Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey...

House-of-the-Four-Winds

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.

Dear Authors,

When I read the blurb for this book at Netgalley, I had high hopes for it. A princess who is an expert swordswoman, pirates, treasure, true love and what I hoped, based on the cover, would be a story filled with swashbuckling adventure. The elements were there but the execution wasn’t what I’d hoped for. The story is slow, the magic is lacking and the romance is almost non-existent. By the end, I just wanted it over.

The first chapter is slow, leisurely and packed with backstory. We discover how poor little Swansgaard has 12 princesses and one crown prince and can’t hope to pay out that many dowries without breaking the bank so the princesses will have to make their own way in life. I was slightly miffed that 12 girls will get booted out so that sonny boy won’t be poor. It’s a set up that left a bitter taste in my mouth but I kept going in the hope that the eldest would be off to a life of grand adventure.

Months later, Clarice decides to head to the new world, which except for some barely changed names sounds much like North and South America. Long and tedious detail describes how she chooses a ship and begins to learn about life on board. If a reader doesn’t know much about sailing ships, this information can be handy but for someone who does, it’s slow going. Frankly the first chapter is a little boring.

But then in chapter two, finally things start to come together and the pace picks up a bit. Things happen, there’s a little swordplay and my interest revived only for the action to slow again. This is more the thinking person’s adventure as at the half way point and slightly beyond, I frankly couldn’t say there’s much “rousing adventure.”

Instead, Dominick and Clarice have to think their way through their problems – why did the captain act the way he did? Where was he going to take the ship and why? And now that they’re there, what lies ahead and how do they anticipate danger and deal with it? At this point, Clarice truly comes in handy with her lifelong training in politics, statesmanship and reading a situation to gain the advantage. But since they’re up against magic, ultimately all this means little.

Ah, the magic. It gets explained more than once but I still never truly “got it.” The most magic that appeared was wielded by the villain and it became more eeevil villainy that just is because it’s there rather than anything that makes much sense. Even the villain’s evil quest is never satisfactorily explained. It just all goes to pieces in the end and something, I’m still not sure what, happens and it’s over. Huh, okay then.

Despite the fact that this is mainly a fantasy novel, there’s still the romance, right? Only Clarice’s is the only point of view in the story and she loves Dominick but he’s utterly clueless about her true gender and identity for most of the story so all that we get is her unrequited feelings up until suddenly he’s in love with her to break a spell. Well, I felt cheated.

The pirates don’t save the story either as they are little but props for the evil villain. The pirate haven is a beautiful but dismal spot, as we learn but it hardly seems to matter as that is left behind too.

The story limps along to an end and it’s then that I realize that there are lots of loose ends left. Since this is, I believe, supposed to be the start of a series, I have to believe that this might be to leave issues to be resolved later. I, however, am not willing to read the next eleven books to find out. D

~Jayne

AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

22 Comments

  1. Divya
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 10:09:49

    This makes me sad because Lackey used to be my favorite author with her Valdemar books. However, I completely agree with you. Her newer books have consistently left a bad taste in my mouth. I guess any Lackey books I’m going to read will be treasured old favorites.

  2. MrsJoseph
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 10:20:49

    @Divya: I feel the same way and it makes me so sad! I used to LOVE Lackey – she was the author that could do no wrong when I was younger. Now I’m quite often disappointed – I bought quite a few books by her that I’ve not bothered to crack open. I just don’t understand what has happened…

  3. Divya
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 10:48:43

    @MrsJoseph:

    Yeah, I think the most recent books I ADORED were THE FAIRY GODMOTHER and ONE GOOD KNIGHT. And they came out in 2004 and 2006! I had such high hopes for the Collegium Chronicles, but alas. :( Her books just aren’t plotted or written well anymore. I don’t know if it’s a case of an editor saying, “You’re a BNA and we’ll publish whatever you write without much critique.” :(

  4. Janine
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 11:18:21

    Great review, Jayne!

    We discover how poor little Swansgaard has 12 princesses and one crown prince and can’t hope to pay out that many dowries without breaking the bank so the princesses will have to make their own way in life. I was slightly miffed that 12 girls will get booted out so that sonny boy won’t be poor. It’s a set up that left a bitter taste in my mouth but I kept going in the hope that the eldest would be off to a life of grand adventure.

    Was this portrayed as a sexist world, or was it portrayed as hunky dory? If the world was sexist and the heroine was working to battle that, I think that setup would work for me, but if it was supposed to be an enlightened society, I would be mightily annoyed.

  5. Mary
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 11:24:23

    I’m still gonna read this because I love Mercedes Lackey! The valdemar books are great, and I loved The Elemental Masters and her 500 Kingdoms novels.
    But admittedly I read her books more when I’m in the mood for fantasy and less when I’m in the mood for romance.

  6. Elizabeth Cole
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 12:46:06

    I remember loving old Lackey books. But these fairy tale inspired later ones are, ahem, lacking (sorry, sorry). I think she’s calling the line the 1000 Kingdoms? Anyway, i was stoked by the premise since I LERV fairy tales, but they’ve disappointed me so far.

    Does anyone have recs for great fairy tale-ish/romance-y books? Any blend is acceptable!

  7. Jayne
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 12:56:16

    @Janine: The world isn’t overtly sexist but it’s a historical world seemingly loosely based on the late 17th/early 18th century. The 12 princesses have all been allowed to learn a trade or talent which will enable them to venture out into the world and make their own way – each on her 18th birthday. But Clarice, despite being well trained in swordsmanship, feels the need to disguise her gender during her travels.

  8. Jayne
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 12:57:36

    @Divya: Godmother and Knight are two of her 500 Kingdoms books I enjoyed. I have though haven’t read some of the newer books in that series.

  9. Marianne McA
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 14:33:40

    @Elizabeth – I don’t know if it’s great, but Wen Spencer’s ‘A Brother’s Price’ is quite fun. It’s set in a world where few boys are born, so they are very much sheltered. The hero leads quite a sequestered life, looking after younger members of his family, when some princesses happen past…

    (I thought for a moment this was a review of the Buchan book. I have such a soft spot for the hero, wee Jaikie.)

  10. Cate
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 15:54:03

    @Elizabeth Cole: I thought Jessica Day George’s take on fairy tales .. Princess of the Midnight Ball, Princess of Glass, & Princess of the Silver Woods (that’s the twelve dancing princesses) , ..were fresh & lively, and an altogether enjoyable read; then there’s A Door in the Hedge, Robin McKinley’s anthology of fairy tales.
    But for me, I’m afraid that the once reliable Mercedes Lackey has been dropped from my auto buy hardback list, and now even the Kindle samples of her recent offerings haven’t materialized into the full book.
    She’s lost her mojo, or spread herself too thin ( one or t’other), and I couldn’t be sorrier, but there are now better fantasy writers out there that I am prepared to spend my hard earned dosh on.

  11. cleo
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 16:03:45

    @Elizabeth Cole: some of my favorite fairy tale re-tellings are early UF, before the genre turned into vampires and demons. Charles de Lint has several with romantic elements – Jack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon (the sequel to JtGK – this weaves together several less well-known fairy tales) are the two I can think of that most closely relate to existing fairy tales. He also has a lovely Little Mermaid retelling that’s true to the original, with no hea – called Our Lady of the Harbour, in his anthology Dreams Underfoot.

    SBTB has a post on fairy tale re-tellings – http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/blog/gs-vs-sta-fairy-tale-romance-retellings

  12. Darlynne
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 16:09:30

    @Marianne McA: I think A BROTHER’S PRICE is an excellent recommendation, but then Wen Spencer is one of my favorite writers and a frequent re-read.

  13. cleo
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 16:17:13

    @Elizabeth Cole: Forgot to mention Eloisa James’ fairy tale series. I liked the first two well enough (A Kiss at Midnight and When Beauty Tamed the Beast) and then the third, The Duke is Mine, sounded so bad that I stopped reading the series. I did really like her short story, Storming the Castle, which is based on a less well known fairy tale, and is a sequel to AKaM.

    And for campy fun, Lena’s Matthew’s Head over Heels is a re-telling of Cinderella, with a drag queen acting as the fairy god-mother.

  14. Sirius
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 17:36:25

    Here is another reader who used to love her Valdemar books and several others afterwards. I gave up four or five years ago – new book coming every other month was an indication of the bad things to come for me :(. Thanks for the review Jayne, sadly was not surprised any longer.

  15. Elizabeth Cole
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 17:42:38

    @cleo: OMG, do I love Jack the Giant Killer! I reread it once a year, despite my paperback copy having the title in Papyrus font (seriously, peeps. Just don’t)

  16. Elizabeth Cole
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 17:43:37

    @Cate: I read PotMB, but not the sequels yet. I do love that fairy tale. Pretty dresses times 12! Yes, please! I’ll check out the others.

  17. Elizabeth Cole
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 17:44:27

    @Marianne McA: Cool! I haven’t heard of that one!

  18. Elizabeth Cole
    Aug 09, 2014 @ 17:48:48

    @cleo: I know i should check James out, too. I’ve been burned by not-so-good retellings of fairy tales in romance form (including a CREEPY B&tB retelling where the hero kept the heroine locked in a basement and she fell in love with him–keep in mind this was a non-magical regency. So grody. Too bad i can’t remember the title/author. I blocked it out).

    But Eloisa! Yes, i will look at those. Thanks everyone!

  19. Cate
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 12:06:36

    @Elizabeth Cole: I forgot to recommend Kate Darnley’s The Woodcutter. It’s a slow starter,but soon sucks you in, and it’s got elements of Grimm, Perrault, Anderson et al

  20. Jenna
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 16:25:09

    I steer clear of her books written with James Mallory. They tend to be my least favorite of hers.

  21. Em
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 19:57:59

    @Elizabeth Cole:
    Have you tried any of Juliet Marillier’s books? Particularly the Daughter of the Forest, which is an absolutely beautiful book set in semi-historical but magical Ireland and loosely based off the swan princess fairy tale (also lovely romance in it!).
    Or Heart’s Blood which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

  22. Elizabeth Cole
    Aug 11, 2014 @ 15:29:08

    @Em: In the bookstore, I was thrown by the “Mist of Avalon” style cover, until i realized 57% of all fantasy books from that decade used that cover artist. I really like the swan princess/swan lake tale, so i’ll give it a go.

    (and @cleo, yes! The Woodcutter got reviewed recently and looked intriguing.)

%d bloggers like this: