I’m so, so glad that Navessa talked up this book so much! I’ve avoided erotica, and all but my favorite authors’ romance books, for the better part of
I’m so, so glad that Navessa talked up this book so much! I’ve avoided erotica, and all but my favorite authors’ romance books, for the better part of a year. I live for romance in my stories, but all the manufactured drama added to the fact that sex scenes are mostly boring to me now has kept me well away.
But this. The Rose. Man. I would have been missing out if I had not picked this up. I haven’t picked up anything by Tiffany Reisz before because, from what I’ve understood, most of her books deal with the punch-you-in-the-gut sorts of erotic stories. The kind where they make you incredibly uncomfortable. The ones that you end unsure how to even classify it. And while that may be great writing and a fantastic story….it’s just not for me. I don’t like to feel gut-punched anymore. It’s why I don’t read true crime, or Jodi Picoult, or Nicholas Sparks.
Lia watched her father, Spencer, the fifteenth Earl of Godwick, chatting with Augustine Bowman, no doubt talking of important manly things like football, old Scotch and how very grand it was to go through life with a penis.
Which makes me that much more surprised that I so thoroughly enjoyed this book. This has none of that. There’re no gut-punches. There’s no manufactured drama. What there is, is good, sweaty, hot-as-hell sex, coupled with genuine character and relationship development. In fact, I’d put it right up there with some of my favorite erotica writers, like Cherise Sinclair, for the way it effortlessly (seemingly) combines fan-yourself-and-take-a-shower sex scenes with an HEA I can believe in.
The Rose also blends in the most beautiful mythological and fantasy moments. Those moments out of mythology’s history are so stunningly written that I felt like I was there with those people, there in that moment, experiencing what they experienced. I cannot say enough good things about these scenes. They were absolutely gorgeously written.
It’s the little things that garnered a large amount of my appreciation. Things like the subversions of the darkness found in how women are treated, and have been throughout history. The history and reality is well acknowledged, which is something amazing all on its own. But the fact that Lia and August find ways to subvert it, subtly, making it so much more feminist - I love it. They take myths, which are typically very brutal to women in general, and turn them on their heads. And it's done in such a subtle way. I don't mean that you can barely see it, but that it feels so natural and unjarring.
For example, when Lia has a forced-seduction fantasy...Let me sidebar for a moment, because non-consenual scenes are, for me, almost universally a rage-quit moment. I recognize this is personal, because of my own experiences, but if an author includes one of these I (a) want to know about it in advance, and (b) need it to be done well. Thankfully, Navessa warned me about this one, because the way that Lia explains this fantasy is ... not good. It's a difficult fantasy to talk about, because rape is a very real, brutal, horrific, and terrible thing. Which makes fantasies about wanting to lose control to a captor...difficult. However, here Lia gives explicit consent. So while it's a little borderline non-consensual in the beginning of the mythology time-travel scene, it's also very clear that it's all completely consensual. Tiffany Reisz takes that moment and makes it something completely unexpected, at least for me.
It's so rare that a book portrays sex workers and does it in a way that diminishes the stereotypes instead of reinforcing them. But, The Rose does. In fact, every aspect of it is sex-positive. From open relationships, to sex work, to simply enjoying sex because we all should be able to. It fills every moment and nuance in the contemporary scenes and the mythological time travel scenes. It's everywhere. Every moment.
"Can't you please let me complete my walk of shame in peace, Mother?"
"Walk of fame, darling. Walk of fame. We do not buy into those sexist and outdated notions that girls aren't allowed to have as much fun as boys are."
Lia and August are quite simply awesome together. They have some amazingly funny moments, mixed with the perfect amount of tender, sprinkled in amongst the fan-yourself sex. The respect that built between them, the care and concern...it's easy to understand why they fell for each other.
It's not a long novel, so it didn't surprise me that there wasn't much development of Lia's friends. But her family, man that's a different story. I love her parents. They had me laughing out loud more than once.
"I am not going to show him my tapestry," Lia said. "Or anything else."
"Sex really is very fun, darling."
"My kingdom for a normal mother."
The Rose was a book that I didn't expect - in all the best ways. I'll definitely be looking for more of this sort of story from Tiffany Reisz.
It's hard to resist that sell: "Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin's Creed..." *points to self* HUGE Harry Potter (world) fan. HUGE Assassin's Creed fan.It's hard to resist that sell: "Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin's Creed..." *points to self* HUGE Harry Potter (world) fan. HUGE Assassin's Creed fan. I should really know better than to listen to those types of comparisons. Yes, on the surface, I get it. She's a beast charmer. He's an assassin. Makes sense. But it doesn't really feel like either one of these. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing - but expectations matter. I was talking to a friend this morning and it's clear that Sourcebooks marketing team is on-point. They know how to pull me in and make me one-click a book. But - expectations matter.
I expected an amazing world, filled with incredible beasts, and an action-packed plot. Kingdom of Exiles delivered on most of it.
There is a world that seems absolutely amazing - one I'd like to visit actually. One that I'd like to get to know a lot better. The story takes place in the kingdom of Wilhelm, though we really only hear about it in passing. It's clear that there's a large world to explore and get to know. There are so many areas I want to visit. I'm not sure I fully see the land yet, but I'm hoping for a map in the final book. Yes, I'm a map geek. Sue me. It's hard for me to picture the geography of the world. They travel for 3 or 4 days, but I'm unsure which way they travel, or how that relates to anything else.
While we're traveling around with Leena and Noc, we get these tantalizing hints of things that have happened in the history of the world. These peeks into where the story is heading. I need more of that. I'd also love to know more about the politics and overarching history of the world. Just in-passing mentions of The First War, and some to-come doom left me dying for more information. It's obvious that there's a bigger picture plot that's happening in that larger world. The set-up is there. I wish we'd gotten more of it.
Something else I wish we'd gotten more of: the beasts. I want more time with them, exploring them, their unique personalities and gifts. I feel like we heard about a dozen of them, saw maybe a half-dozen in their full glory, but I'm not confident I really understand the beasts, the relationship the Charmers have with them, or the history behind it all.
Unfortunately, the pacing is where things really fell apart for me. This book is long - 448 pages - much longer than most romances (fantasy or not) that are out there. And sometimes it feels every bit that length. I cut my teeth on epic fantasy, I'm used to long, detailed stories. But I caught myself skimming and my mind wandering more than once while reading.
It's a bit frustrating, because by the end of the book Leena and Noc's story isn't over. There's more to do there. I'd have appreciated if more time had been spent on world-building, tightening up the pacing, and less time on the romance. The romance could have solidified in book 2 and 3, which I assume will also follow Leena and Noc. I'd also love it if more people realized that there is nothing wrong with a slow build romance. In fact, I appreciate it more than an insta-love.
Characters are another area that I'm struggling with. I think the romance could have been less of a focus, and more time spent on really developing Leena and Noc. I'm honestly struggling to tell you much about them other than Leena's a beast charmer that was betrayed, and Noc is an assassin that is cursed. This is probably why I'm having a hard time figuring out why they fell in love. Leena and Noc knew each other for a few days, didn't trust each other for at least half of that, were adversaries and one was trying to kill the other for nearly the entirety of it....them falling in everlasting love by the end? Not realistic to me.
I get why they like each other; Sure. Something to build on; yep. But risk everything, be my mate, forever-and-ever, love? Not yet. And SO MUCH TIME was spent on the romance, the angst, the sex...*sigh*
There was also the cliche brotherhood of assassins, though thankfully it seemed more robust and inclusive - there were females AND those that weren't really assassins in the group. I ended up really liking the dynamic and possibilities with the Cruor, but when I initially read about them I thought about every other paranormal romance I've read in the last 10 years. I wondered how long until we'd get stories about the other members of the Cruor. Maxym M. Martineau did a good job of pulling me past that and I stopped thinking of the cliche around half-way through the book.
Oh! Speaking of inclusivity - gay characters abound. Kingdom of Exiles shows that being in love with any gender is completely and totally normal. Noc had loved, and lost, a man before. It was completely casually mentioned, just like it would have been if he'd loved and lost a woman. There's no stigma, no concern, no care. It's just beautifully, wonderfully normal. God, I can't tell you how much I appreciated the hell out of that.
Sidebar: I'm bi-sexual. I don't talk about it a lot because my sexuality is my business - mine and my wife's. My friends and family know, but it doesn't define me. However, I've become increasingly frustrated with LGBTQ+ books in the past several years, to the point where I've mostly stopped reading them. I keep adding them to my to-be-read (TBR) because I'm sure there's gotta be better representation of people like me sometime, but I rarely actually start them because I've been let down so much.
Bi- people are typically depicted as one of three things: (i) evil, and/or the antagonist that's trying to steal the heart of the protagonist from the love interest; (ii) really just gay/straight and when they enter into a monogamous relationship they find out which; and/or (iii) MUST have both male and female love to be satisfied, cannot be monogamous. Rarely are we ever understood to just love and appreciate both males and females. I don't need botha man and a woman to be satisfied. I just don't care if it's a man or a woman that I'm with. I'm not a lesbian because I'm married to a woman. I'm still bi. I still find men attractive. And I sure as hell am not here to ruin relationships. I'm not even beginning to touch on the depth of my appreciation for how Ms. Martineau handled love and sexuality in this novel. Especially if she follows through, like I think she will, with more gay relationships.
There's so much here to appreciate and look forward to. I think a lot of my detractions are actually first book syndrome more than anything else. Some balance between the romance and everything else would have easily made this a 5 star read for me.
There's so damn much potential here. I can see it, on the horizon. I want more in the world, I want more of the characters, I want tons more beasts. I'm happily adding book 2 to my to-read list. Because the set-up for the overarching plot, and the potential in the world? I'm intrigued as hell and am excited to see it all come to fruition.
This was a hard one to rate. I think I'll settle on 3.5 stars, though honestly if the pacing in some of the spots had been more even it would have been a solid 4.5-5 star read. This was an Advance Review Copy, so it may change in the final version. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for this review copy.
I’ve missed the wolves of SnowDancer. They, and DarkRiver, will always have the most special place in my changeling-loving heart, simply because theyI’ve missed the wolves of SnowDancer. They, and DarkRiver, will always have the most special place in my changeling-loving heart, simply because they were the first. I’ll never get over their unique personalities, their love and care, or the vastness of their packs. They are large packs, but still family. You can feel it in all their interactions, and it’s like coming home for me.
Fair warning. Spoilers abound for any and all of the previous books in the series. Just trust me and go start at the beginning with Slave to Sensation. Even if you don’t love every book as you go along (and there are eighteen now), the world building alone is worth continuing this series. One of my favorites things about this series is the inclusiveness, and it's something I've only briefly touched on before.
The characters are wildly diverse and unique, to the point where it feels celebrated. The characters come from so many different cultures and have varied customs, making the world feel every bit as interesting as it is. The subtle and strong underlying theme of differences being not only accepted but being necessary for survival in the world is refreshing. If I could ask for one thing, it would be more LGBT inclusion. I recall a couple of side characters shown as gay earlier in the series. Silver Silence added a couple more that we actually got some page time with. I'd just love to see more.
That wish aside...when I re-read every year, the romances get me right in the heart. This ever-expanding cast of characters and how well they love each other continues to capture my heart and mind.
I have my favorites in the series, I think everyone does, and when they show up again for more screen time in the newest book it always makes me grin. Wolf Rain gave me plenty of reason for smiles. Being back in California, with SnowDancer ensures that we’re going to meet with plenty of previous heroes and heroines. I loved seeing Lucas, Sasha, Hawke, Mercy, Kaleb, and so many others. It was a nice moment when we got to see their lives happily continuing on, even when some of them aren't mentioned by name.
As usual, at least for me, the main couple took center stage. I immediately fell in love with Memory. She’s a fascinating and strong heroine that I couldn’t get enough of. I loved that even though we were in her heart and head a good portion of the time, we began to understand her at the same rate Alexei did. She doubted her own self enough, in the beginning, that she was a bit of an unreliable narrator. I think it’s easy to know – because this is Nalini Singh, after all – that she was a “good” person. There is good reason for her to think that her Psy talent is more a curse, and that just made this so much more interesting.
Alexei, we’ve met before, but I loved seeing deeper into his soul and heart. He’s got this huge heart that only wants to protect everyone, even from himself. I loved his playful side, and his courting. Seeing the wolves court their mates is one of my favorite things.
It was easy to see why they fell in love with each other. Their interactions with each other are incredibly sigh-worthy.
I really appreciated that despite the fact that they both had legitimate concerns about how they may harm someone they love, they worked through it together. It didn’t stop them from talking about it. Nor did it keep them apart. There was no manufactured drama here. Even when fighting their own feelings, they both understood what they had with each other and fought for that.
This book combined all of my favorite elements – the “original” changelings, Psy and Changeling falling in love, favorite characters come back for more screen-time, and some very real pressing and imperative obstacles and concerns.
As always, I can’t wait for the next Nalini Singh book. I think I’ll go re-read all 18 books (and the many short stories and bonus stories) in this series in the meantime.