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REVIEW: Archer’s Sin by Amy Raby

Dear Ms. Raby,

Earlier this year I read and reviewed the first two works in your Hearts and Thrones fantasy romance series, Assassin’s Gambit and Spy’s Honor. I also read this novella in that same series, Archer’s Sin, but what with one review commitment or another, I didn’t get around to reviewing it until now.

ArchersSin1At the time I finished reading Archer’s Sin, I felt that it wasn’t quite as good as Assassin’s Gambit but was better than Spy’s Honor. With the passage of time, though, I find I remember this novella with growing fondness. I now think it is at least as good as Assassin’s Gambit, albeit in a different way.

Archer’s Sin begins with the arrival of its heroine, Nalica, in the Kjallan empire’s capital city of Riat for the annual Triferian festival. Nalica hails from the mountainous east, where the culture is somewhat different than in the capital and women aren’t restricted to “feminine” pursuits.

Nalica is an excellent archer and she has come to Riat in order to enter the Triferian archery tournament. The winner’s prize in the archery contest is employment as a prefect in the Riat City Guard. Eminently qualified for this position, Nalica is also in need of such an opportunity. Steady employment is difficult for someone of her background to come by.

But at the festival grounds, Nalica cannot find the place of registration for the competition. When she spots a tall man carrying a longbow, she decides to follow him. The man soon joins a group of archers, and Nalica approaches them to ask for directions, only to be mocked by two of the men for her eastern dialect and her shoulder muscles.

But the first man Nalica followed—Justien— rebukes one of his rude friends, and he doesn’t share their disapproval when Nalica reveals that she can not only string the large bow she carries, but also plans to use it to win the contest.

Justien shows Nalica to the registration tent, but warns her not to waste her money on registration, because he needs the city guard position badly and plans to win the tournament to attain it. He even states that he can outshoot anyone on the festival grounds. But unlike Justin, Nalica recognizes his statement for an idle boast, because she knows she will be the tournament winner.

It’s unfortunate that the competition will pit them against one another, because each finds the other attractive. Unlike his friends, Justien is not at all put off by Nalica’s size and strength. Still, he decides to keep his distance, because one of them is bound to be upset when the other wins the job both covet.

Nalica encounters sexism at the registration tent, and is allowed to enter the competition only because the officer in charge there believes that her participation “won’t make any difference.”

The next day, Nalica runs into Justien and, after they chat about an upcoming horse race, she impulsively allows him to buy her food that she cannot afford to purchase herself. They compare notes on their backgrounds and discover that they come from the same part of Kjall and that they are from clans that once feuded, but also share many commonalities.

Nalica explains that she acquired her war magic riftstone, similar to Justien’s own, even though women don’t usually possess them, because her father had no sons. Justien, meanwhile, explains to Nalica that he sends money to his widowed mother and orphaned younger siblings and she realizes that is why he needs the job at stake in the archery competition.

But she cannot allow herself the luxury of empathy, because she too needs that job, and she is more qualified. She insists on paying for the food after all, and tells Justien they shouldn’t talk to each other anymore.

Who will best whom in each of the archery tournament’s three contests, and how will the other react? When they suspect foul play in the horse race, will they have the courage to come forward despite the potential backlash and the discrimination both face? Will they allow their romantic feelings to develop, and how will their economic difficulties be resolved?

I appreciated that Archer’ Sin took on the rarely seen conflicts of sexism, unemployment and its related financial difficulties, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and culture, and competition between men and women.

Not only that, but all this was executed in an entertaining way, and with a nice appearance by one of the characters from Assassin’s Gambit.

Along the way one of the protagonists had a moment of pettiness, but that character learned from the experience and behaved better when another opportunity presented itself.

I wished the worldbuilding in Archer’s Sin had been better developed, but I think readers of the series will have a fuller sense of the world than those who only pick up this one novella.

Another issue I had is that the characters agree to marry at the end of the book despite having only known each other for a matter of days. The proposal and acceptance felt rushed; I would have preferred a happy for now ending with a hint at intentions to marry in the future.

I don’t want to give away the resolution to the main conflict, but if it had a deus-ex-machina element, it also did not take away from either of the protagonists’ competence, strength and heroism. While I wanted a bit more romance in the novella, I thought Archer’s Sin was memorable and worthwhile. B-/B.

Sincerely,

Janine

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

11 Comments

  1. cleo
    May 31, 2014 @ 12:05:09

    This sounds intriguing. How stand alone is it?

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  2. Janine
    May 31, 2014 @ 12:29:44

    @cleo: It is almost entirely stand alone. Toward the end a character from Assassin’s Gambit makes an important appearance but I don’t think it’s important to have read that book before.

    ETA: One thing I’ll add is that the worldbuilding isn’t very detailed in this one, so a reader who has read the earlier books will have a stronger sense of what the world is like– but that’s not needed to follow the events of the story, and these two main characters are new and haven’t appeared in the series before.

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  3. Tanya
    May 31, 2014 @ 13:19:24

    Hmmmm…..only 99 cents and you are recommending it. Guest my TBR pile is going to get bigger.

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  4. cleo
    May 31, 2014 @ 14:52:13

    Thanks Janine

    ReplyReply

  5. Janine
    May 31, 2014 @ 15:02:54

    @Tanya: I hope you enjoy it. I would love to hear your thoughts if you get it — and Cleo, yours too.

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  6. Anna Richland
    May 31, 2014 @ 17:13:03

    Amy Raby’s books do stick with readers, don’t they? I don’t often re-think books, but she’s one of the few authors I think about again much later – glad to see I’m not alone! We end up talking about her books a lot!

    I have to confess Archer’s Sin has been lingering in my TBR b/c I haven’t been in a novella mood lately – it’s been read long or go home, basically – but now I’m on it.

    Because … big shoulders!

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  7. FD
    Jun 01, 2014 @ 09:03:27

    H’mmm, antisexism and real world underpinnings in a fantasy ‘verse, at £1 and more or less standalone, sounds like a potential gateway novella for a new to me author. Sold!

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  8. Janine
    Jun 01, 2014 @ 13:37:16

    @Anna Richland: Assassin’s Gambit stuck with me some, but as you know, I wasn’t as keen on Spy’s Honor. I’m looking forward to Prince’s Fire, though!

    @FD: I hope you like it! Do let me know if you feel so inclined.

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  9. Anna Richland
    Jun 01, 2014 @ 23:58:19

    So I’ve been book-cheating and reading reviews of Prince’s Fire over at Goodreads, b/c I read a few books last week (Lynda Aicher’s Bonds of Desire – why did it take meeting her at RT to make me pick up her book? That was darn good – and then I sort of dallied with Lee Child … you know, Reacher’s just sitting there, and you … stop for him. Pick him up. Again. And then it’s six hours later. And it’s only the fifth time you’ve read the book. Reacher. )

    This week I must work, work, work, but I’m totally feeling sucked in and want to read Prince’s Fire now. I know it’s not going to be Assassin’s Gambit, but it seems to work well for a lot of people, and there’s post-Vitala Lucien, instead of the pre-Vitala, pre-ascension to the throne Lucien that we had in Spy’s Honor. But I have the last round of edits on my own darn book to return…. agh.

    The public library has one of those “suspend hold” buttons so I can put a book on hold and have it come in at a point I choose in the future. How come Amazon won’t let me do that with buy? Buy the book but choose to ship in June 20, when edits are done.

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  10. FD
    Jun 04, 2014 @ 07:54:47

    @Janine:
    So, I picked up Archer’s Sin and enjoyed it a lot, zipped through it in no time which prompted a glom of everything else in the ‘verse. Fortunately, everything else isn’t enough to overdose on yet, although I did start to see a few niggles.
    On reflection, I still really like the novella – it’s a solid standalone and I liked the characters, concept, the lot. It did wrap up the romantic arc a little fast but, frankly, I can forgive that – it’s plausible for the characters and it’s a function of the page count. What I liked best about it was the sense of previous events reverberating around the country, the feel of shifting societal dynamics, and that the characters had their own perspectives on events which (having read the other books) did not entirely mesh with the way those events happened. Which is normal – so, so normal and nice to see, it adds a reassuring layer of solidity to the world building.

    Assassin’s Gambit – Liked this a lot – Lucien was unusual and so was Vitala. The PTSD subplot was interesting, and used imaginatively. I felt like Vitala got a little short changed in her own book – the competence she shows in the others isn’t really, imo effectively shown here, but then she spends the majority of the book wrestling with mental conditioning, limited worldview and PTSD. Possibly the author bit off a little more than they could chew.
    Again, I liked the interpersonal dynamics and the way they influenced events and the military bits were pretty good. I loved Ista and I loved that the author did not take that plot in the direction that I was flinching from!

    Spy’s Honor – again interesting, yet another different perspective (beginning to see authorial themes here). Loved the gambit that dealt with the Slave Overseer – it’s a small thing but it does so much character work, both the protagonists and as an exemplar of how a stable, if repressive regime functions; the little hidden ‘release valves’ and how that approach differs from how the Riorcan subjugation was handled.

    Prince’s Fire – As the fourth item in the glom, I think my opinion of this one suffered a little. I liked it, but the seams were beginning to show a tad – I expected the volcanic subplot, having had so much page space used on it to be more influential than it was. I thought it was clever, character wise that in the end Lucien, and Vitala, much more dynamic characters, drove the denouement, but it did worry me a little about the HEA for the romantic leads – but then the Prince’s passivity nicely reflects his culture and it’s certainly less of a disaster in his home country. The overarching theme here was clearest of any of the books – act, or you will be acted upon and/or go big, or go home.

    Overall, the politics and interpersonal dynamics were consistently good, the world building in terms of magic less so. You could almost have taken the magic out and not have it affect the greater plot at all, despite the neat little details like light glows and the hypocaust. Those should have grounded the magic, but because there are real world alternatives, which were/are available in the technological equivalent time period, they felt like set dressing. I’m not convinced the author has a full handle on the logic of how magic works in the verse tbh – some of the discussions of it felt a little like it works because of handwavium. Still, for lots of people that would be a minor niggle.
    Generally, it was an excellent Saturday’s reading, thanks Janine.

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  11. Janine
    Jun 04, 2014 @ 11:44:30

    @FD: Wow, four books in one Saturday–you read fast! And I’m so glad you enjoyed them, overall. Since I almost never read one author’s books back to back like that, I haven’t read Prince’s Fire yet and I can’t comment on that one. I skipped that paragraph of your comment, actually.

    But with regard to the magic more generally, I agree with you. When I read Assassin’s Gambit, my introduction to the world, I thought the concept behind the way rifstsones like Lucien’s and shards like Vitala’s and Ista’s were conjured was fascinating, and I would have liked to see how it was done.

    Just in general, I would have appreciated more detail about the world, though some of my gaps were filled in when I read Spy’s Honor. I liked Spy’s Honor less than Assassin’s Gambit by a lot. In many ways it felt like a precursor; the characters conflicts were less interesting, and so was the relationship dynamic.

    I felt that Vitala was actually a pretty strong character in Assassin’s Gabmit– I loved that she functioned as Lucien’s bodyguard for a good part of the book. It’s not something you see everyday in a romance. I also really like that Lucien wasn’t an alphahole– and for that matter, that this is true of Raby’s other heroes.

    I think that Archer’s Sin though less exciting than Assassin’s Gambit, worked best for me, and if I had to say why, it may be because the characters were ordinary people. Their everyday struggles helped ground the fantastical elements and made the world more believable.

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