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.
At 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.