Review of Captive Prince, through end of book two. (This is a long review but it’s a long story. Spoilering discussion relegated toward the end, under...moreReview of Captive Prince, through end of book two. (This is a long review but it’s a long story. Spoilering discussion relegated toward the end, under the cut. There is a full list of potential trigger/kink warnings on the fic's page. Listing them all would be impossible. Check before you read, that's all I can say.)
The prologue of this trilogy has a slightly rough start. The presentation of titles and names and characters is, for the uninitiated, at once jarring and disorienting. I could almost say that the story could do without it, and yet the images and events in the prologue give the reader something to reflect upon as the story unfolds and the implications of the pieces depicted are revealed one at a time. One gets from the world-building a sense of solidity and a weight of realism that comes from long years of story-crafting in a single universe. The writer’s familiarity comes through silken and unmarred, and that transfers to the reader’s experience in an almost tangible fashion.
The cast of characters is large and yet, staying in a single POV, we’re grounded within the perceptions and perspectives of the main character. It works, and works well, partly because it keeps the focus on the slave/master dynamic from which the romance evolves with lethargy and reluctance. Without this tight focus, the tapping in a single mind and emotional landscape, the reader would get lost in the cast of characters and external events, and the fragile relational dynamic between Laurent and Damen would be swallowed up and disappear.
One of the things I noticed in comments on this story (though I barely read any of them until the last chapter) was commentary on how Laurent treats Damen, on how Damen is the character who gives so much of himself while Laurent holds everything back.
Though very little of Laurent's history ever comes to light on the page (the most we get is bread crumbs here and there, and a faint suggestion or two if we notice the play of shadows and implications) this reader could relate, increasingly, to Laurent’s reserve. Through the course of the first book (in which the Regent is presented as the cooler more civil and humane of the two, and Laurent seems vicious and heartless) Laurent’s character unfolds slowly and with almost belligerent reluctance for the audience.
It is easy to see how readers would become frustrated and sympathize with Damen. To the contrary, though this reader began with sympathy for Damen, loyalties shifted as the story unfolded. Laurent is a man whose uncle is his enemy, in a political environment of parry and thrust where every move is planned for the counter-moves against it, and nothing is done without malicious purpose. He struggles to understand why the slave is given to him, especially when Damen’s loyalties and honor assert themselves again and again. (view spoiler)[ He is given his brother’s killer, without knowing it. Given him, and advised, ordered, not to raise a hand against him. Without this knowledge (although I truly believe Laurent parses it out at some point, though I can’t pinpoint where) he finds himself liking the slave as a man, more and more. Valuing the man’s military prowess and fighting ability. What better way to destroy from within, than to lure your enemy to emotionally attach to the thing they loathe the most… Thankfully, love and hate are not opposites.
There is a strong theme of patriotism and racism in this story and the international conflict of war. I enjoyed the exploration of cultural receptivity in both characters; they begin the story full of rigid hatred for one another and the culture from which they come, and as the story unfolds they learn to appreciate the nuances and richness, the admirable qualities, in the other. Toward the end of the second book, Damen begins to wonder what might have been had he behaved with less hatred toward a stereotypical impression of his enemies. If he had tried first for peace instead of bludgeoning his way to victory. This sort of dynamic character shift and evolution of thought isn’t quite as prominent in Laurent as it is in Damen, but it does happen for both. There is almost a suggestion of a redemption theme, in the way Damen discovers his reputation as "Prince Killer" and then proceeds to save Laurent's life again and again and again.
The romantic arc of the plot is gentle, sloping and meandering. We get to see Damen’s journey from hatred to begrudging respect, to affection and the sort of deep accepting love that sees the flaws as beauty in the form of another. The most poignant moment in the story for me was when Laurent said, “Tomorrow you’ll be a free man,” and Damen replies with, “I am your slave.” I don’t know if Laurent understood what Damen was saying. I did though, even before he told the blacksmith to leave one of the cuffs in place. It wasn’t left in place for sentimental reasons, though Damen permits Laurent to believe that theory.
He left it because whether he’s collared or not, his heart and soul will remain his. That there, that’s powerful imagery. (hide spoiler)]
If you have not read this story yet, by all the gods, what are you waiting for?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
While I would love to have had more of Cian and Muir, Spencer has delivered here a perfectly balanced story. A satisfying arc of plot, both in romance...moreWhile I would love to have had more of Cian and Muir, Spencer has delivered here a perfectly balanced story. A satisfying arc of plot, both in romance and action, combined with a quick pace and lively prose, keep the reader scrolling merrily along.
This one has content that brushes close (perhaps uncomfortably so for some) to rape in its tentacle porn, and some may find that it blurs terribly the line of bestiality as well--despite the blatant intellect of the involved parties. After all, intercourse with a dragon demands suspension of disbelief on any number of levels.
Spencer manages to cram a highly entertaining read into this short piece, but don't think for a moment that the steaming-hot sex scenes are all there is to it. Would love to read some other stories set in this same universe, the world-building left me intrigued and wanting more to say the least!(less)
Nunn's storycraft in this work has both strengths and weaknesses. Nothing done by half measures (oh, a pun!) both the good and bad carry substantive w...moreNunn's storycraft in this work has both strengths and weaknesses. Nothing done by half measures (oh, a pun!) both the good and bad carry substantive weight.
I enjoyed the detail and length of this tale which permit the reader to submerse thoroughly and truly escape. The character development and gritty, dark aspects from which Nunn does not shrink nor pull punches get my respect as well.
Too many times, though, I tripped over inconsistencies. Of small details (that obviously were not so small to me) and info-dumping, and excessive description in places where it truly was prohibitive to maintain the pacing, tension, and action. And then there were other places where I felt there could have been more, on a level of emotional engagement...and there was not. I would have bumped this up to four stars, for surely it's a solid 3.5, but that lack of true emotional investment between lead characters felt so often as though it was explored only vicariously, or on a physical level, and only at the very end is there some time taken to touch upon it--at which point it felt very much slapped into place.
I love it when I stumble upon a writer whose prowess in their craft can hold me riveted clean through the entire book and wring every ounce of emotion...moreI love it when I stumble upon a writer whose prowess in their craft can hold me riveted clean through the entire book and wring every ounce of emotion from me. This here is one of those stories, and Amy Lane is hands down one of those writers.(less)
**spoiler alert** A heart-wrenching romantic fantasy that weaves slavery and cultural animosity with the duality of struggle -- personal struggle agai...more**spoiler alert** A heart-wrenching romantic fantasy that weaves slavery and cultural animosity with the duality of struggle -- personal struggle against one's self, and the external one of survival.
It starts out a bit slowly, but that I feel is not the fault of Rachel's writing: neither characters nor plot development. Rather that perception of slow build is the fault of an entire industry of romance stories that demand a specific formula be laid out in the development. First encounter here, conflict arising there, intimate interaction at this juncture. Excessive porn and smut must logically follow.
Conversely, Rachel keeps the reading guessing. Will these two ever find common ground of any kind? Just as the lead, and the reader with him, resign themselves to that lack--settle into a comforting familiarity of, okay, even without the romance, these characters are engaging, have depth, and I'm one hundred percent invested, and the plot is thick and twisting just enough to keep me breathless--the author rips the heart straight from your chest with intimacy so deep and eloquent that this reader, at least, could feel almost tangibly everything that the characters did.
And that, my friends, is the pinnacle of prose.
She handles the interactive complication of master/slave with tact, sensitivity, and authenticity. Not trying to play with the characters or their reactions to the situation in the least. That honesty and clarity is insightful and refreshing, when so many have no concept, or play with the scenario as with a new and shiny high-tech gizmo whose practical functionality escapes them.
I had doubts, at first, about the fashioning of interplay between elf and human. Tolkien saw to it, through cult and ensuing culture, that elves and any association are so thoroughly overdone as to be disinteresting.
And yet... while it is difficult to pick one scene as the most riveting in the book, every one I put on such a list would be from Aiden's POV. The elf, hearing the songs of a god, of the creation of worlds, as he sits listening to Freyrik play his violin, is just one example of many that followed from the relational turning point in the book. Rachel does an exquisite job of showing the reader just what her elf hears and feels, of sinking the audience so thoroughly into who and what he is, that it truly took some effort, at times, to switch gears back to Freyrik's point of view.
To put it bluntly, the elf is a show-stopping stage-stealer. Which is completely fine. And fascinating.
And... all I have left to say, short of flailing and grinning like a loon, is... Give Me The Sequel. Please?
Might come back to this series eventually, but I doubt it. Too many other books to read with characters that don't carry the same emo-baggage and narc...moreMight come back to this series eventually, but I doubt it. Too many other books to read with characters that don't carry the same emo-baggage and narcissism. It's rough reading a book when you can't even like the POV character.(less)
An artfully crafted short that showcases the potential this author's future stories have to offer. [4.5 stars:]
Set in China, this fantasy follows the...moreAn artfully crafted short that showcases the potential this author's future stories have to offer. [4.5 stars:]
Set in China, this fantasy follows the journey of a young man sidetracked by a magical immortal, a fox spirit. The characters are engaging, the action is well-paced, and the plot has just enough twists to keep things interesting without bunching up the reader's knickers.
I was smiling, but disappointed, when I reached the end. I wanted there to be more, simply because I had fun reading Cotoner's story. There were only a few details I took issue with, and they were relatively minor -- and probably point at a cultural gap more than anything. She hides info-dumping in well-written dialogue, but it still feels the same to me. There weren't many such spots, but enough for me to take note. I thought it odd that despite the prevalent philosophical themes, the antagonist characters in the story are so clearly cut and dry, one-dimensional, and undeveloped. I think this might be one such "gap", as I seem to recall other instances of Chinese stories, either set in that ethnic area, or written by individuals of that background, that demonstrate similar features in the antagonist role. Of course, it didn't ruin the reading for me -- and it could just be that I'm hypersensitive to that particular aspect right now.
Overall, a fun, quick read that puts a smile on the reader's face. :D Write another one, K.C. Longer, please? (less)
At the halfway point of this book, I'm discovering that it's rather removed from the first one. Same lead, expanded supporting cast. Secondary charact...moreAt the halfway point of this book, I'm discovering that it's rather removed from the first one. Same lead, expanded supporting cast. Secondary character POV's are more varied. Some of those secondary POV's lead the reader into a graphically violent realm of torture that is almost more disturbing than it is dark, in some points. This is not a read for the faint of heart. The journey the characters are taking does not fail to intrigue, but following them is not easy. This is one of those stories, thus far, that one must needs read in small doses. It is good that Francis breaks much of it up, switching POV's to give the reader a necessary respite.
Having finished the book, I had difficulty wanting to give this one five stars. Francis has not learned to overcome her penchant for info-dumping. I can appreciate that some of the details needed to be understood by the reader, but lectures aren't the way to do it, even when they're "masterfully" disguised as dialogue clumps. Except for that flaw, the plot twists and developments, character depth, and worldbuilding remained solid. There was a moment or two when I thought the MC was horribly out of character, but then I thought about it within the context of the MC's recent experiences and trials, and realized, "anyone remotely human would jump at the chance to be accepted and welcomed after such ostracizing and persecution." So it wasn't all that unrealistic a behavior after all.
If you enjoyed the first, and have a strong constitution, you'll enjoy this one every bit as much. If not the latter, you'll still enjoy it but need to skim some to keep your lunch from threatening to crawl back up your throat.(less)
First in the series, Ms. Francis sets the stage and does it well. This book isn't quite the same caliber of her newer series; all the same, it stands...moreFirst in the series, Ms. Francis sets the stage and does it well. This book isn't quite the same caliber of her newer series; all the same, it stands as one of the more eloquent and finely crafted fantasy novels I've read.
From character development, to plot depth and world-building, Ms. Francis knows how to balance everything without weighing the reader down. I honestly had my doubts when I began reading: "oh, the cliches: chosen one, must save her people from certain destruction, and only SHE has the power to do it!" But Ms. Francis takes some trope conceptual blocks and constructs a grandiose affair of unusual architecture that isn't too far-fetched to be comfortable, just enough to keep you from rolling your eyes and executing premature book closure. :)(less)
Second verse, better than the first. Wilson's taken everything that was good and bright and enjoyable in the initial book of this series, and concentra...moreSecond verse, better than the first. Wilson's taken everything that was good and bright and enjoyable in the initial book of this series, and concentrated and distilled it here. Quality writing, beautiful characters, prose without the previous flaws. Effortless plot twists and intriguing supporting cast. If you're into solid fantasy with a romantic focus, this is definitely a must-read. To say "it gets better" is an understatement.(less)
Wilson creates two fantastical, yet utterly flawed and believable characters, in the leads of Rain and Ellysetta. Fated pairings of "soulmates" or "tr...moreWilson creates two fantastical, yet utterly flawed and believable characters, in the leads of Rain and Ellysetta. Fated pairings of "soulmates" or "true mates" have been done to death within the shapeshifter genre, and yet this book maintains a tone of realism and believability in its characterizations, world-building, and plot. Neither of the leads is brainwashed by their fated pairing, they don't fall into bed and erode the story into a meaningless smutfest.
There are times when the prose becomes slightly purple and excessive, but those moments tend to be short-lived. What is prevalent, and does become slightly tedious and annoying, is the repetitive failing of the character's dwelling on the physical appearance of their counterparts. Yes we know so-and-so is artistically pretty/handsome and blahblahblah. Get to the story already. But aside from that, I didn't find much at all to complain about. Wilson has a secondary cast of unique and interesting characters, and varying POV's to keep the action, intrigue, and plot twists at a steady clip. (less)
Ten pages in, maybe a little more. That was days ago, and I've not picked it back up. It might just be because I'm not in the mood to read this sort o...moreTen pages in, maybe a little more. That was days ago, and I've not picked it back up. It might just be because I'm not in the mood to read this sort of thing but holy fuck I was Yawning. Okay, yeah. It's Nano Month and there's so much other stuff going on right now that I don't have much energy left to focus. But if it had caught my attention and dragged me back in, I would have kept going. Maybe in the back of my mind I'm wishing Ward would write a sordid m/m romance plot instead of the staple hetero wank. Oh well. I'll get back to this at some point, I'm sure. Next year some time, maybe?(less)
A 4'10" female riding a Fresian? A stallion, no less? Granted, they aren't hot-blooded but I'm still struggling with the practicality of that combinat...moreA 4'10" female riding a Fresian? A stallion, no less? Granted, they aren't hot-blooded but I'm still struggling with the practicality of that combination. And likewise, someone else riding a Clydesdale. *snorts* Don't get me wrong, it's done. But it is far from practical, far from comfortable, especially traveling long distances. It's like straddling an oil drum.
This is one of those instances where it really does pay to stay within the bounds of realism for the sake of your readership. Because though every other aspect of the story seems well written and authentically portrayed, this issue with the horseflesh arose in the very first scene. Eighty pages later, I haven't been able to let it drop. Worrying at it like a dog with a bone.(less)