Sabina and the Dark Lord, as well as allowing Deva and Padraig's relationship time to breathe and expand. From that point on, I started to like the book more and more. There were still some problems, but the backdrop had finally come into focus for me and things were better able to spread out and develop along some intriguing pathways.
And as the book really started to take off, I started to notice some cool things about the plot, the action, and the characters. There were moments of pure sophisticated storytelling, and I was left admiring the imagination and the creativity of the author in several places. There were fun times that touched my heart and made me smile. There were surprises that tantalized, and foreshadowing of future events in the series that hold lots of promise.
I was particularly impressed with the dialogue. While the narrative had issues previously mentioned, DeLeon has an obvious gift for writing natural, conversational dialogue that always felt very organic to her characters and their situations. Not once at any point did the dialogue come across as stilted, unrealistic, or out of place. And when there was time given to descriptive passages, scene setting, or action, they were also handled with deft skill, painting enough for a picture to form in my head but not so much that I felt weighed down by it.
I do wish the book had kept to a narrower focus, and had taken advantage of the room that provided to more fully develop the world with fewer types of creatures, fewer characters, and a tighter plot. I think it may have set up a stronger platform for this book as well as laid firmer foundation for future installments. That being said, I still liked the book, and am pleased to have read it.
Great Concept But Has Problems With Execution Esther has a mystery far back in her family tree. Her ancestor Margaret Marsden was a Gothic novelist in...moreGreat Concept But Has Problems With Execution Esther has a mystery far back in her family tree. Her ancestor Margaret Marsden was a Gothic novelist in the early 1800's, until her husband, concerned over the commonality of that profession for a member of the upper class, forbade his wife her passion. Not long after, Margaret succumbed to an unknown illness before disappearing off the face of the earth with nary a trace. Almost two hundred years later, Esther, an aspiring author in her own right, intends to write a novel about Margaret's disappearance, and her research takes her to a Lord's home to study extensive and rare book collection. There she finds the final book Margaret ever wrote, The Prince of Costanzo. The book is so rare, Esther's only ever read reviews of it and has never even seen a copy before. Excited to experience this story, she opens the cover...and finds herself transported into the world of Costanzo. She comes face to face with the villain of the story, Prince Drago, but it's when she meets the ancestor she'd been researching that Esther realizes that there's more to The Prince of Costanzo than fiction, and maybe more to her destiny than she'd ever believed.
I thought everything about the concept of the story was imaginative and fabulous. An average woman leading a rather humdrum life but with a dream to be an author tumbles headlong into a rare book and finds that fiction and reality have merged in confusing and sometimes terrifying ways. The man of her dreams is also the source of nightmares and her hope for forever. I loved the concept of the plot.
I was less enamored, unfortunately, with the way the story was written. I felt that the beginning of the book was muddled and the characters very scantly developed and two-dimensional. The narrative throughout was choppy, but most notably in the transitions between 'reality' and Drago's world. I didn't like the story surrounding Esther's fiance and thought the book really would've been better off without it. In lieu of that, I would've preferred more time given to the character development of Esther and Drago and the evolution of their relationship, which is where this book shined brightest. There was a lot of potential for a slow, satisfying crescendo to their affections that ultimately went unrealized. One of my absolute favorite plot devices in romance is when the male lead has loved the female lead for years and years and the woman is completely unaware of it, and I would have been thrilled had that been given more than just a cursory nod in this book. The setup for it was there but then very little was done with it.
I also had significant issues with the lack of cohesion in the development of Drago's world, the mishmash of modern colloquialisms that everyone understood with no reason why they should, and the absence of sufficient explanation of the scope of Drago's sorcery and the extent of magic in his world. The last created more than a few weak points in the plot when just the fact that he was a sorcerer was used to explain odd plot turns and unusual happenstance. The plot got muddied and confusing again through the book's denouement and conclusion, with things going on that seem to contradict what few bits of mythos that had been previously defined. All these issued combined left me feeling that the execution of this book was lacking in the level of sophistication and polish of a top romantic fantasy.
This all started with a Kindle freebie months and months ago. Oh how things change. Once, I was unaware of Karen Marie Moning as an author and blindly...moreThis all started with a Kindle freebie months and months ago. Oh how things change. Once, I was unaware of Karen Marie Moning as an author and blindly oblivious to either the Highlander or Fever series. Now, several months and a lot of happy reading later, I'm sitting in awe of the mind that has created and penned two series with delicately interwoven stories and building drama. I've never even heard of an author able to do what KMM's done here.
Starting with the Highlander series, a solid and thoroughly well written time travel paranormal romance series, KMM's fleshed out and delineated a world full of magick, mystery, danger, and hot highlander men. Completely entertaining narrative with delicious humor and mouth-watering sensuality that, when read one after another, winds you through a path of increasing danger and intrigue and Tuatha Dé Danann machinations leading straight to the front door of the Fever series. Each book in the Highlander series gets darker and darker, and the tone of Spell of the Highlander so closely matches the start of that decidedly urban fantasy series that the transition is virtuously seamless. It's all due to KMM's phenomenal talent as an author and dedication as a story teller.
Spell of the Highlander was perhaps not my favorite of the Highlander series, but that's roughly akin to saying dark chocolate isn't my favorite of the chocolates - it's all delicious, decadent, and delightful. I just grooved on Adam Black a wee bit more than Cian. Totally loved Jessi, though. And their story was taut, tightly woven, and rich with history - like all the Highlander stories. What elevated Spell of the Highlander to nearly iconic stature in my eyes was how deftly KMM wove in details of things that I'd wondered about in the Fever series. That's just totally kick ass, and earned ultimate respect. If I'd read the Highlander series first, I don't know that I'd have truly appreciated the attention to the most minuscule detail, so I'm glad I didn't...but I fully intend to go back and read the first four books of the Fever series now that I understand more of the Fae mythos and KMM's rich, detailed world.
I've never had a free Kindle download that worked out quite so well before, but back when the first book of Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, Darkfev...moreI've never had a free Kindle download that worked out quite so well before, but back when the first book of Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, Darkfever, was available, I downloaded it just to see what it was about. I've been a monster fan of KMM's writing ever since.
While vastly different than the Fever series (fantasy romance vs. gritty urban fantasy), KMM's Highlander series is actually exceptionally well written, extremely endearing, at times amusing, and so feel-good romantic that it just makes my heart swell some times. And they are all totally guaranteed feel-good reads, if you like the genre. That's important when you read as much as I do and can get into a slump of books that just aren't that interesting or captivating. I know, without a doubt, that if I want a bit of perfectly flavored brain candy, Moning's Highlander series is where to go for it.
And the story of Adam Black and Gabrielle O'Callaghan is, I think, the best of them that I've read so far. I've been a big fan of Adam's throughout the series, so I knew I was going to enjoy him, but I ended up being very impressed with how much I enjoyed Gabrielle, as I tend to be pretty critical of female leads in romance novels. She was a delightfully spirited and intelligent character who was just self deprecating enough to be easy to relate to. Hell, she had a heck of a lot more self restraint than I would've when first faced with the gorgeous Tuatha De, Amadan D'Jai (AKA Adam Black).
There was quite a bit of truly enjoyable humor in The Immortal Highlander, along with a decent plot that was tightly woven and paced quickly. Adam's being punished by his queen for restoring the life of Daegus, from The Dark Highlander, and has been made human and forced into invisibility for months. Gabrielle, however, is a sidhe-seer, and while she's spent her entire life hiding that ability from the Fae out of fear of death or capture, when she stumbles onto Adam Black, she can't help but stare at him (Oh, please, who could blame the woman?!). When he realizes she can see him, he sets about enlisting her help and correcting a lot of the negative (and - mostly - false) information she's spent her life learning about the Fae. Unfortunately, an old enemy is practically salivating at Adam's fall from Aiobheal's grace, and sets into motion a coup that will bring down the walls separating Faery from the human world, release the Hunters...and kill Adam Black.
Can a disfavored Tuatha De and a sidhe-seer save both worlds from utter destruction...but more importantly, can they survive each other long enough to even try?
The book is a fun, light read and it made me smile, and even tear up a bit here and there. It was completely pleasurable (and the scene in the car about the sheep on the road in Scotland was frickin' hilarious!) and rewarding. I can't say I was totally thrilled with some of the sentiment in the end, as I have a theological issue with one or two aspects of it, but not enough to dim my overall enjoyment of it. Very nice, and just the sort of pleasure reading I needed.
As a huge fan of Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, I thought I'd give the Highlander series a try. I knew going in that the two series are vastly dif...moreAs a huge fan of Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, I thought I'd give the Highlander series a try. I knew going in that the two series are vastly different, but hoped that some of the things that truly make the Fever series stand out to me would cross over. I was pleased that they did.
I won't bother with a synopsis of the story. What I will tell you is that while I used to be a large fan of historical romances and time travel romances, I've been out of that passion for at least a decade and only my love of Moning (and yes, my pining, gnashing, and wailing for Shadowfever) drove me back to one such book. I'm glad for it, too.
I found the characters to be compelling and Lisa Stone in particular to be a lovely protagonist. Circenn was sexy, totally alpha male, and wonderfully mysterious in his own right - and now I understand the reference to Adam that V'lane made in Dreamfever. I very much liked that particular Seelie. Lisa's emotional struggle with a mother dying of cancer struck a very real and true and grief laden chord with me, too. I thought the story was paced well and there was enough depth in the secondary and ancillary characters, as well as the plot, that The Highlander's Touch was a a full, rich delight to read. And there's never a disappointment in Moning's character's dialogue - it's always fun, witty, and sarcastic as each scene warrants. My only true criticism was the ending - I wasn't fond of the direction it went to get to a resolution and I thought it was wrapped up a little too quickly, given the care and thorough detail given to the first 80% of the book. Still, it's a light and engaging read without too much angst or misery and as always, Moning's attention to detail and her ability to embellish on Fae folklore is in fine form here.
~* 4.5 Stars *~ When I pick up a G.A. Aiken or Shelly Laurenston book, I know a few things about it even before I start to read. It'll make me laugh an...more~* 4.5 Stars *~ When I pick up a G.A. Aiken or Shelly Laurenston book, I know a few things about it even before I start to read. It'll make me laugh and it'll provide a decent story while doing so. If the book is under Laurenston's name, it'll be crass, bawdy fun...with some dismemberment tossed in for kicks. If it's Aiken, outlandish and hysterical familial one-upmanship that takes sibling rivalry and family squabbles to a whole other universe...with some dismemberment tossed in for kicks. There's a whole dismemberment theme, really. I know something else before I even start reading, too: I'm going to love it.
In Last Dragon Standing we return to Aiken's land of dragons and warrior queens and spend time with the Lightning dragon Ragnar the Cunning. He's been summoned by Queen Rhiannon after their two year alliance and though he's not happy about it, conscripted to bring her son Eibhear - the baby of the family - home for a visit after spending two years with the Lightnings during Ragnar's war to unite his people's clans. She's also commanded him to bring with them her suspected traitor of a sister from her home in self-imposed exile for a face to face. Little could please Ragnar less than that, for sure.
Well...there's one thing that could. One dragoness, in fact. Keita the Viper. Two years ago the queen's daughter...and a princessly bundle of vain, vapid insipidness...with a nasty streak a mile long...had left her mark in his chest and he hasn't had relief since, so when he comes upon her while making a dramatic execution speech before the law in the town executes her for killing their Lord, Ragnar realizes his life just went from complicated but manageable to...absolutely out of control.
He hates her, she hates him. He wants her, she wants autonomous freedom. He's Cunning and she's...something else entirely. Soon truths reveal a new danger threatening the Southland dragons and Queen Annwyl's Dark Plains both - an unbeatable foe and a terrifying invasion that threaten the lives of them all and perch both kingdoms on a teetering precipice of survival. Ragnar and Keita have to work together to protect throne and country, and with the help of family and friends, prevent an impending war. Or start one.
Now, if they can just keep from killing each other...
There's so much to like about Last Dragon Standing that I don't honestly know where to begin. I was thrilled with the intricate, layered plot and complex characters - in fact, Keita and Ragnar may be the most complicated individual characters that Aiken/Laurenston have penned. They're no more simple than their relationship, and it works for this book, which almost had a feel of a transitional piece in the series.
Back are all the characters we've met and grown to love in the previous three books, and a new and mysterious threat to Annwyl and Fearghus' two children add an additional layer of tension and delicious plot to the story. So, too, the growing conflict between Eibhear and Izzy, which provided several poignant and interesting scenes. The family moments will always be my favorite parts of each of the books in this series - I just can't get enough of the characters and family dynamic. In part because each of the characters are so brilliantly unique and flagrantly individual, and in part because Aiken excels at maintaining character definition through each book, falling into a new book in the series is as decadently satisfying as a healthy supply of Godiva...and far less fattening.
I wasn't totally thrilled with the journey from the north to the south with Ragnar and his brother and cousin, along with Eibhear and Keita and her companion Ren once they joined them. Keita hasn't been my favorite of Rhiannon's hatchlings, and while I was of course looking forward to her story, I was a little disappointed in that journey. It had humor and much dischord between Keita and Ragnar, but it lacked some of the interpersonal relationship zing of similar travels in other books and the pacing seemed a little slow. That was resolved for me when Keita and Ragnar met with Queen Rhiannon. From that point to the end it was a roller coaster of humor, intrigue, mystery, danger, and intensity that I adored.
I have to admit, though, this book doesn't provide the sweeping and incendiary romance that was so prevalent in previous books. There's a relationship between Keita and Ragnar, but that relationship is far more subtle and less encapsulated in this novel than those in the others. I can understand where that may bother some readers, but after I thought about it for awhile, I can't say I was disappointed. In fact, quite the opposite. I actually commend Aiken/Laurenston for keeping tight reign on the relationship between Ragnar and Keita and staying true to something more in keeping with both the characters' nature and the goings on around them. Because of who Keita is in particular, and what she does, anything more than what was offered between these pages would have seemed forced and inorganic, and nothing kills my appreciation of romance faster than that.
There's also less of a conclusion to this book than in the others and that was a bit of a surprise. Not a cliffhanger, by any means - I loathe those - but definitely a more open-ended conclusion than I was expecting. I didn't find that unpleasant or tedious, as I took that to mean that the series is not done. My sincerest hope is that it won't be done for quite some time, because I'm nowhere near tired of the ribald and rambunctious antics of the dragon kin and their human and not-so-human mates, friends, cohorts, and adversaries. Nothing makes me laugh like a Laurenston/Aiken book...and I'm not ready to stop laughing.
~* 4.5 Stars *~ G.A. Aiken (the nom de plume of Shelly Laurenston) has risen to my "Favorite Authors/Read Immediately" list of late, and it's an except...more~* 4.5 Stars *~ G.A. Aiken (the nom de plume of Shelly Laurenston) has risen to my "Favorite Authors/Read Immediately" list of late, and it's an exceptionally small list. In fact, she's only one of two authors who I will read no matter which incarnation of author's name is used. I just can't say enough how much I enjoy her books, especially, though not limited to, What A Dragon Should Know.
There have been exceedingly well-written reviews that have included synopses of the plots of the three books of the Dragon Kin series, so I won't attempt to do so again. What I will say is that with this book in particular, Aiken/Laurenston has really stepped it up a notch and included several layers of plot and different threads of story. I loved spending more time with Gwenvael's always hysterical (in a bruising, squabbling, nearly life-threatening sort of way) family, as well as the new characters introduced.
Aiken creates characters and plot threads that don't come off feeling shiny new, but just as detailed and significantly back-storied as those of which we'd already been familiar. Introducing Ragnar and weaving his back story in with Dagmar's life, as an example, is a small part of What A Dragon Should Know but felt integral to the story and was quite a little gem. Should Aiken/Laurenston continue the Dragon Kin series (and I'm willing to beg - no...seriously...begging and pleading are not beneath me) we've been given a wealth (dragon's treasure-sized) of opportunity for future development of story lines that could support a series for a long, long time. (Beg. Plead. There may even be tears.)
I will say that while I applaud and adore the direction and depth of What A Dragon Should Know, the romance of Gwenvael and Dagmar isn't a central focus of the book in the same way that the romance was a focus of the other two books. I appreciated the depth and complexity of the book as it was written, but would've liked to have also spent a little bit more time reading about Gwenvael and Dagmar as their relationship changed and deepened into what it became. There was perhaps so much going on - and this is a book where a lot happens - that the pairing suffers just a little bit on detail. For that reason alone, I'd rate the book 4.5 stars...yet still consider it one of my favorites for the year. All in all, an excellent series, but don't start the series here - it will not work well as a stand alone. Treat yourself to the whole series and start at the beginning with Dragon Actually, then About A Dragon. It's well worth it.
As a recent fan of Shelly Laurenston, I felt compelled to pick up the first of the Dragon Kin series written by G.A. Aiken, aka Laurenston. I'm so gla...moreAs a recent fan of Shelly Laurenston, I felt compelled to pick up the first of the Dragon Kin series written by G.A. Aiken, aka Laurenston. I'm so glad I did! Dragon Actually is the story of Annwyl the Bloody (but she hates when they call her that) and Fearghus the Destroyer (he's actually sort of fond of that). Annwyl's on a quest to kill the tyrannical leader of her people. He just happens to be her half-brother. And she's really good at fighting...just not quite good enough. Fearghus the dragon saves her from a brutal death, then trains her - in his human form. He has every intention of telling Annwyl the truth of who he is, but she wants no part of hearing it. And when he falls for her, when he wants her as a mate forever, he no longer feels he can tell her...because she's told him while in his dragon form that the man who's been training her drives her nuts...and even though she loves getting groiny with the knight, it's not a love match.
So what's a two-formed dragon to do?
I really enjoyed Dragon Actually, and very much enjoyed the powerful and compelling yet also oddly vulnerable Annwyl. She's a delightful heroine. Fearghus is just to die for. I love him as both the supportive dragon friend and the sexier than hell knight. And his family is a riot. I can't wait to read more of them.
I will say this, though...I had a problem with a decision Fearghus made late in the book. It was such an odd choice, and seemed so out of character, that it really made the book as a whole stumble out of a five star rating for me. And in truth, I wish Dragon Actually had been a bit more fleshed out during the final conflict. I think the ending could've benefited from more development.
Also, Dragon Actually contains the short story of Fearghus' parents, Bercelak and Rhiannon, and I wasn't as fond of that story, Flames in Chains. It was okay, and written fine, but there are aspects of that story that are not in line with my personal preferences for reading, so I would rate it 3 stars. That does not affect my rating or review of Dragon Actually, because I don't think of this book as an anthology. That said, I am looking forward to continuing the Dragon Kin series. I just can't get enough of those dragons!
~* 3.5 Stars *~ Over three hundred and sixty years ago, Emmaline Siobhan Keara Gallagher was a finely tuned weapon of the Seelie Summer Queen, an assas...more~* 3.5 Stars *~ Over three hundred and sixty years ago, Emmaline Siobhan Keara Gallagher was a finely tuned weapon of the Seelie Summer Queen, an assassin of note and a scourge on the Unseelie. She was also the fae who murdered Aileen, the woman Aeric O'Malley had loved with a fierce devotion that burned brightly long centuries after her death. Emmaline has been beyond Aeric's reach ever since, having fled Ireland before the fae were rounded up and imprisoned behind the walls of Piefferburg. Aeric has kept the fire of his thirst for vengeance stoked hotter than those of his Blacksmith forge, intent on killing Emmaline at the first opportunity and praying to his gods daily for that opportunity.
For over three hundred years, Emmaline has lived the life of spy and double agent as a free fae in the human world. One of the founding members of the Humans for the Freedom of the Fae (HFF) organization, she's spent the last few years deep under cover as a loyal human Worshipful Observer for the Phaendir, the group most responsible for the fae's imprisonment. Now she's on a quest for the HFF, one that will require her to enter Piefferburg, locate the Blacksmith, and secure his assistance. He's the only fae capable of making the key that will unlock the enchanted box that is the resting place of the second piece of the bosca fadbh, a puzzle box that will unlock part of the Book of Bindings and allow for the fae to finally break free of their centuries-long imprisonment.
Emmaline needs the Blacksmith and the Blacksmith wants her dead by his own hand. Not exactly the auspices of a great working relationship, but they will have to work together to pull off the daring acquisition of the second piece of the bosca fadbh without the Phaendir finding out about it. With the memory of his dead love between them, however, Emmaline is aware that Aeric is far more likely to kill her than help her, and if she can't convince him to trust her, their entire race may remain imprisoned forever.
After a stellar series opener in Wicked Enchantment, Bast takes us back to the fae holding compound of Piefferburg and the courts of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the fanatical threat of the Phaendir, and the hope inherent in the search for the bosca fadbh. Despite a strong, admirable heroine with a dark and twisted past, a passionate, fiery hero with an axe...and a plethora of other weapons to grind, and the return of several other well-liked characters from the first book, I ended up being disappointed in this second book of the series when compared to the first.
Dark, dangerous, and well balanced, Wicked Enchantment was a five star read for me, but several issues with plot and pacing and a couple of problems with dialogue tripped me up in this installment. I was very put off by the first third of Cruel Enchantment, and found it laden with too many handy coincidences to be able to maintain my willing suspension of disbelief. The premise of the book is fine, the concept of the plot was intriguing, but the way in which it was executed at the beginning robbed the story of its intensity and suspense and made the initial scenes between Emmaline and Aeric seem implausible and inorganic to me. Perhaps if Aeric hadn't been so headily imagining Emmaline stepping into the fae prison that is Piefferburg and right into his clutches just moments before she actually does so...for the first time in her long life and after almost four hundred years free...I would have had an easier and more forgiving time at the beginning. Then, to compound my difficulty in swallowing that fortuitous happenstance, the two weeks in which Aeric holds Emmaline prisoner, threatening to kill her, trying to kill her, and getting roaring drunk to drown out his unwanted lust for her, pass in a muddled mess of disjointed and confusing pacing, timing, and impotent character action that by the end felt far more like a few days than a couple of weeks. I found it all rather bizarre, and not very threatening to Emmaline's tattered virtue, though Aeric's frayed ferocity took a beating.
Before the slings and arrows start to fly, I have to say that after that awkward beginning there were several good things that start to happen with the story. The book picked up and I started getting into it. While it does lack much of the brilliant world building and creative description that set Wicked Enchantment so high in my estimation, and it wasn't as richly populated by secondary and ancillary characters (and those plot threads that did include secondary characters I found to be ill conceived and predictable, as the case with David's thread), I started to really enjoy the evolution in the relationship between Emmaline and Aeric, and liked seeing some truth start to alter perception for both of them. Admittedly, I was a little disturbed by Aeric's proclaimed passion for Aileen from the very beginning, given what you find out about her, but I thought Bast brought Aeric through his stages of character development with sensitivity and a sense of realism.
I have no complaints about the two lead characters from a romantic standpoint. I found them well suited to each other and strong in their own right. They had a lovely array of scenes to further their relationship that were at turns poignant, tender, and sexy as hell. And my pleasure with the book through the middle of the story was secure because of it. And then the book went a little awry again towards the end.
There was definitely tension and a hella creepy atmosphere generated by Emmaline's interactions with Brother Gideon, but just about everything else she's involved in on the human side of the wall was very perfunctorily covered and had some awkward transitions and jumps in the timeline. I felt as if I was leapfrogging through the later part of the story at times. That disconcerting lack of fluidity continued through to the end of the book, with a myriad of life- and quest-threatening plot threads popping up in seemingly random rapid fire, and just as rapidly being resolved with a minimum of development. And the book's conclusion was extremely abrupt.
For my tastes and strictly in my opinion, Cruel Enchantment didn't quite rise to the level of adept storytelling that I felt existed in the first book of the series, but there were parts I liked quite a lot...just as there were parts that made me struggle to like even a little. The strongest and most fervent pleasure was in the character of Emmaline, who I greatly admired as a damaged, layered, and crafty heroine full of courage and determination, even in the face of crushing emotion and debilitating torment. And I love the world that Bast has created for this series. There are so many truly nifty things about it that I admire greatly. I wish we had been allowed more interaction with the various fantastical creatures of Piefferburg and with the familiar characters we met from the first book. But that's just me being greedy.
I was also pleased to note that the third book in the series, Dark Enchantment, is set for release on April 5, 2011. My adoration of Wicked Enchantment (Dark Magick, Book 1) and the things that I enjoyed about Cruel Enchantment have assured that I will continue reading the series. I just hope the next book is a little closer to the first in both style and substance.