Taking up the story where Herb-Witch left off this sequel follows the choice in the first book where the h, Kessa agrees to marry the H Iathor, the Lord Alchemist in part to protect herself from being assassinated or used as a breeding machine and also to gain revenge on the man who tried to harm her.
This book has far more romance than the first and delves far more deeply into the character's motivations and needs as Kessa and Iathor have to figure out how to build a life and a marriage together. Iathor really loves Kessa, Kessa has to learn to trust Iathor and also has to give the initial liking she feels for him time to grow and eventually turn into love on her part as well. The challenge then remains for them to overcome societal prejudices and bodily frailties and personal blind spots to find faith and trust in each other and their relationship as they begin to build a family.
Again the issues of consent, free will and choosing to trust another person who could harm you become the driving factors in the evolution of Iathor and Kessa's love. Iathor is faced with a wife whom he knows doesn't really love him and having to find a way to earn her trust. He is hampered by his personal blind spots of having always had a stable, loving background and to a certain extent his refusal to see anything seriously bad in those he chooses to love. Because he has no real basis for understanding Kessa, his frustration at her rejections almost overwhelms him until he too experiences a small part of what Kessa is subjected to because of how she looks.
Kessa is faced with overcoming her own prejudices of higher social classes and learning to trust a man who, in her eyes has no consideration of her needs as a person. Iathor is very patient with Kessa and Kessa does eventually take the leaps of faith required to reach out to Iathor. She has to learn to lean on another person when she needs help and this isn't an easy obstacle for her to overcome. Kessa is secretive and willingly endangers herself because she feels she has no other choice. Kessa also has some personal growth to do as she becomes someone who can take away another person's consent and what that means to someone who has never really had any significant power before. Eventually Iathor and Kessa do figure each other out, not without a lot pain and personal growth but it is the process to get there that makes this book a worthwhile read.
This is not a huge flashy grand gesture kind of romance, and sometimes (especially in Kessa's POV) it seems the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but by the time you reach the end you believe in Kessa and Iathor and you believe that they really are committed to each other and it is the very satisfying feeling of a good story that makes this duology one of the best fantasy romances I have read in a while.
I liked the world building, I liked the obstacles overcome and development of the romance. I really liked the main characters and I will definitely be reading future efforts from Ms. Mccoy as she has built a sustainable and believable world with people I want to know more about.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Having finished this second in a duology my most pressing thought was that the entire second half of this one could been chopped off as almost entirely unnecessary and the rest reworked to make a longish but tighter standalone novel. .
Though I found this one slightly less difficult to follow than the first one, there were still points where I had to stop and re-read a section multiple times and still wasn't sure who was speaking or what they were trying to say. I'm not sure if this was a me thing due to being tired or if the dialogue itself and surrounding descriptors were unclear. (Also there were a number of asides, like this in parenthesis, of character thoughts we shouldn't have been privy to in third person narration).
There was also a tendency for characters we'd never seen or heard about before to randomly pop up in a scene and act as if they'd been there all along and we should know them by name. .
Still, I liked most of the characters and enjoyed that they had a wide variety of often conflicting emotions and motivations driving them and that on the whole they ended up doing the "right" thing more by happenstance than because they were particularly good or noble individuals. Though the plot was pretty much signposted it was still interesting enough to see just how they were going to reach the inevitable conclusion and try and anticipate everything beforehand.
In the end I'm not really sure what to class this book as. It's written almost like a fantasy romance, but there's little to no actual romance and definitely no instant lust or raging hormones. There's a lot of "unfortunate events" and sleuthing around going on, but it's so obvious who is behind it that I couldn't really say this is a mystery or suspense either. I don't think this is a book for everyone and it certainly has issues , but overall... I think I sort of liked it? I think it could have been made tighter and more streamlined in a lot of places, but it was something a little bit different and much more sedate and character orientated than the usual stuff I end up reading. I think in the future I'd like to read this again and see if it makes any more sense when I know where everything is going.
This book kind of broke my heart, but in a good way.
Kessa is genuinely fond of Iathor, and vice versa, but there are some dark clouds each of them is dealing with that make it hard for them to relate to each other like we would hope.
""Thioso," Iathor said, "I'm living in the same house as someone who views secrets as personal pets, to be fed, cosseted, and possibly bred to produce litters of little secrets. Kindly don't add new ones to the kennel.""
Kessa does have a lot of secrets, and one of them has to do with the heir she needs to bear for Iathor. I will try not to spoil it, but she is particularly brave, and not a little pig-headed.
I love that Iathor is coming to accept that part of what he's going to get in a wife is atypical, because he is marrying out of his class. She's uncomfortable with the trappings of wealth or comfort, and she frequently feels trapped or constrained by the expectations on her.
This book has some interesting economic viewpoints, which I enjoyed. For example, if your brother and his household arrive and live with you for a while, it wrecks your grocery budget, even if you are Lord Alchemist. Even if you are titled in a way, you still need to earn money somehow. And it takes time and money to get dyes and make dresses.
I also enjoyed the vigilante roof patrols of crime suppression. Lord Iathor and his household, now doubling as Batman!
Read if: You enjoyed the first one. You are interested in the high points of self-publishing in the year 2012. You like actually complicated forced-marriage scenarios, and not stupid ones.
Skip if: You have childbirth squicks. You resent forced marriage plotlines. You would rather not read about (unrealized) rape threats.
You know you've read a good book when you're sad that it's ended. And I was very sad indeed when I reached the end of this book. The first one, chock full of mystery, set the scene nicely for the second book. It becomes obvious by the end of the second book who is after Kessa, but the conflict doesn't feel drawn out at all; there are so many layers of intrigue and conflict that need to be resolved, and all of them are resolved with no holes, no confusion.
My one criticism, if I had to offer one, is that the villain is somewhat one-dimensional. I'd have liked to see more character development on his part... but hey, he's the villain, and the main characters' development MORE than made up for the villain's lack of (that I could see, of course; I just might have been too busy being fascinated by the heroes to see it!).
The long and short of it is that these books are historical(ish) fantasy in which...severely outdated (and bad!) ideas are used to give it that Ye Olde flavor, and that's either going to work for you or it won't. It doesn't work for me at all, and the heavy internalized/institutional racism* and misogyny (and maybe transphobia??) were distracting and GROSS, but I enjoyed other aspects of it enough to keep working my way through; the frank and generally positive (when it wasn't being weird about Virgin Blood) discussion of menstruation was refreshing, as was the mostly positve and sympathetic treatment of sex workers. There's also cool witchy/alchemical stuff and cool ladies! (Not enough Laita in this one tho...)
Idk if I'd recommend these or not. They were a very mixed bag, filled with things I liked and things that made me want to stop reading. I certainly don't regret reading them, so, you know ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
*Ok, so I get that must be fully aware of just how racist this culture is to understand the conflict and the antagonist's** motivations, but maybe we overdid it a little. A lottle***. Especially in the second book, where the reader ALREADY KNOWS **You can see it's him in the first book, he is probably twirling his mustache the entire time ***If you took a shot every time some says or thinks something disparaging about Kessa's skin color you'd fuckin die
These books are LONG - although - I wonder is book 2 shorter? Or no? I read it in a day ...
Oh my gosh Iathor and Kessa. And all the misunderstanding. And Kessa is one marshmallow hearted vengeful bitch <3
[I kinda didn't like what a "large" role Saydra Glasswife or whatever played but ... whatever.]
It's crazy because this book is so low key and ~slow and yet SO MUCH happens. And holy shit Kessa, and poor thing. I felt so badly for how awful EVERYONE treats her. I hate that even as Iathor is courting her and such he still flinches from her eyes. (I still can't quite picture them.)
I LOVE how Jontho appears. I wish there'd been more of him. And Tag.
I'm sad the villain was who he was - just ... ugh.
And while it kinda drove me crazy I also loved/was totally impressed by how Elizabeth McCoy was able to convey such sentiment and even conversations with "Mm" as a response/non response.
What world building. And tentative awkward romance. Also >.> JFC just how the damn hell old IS Iathor?! ... and Kessa... she's what in her 20s?
There were some editing issues/typos ... but nothing too bad - and I'm definitely going to be looking for more of Elizabeth McCoy's books!
solid B I think
😅 Added this to the wrong book earlier 😅 re-read: Obviously I thought about this book so much I had to reread it and ... I love how ... ugh IT'S SO SUBTLE AND IT KILLS ME BUT IT'S ALSO SO PERFECT FOR THIS BOOK
11/19 re-read => the racism and [transphobia?] are ... definitely a problem - I don't ... I mean I do know it was written a number of years ago. And it's not that they're biased AGAINST ... "made men" [that I can tell?] but just the whole "you're not a woman if you can't have a child" - or are rendered barren anyway ... not sure how society treats sterile women?
STILL. Kessa is amazingly snarly and I love her and I love how Kymus [Ianthor <3] falls in love with her and <3 <3
So I liked this one at little less than its predecessor, nonetheless, still a great read! Some positives: I haven't read anything comparable this year to the amount of worldbuilding Herb-Wife has. Of course, it is a fantasy, and those usually necessitate the most amount of toiling in terms of the worldbuilding aspect. The characters are well-fleshed for the most part (save for the crazy bad guy mentioned below). The plot is interesting and I really enjoyed viewing a part of the magicky, medievalish universe that is Kessa's world. The characters are intriguing, and the duology is overall a great read—though I definitely preferred the first in some ways over the second.
Now onto some gripes I had with this one.. "In all the stories . . . When castles flew and dragons lived in them . . . It's the blonde and fire-haired girls who've the happy endings. The plain, common brunettes get the blind princes at best – and only if they sing. And there's no place for half-breeds at all." – Herb-wife
Kessa basically does not change her mindset on how she views herself. Although I didn’t expect a happy ending where everything is fixed up and everyone has manifested their full self-actualized potential, I'd hoped that some of her internal narrative had evolved, at least somewhat. Even the whole, constant, "half-barabarians don’t end up happy" train of thought she repeatedly voices to herself is not resolved. While she finally relents a slight bit to the point where she at some point acknowledges that not everything is doom and gloom all the time, even for someone who’s been dealt a depressing stack of cards in life.
Even Kessa herself believes the tribesmen to be barbarians, and there is no meaningful interaction to dispel the myths that they are all savage, dumb people. The only saving grace that everyone believes she has is that she is only half-barbarian, and this is line of reasoning the pale folks use when they want to console her. Pretty much no one has a positive view of them, and they are regularly discriminated against. Ofc, undue animosity towards a race or ethnic group is nothing new, and so I don't find it unrealistic by any means. See: literally all of history. prominent events include 1930s Germany and all of Jim Crow era south in the United States. Moreover, numerous examples exist and (continue to persist) regarding genocide, hatred so deep of a different kind of people, simply because their phenotypical background differs from yours. The closest analogy I can think of in our world for the barbarians are the Romani people, and they, too, have faced ongoing discrimination and even genocide (e.g., under the Third Reich), which few ever mention.
Another issue I had with this novel is that the obvious villain is obvious villain. I understand in the last novel, Iasen developed as the clear antagonist. But here, in the culminating second book of this duology, no one suspects him as strongly as they should, save Kessa. He is so overt with his irrational hatred, and extremely ill-mannered towards her in even highly public spaces such as her wedding and the dramsman draught ceremony. We never get to see the inner workings of his mind, to get a glimpse into why he so deeply hates her. Yes, the pale people hate the "barbarian tribes" and it's a normalized custom. Though, he seems it have to out for her, almost as if he is nursing some kind of personal vendetta. However, we never get to see the rationale behind his enmity towards someone he's barely interacted with; in all interactions, she's been politely indifferent, whereas he's been the raging aggressor. What's crazy to me is how everyone in this book has blinders on despite all of Iasen's cartoonishly villainous behavior towards her. His brother, Iathor, has an obvious soft spot, but everyone else should've seen something this apparent coming. Instead, it all hit them like a train (again, save Kessa, who is seemingly the only one with eyes during this whole fiasco).
Speaking of Iathor, I've never seen someone this patient. He could give saints a run for their money. I know I couldn't be as tolerant toward someone so hot and cold, irrationally angry and rude, and excessively secretive (yet highly demanding to know Iathor's secrets and business matters). He perseveres for such a long time, and deals with her highly annoying antics with extreme gentleness. There's a scene in the latter half of this books where Kessa gets mad because Iathor wants to keep her close in hostile, foreign lands (at least, foreign to Kessa). She screams at him, claiming she’s no damsel in distress and can save herself tyvm, and promptly gets herself into serious trouble that she is unable to maneuver without the assistance of him and his men. She only grants him crumbs of gentleness here and there, even as this book progresses towards its end, even though he has never been anything but extremely kind. In fact, he is nicer toward her than literally everyone else and does more for her than anyone has in her life. I mean, I get that this is one of the reasons as to why she's so prickly towards him, but still. He's proven time and time again how much of a decent person he is, with nothing untoward or even slightly suggesting otherwise. She's been raised with indifferent, and at times, abusive guardians, and everyone hates her for her darker skin and hair, so of course she'd be wary. But she's wary and suspicious to an extreme amount, even when literally living in his house after her own gets burned down. Her severe distrust and constant resentment and frostiness towards him is almost unceasing, excepting a few moments of civility and intimacy. It was more understandable in the first book, but this becomes a bit exhausting and more of the same in here.
Finally, the sex scenes in this book were mildly discomfiting. I didn't see this coming this at all, and certainly not in graphic detail, particularly since the previous book contained no mention of this. It doesn't enhance the book for me in any way, though I understand why these bits were kept, as they help to serve as defining moments that exemplify the true development in their relationship. I get it, but wish it could've been kept to a minimum as much as possible.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Whoa- holy crappers didn't see a few of those pages coming. This Definitely contained adult themes. Not tween friendly. It wasn't over done - well one scene, maybe two was a little harlequin- but the over riding emotion conflicts/termoil/past within the characters was the focus and you know why the author wrote the scenes the way she did. These are not pic perfect pretend people. They are damaged and broken with messed up lives and pasts and trying to find way to overcome some pretty significant hurdles.
The overall guiding romance is NOT harlequin in nature. But two people trying to figure out what love means or even if it is a real tangible thing for either of them. The supporting characters of the book are brilliantly done. U get a sense for each person without them hogging up story time. Really smooth flow to this novel as well. A Great unrushed feel for the timing of the scenes. I think that is what sets it apart most- that ability to tell a story, like a story, not an action movie! Or, worse-soap opera.
I know some people are all- you know who the bad guy is. It's so obvious-but that is missing the point all together. It isn't a who done it, it's a love story- but about the way love can blind u and bind u to others- good or bad.
I was a bit disappointed since book one was an interesting start. I don't feel the book really went anywhere. While the villain was obvious, I at least expected there would be some surprising motivations behind his actions. Nope. For being such an intelligent and logical man, the Lord Alchemist was uncharacteristically naive and silly in his reasoning. Spoiler alert: Kessa bleeds a lot again in this book, and then she bleeds some more.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
The story is told in 3rd-person and the POV swings between Kessa Herbman, an ugly-eyed "half-barbarian" girl who is a herb-witch journeyman in the Alchemist Guild system and Iathor Kymus the Lord Alchemist, head of the, you guessed it, Alchemist Guild.
Through a series of (un)fortunate events, it comes to Iathor's attention that Kessa is the only woman immune to the witchy/alchemical potions in this world. As all Lord Alchemists have to be immune and he wants his future son to be as immune as he is, he needs her to become his wife.
Kessa is not interested as she has several "Artful-Dodger" style criminal friends/adoptive family members she has to protect and a herb-witch shop to run. In addition to that, she is under investigation for poisoning her moneylender.
Things progress from there.
This is a fantasy series with great world-building. The magical and religious systems in this book are some of the best I've ever read. The characters are fairly well fleshed-out. Their personalities remained consistent, if at some points very, very frustrating. I believed in their motivations and psychologies, except the antagonist who is a little one-note and whose actions are never explained well enough for my taste.
The prose is...unique. Contradictions and parenthesis are used in ways I've never seen in fiction before. I'm not saying the style is wrong per-se, but it is very different. How much this bothers you will depend on your tolerance for written dialects and Shakespeare-style asides.
My only serious critique-and for me, this is serious-is the plot of this story. It takes place in a country that has been colonized by a fair-skinned/haired population who actively discriminate against the "copper-skinned/dark-haired" indigenous population that they call "barbarians" and "savages."
Okay, so this a tired trope, but it is made worse by the characterization of Kessa. As a"half-barbarian" she is considered ugly by herself and basically everyone else. There are potions in this world that can lighten or change skin, eyes, and hair, but she can't use them because she is immune.
While I applaud having a non-conventional protagonist, the story takes every opportunity to say dark=ugly and bad. Kessa has internalized this message so strongly that she consistently compares her skin tone to everything, up to and including the furniture. And it is never addressed, never contradicted. Every good thing about her is despite her coloring. Each "nice" character halfheartedly says something like 'it's not your fault you're dark...' or 'she's only half-barbarian...'
The other "barbarian" characters are either villains or servants who have bleached themselves. As for the "tribes," they are only discussed in third-hand academic terms by "fair" characters. They have no redeeming characteristics and never deviate from the obvious stereotypes.
As a person raised exclusively around the colonists, I can understand this as a characterization for Kessa, but the author alienated and annoyed me as a reader and as a person of mixed ancestry.
There were many things she could have done to improve this tired trope and she chose not to. It is the most unoriginal part of her story and, I know with a little thought, and perhaps discussing her characters with other POC, she could have produced a superior novel.
I honestly rarely have good expectations of works that are not published through major publishers. They're usually poorly edited, oddly plotted, and generally either not ready for market or plain bad. However, this book was *excellent*. It was well edited, nicely plotted, thoroughly interesting, and just a darn good read. I wouldn't advertise it as a mystery, or a love story, precisely, though it's technically both of those things. It's a good tale, with a nicely detailed fantasy world. I would stack it up against any of the popular fantasy works right now, and I'm definitely going to recommend it to my friends.
An excellent and original duology with a satisfying ending. Thinking about it afterwards there are some elements that I find disturbing, even though they didn't strike me so much in the first book. Firstly, there is the casual acceptance of slavery — slavery of the mind at that, and to my mind that is much more worrying than the other brutality. Then there is the magic. I know menstrual blood is used in magic in Sicily, parts of Africa and parts of America and the Carribean, but hard as it is to imagine a virgin's blood being special, the idea that if she kissed, it would affect it is even stranger. In those places that practise hoodoo, menstrual blood is used to make a man fall in love or never stray rather than as a contraceptive. Some ideas in this book to make you think: better to make your servants dramsmen in case someone else slips them something. If people were immune, say to alcohol, morphine, cocaine, etc. how would we manage child birth or even a toothache?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Picking up where Herb-Witch left off, Herb-wife follows Kessa, the Herb-witch and her new husband Iathor, the Lord Alchemist through their first few months of marriage. A mystery hinted at in the first of this duology is cleared up, and a very satisfying outcome of the original mystery is utilized. The wonderful character development continues. A thoroughly entertaining, engrossing read.
I read Herb-Witch when I was in middle school and really liked it, so I picked up this book expecting to find a good sequel with the same level of maturity, but though I really liked the plot, in the end I didn't finish it because some of the scenes were too mature. This addition is good, but not a tween book.