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REVIEW:  The Winter King by C. L. Wilson

REVIEW: The Winter King by C. L. Wilson

The Winter King (Weathermages of Mystral #1) by C.L. Wilson

Dear C. L. Wilson:

When I first starting reading the Lord of the Fading Land series in 2007, it was one of my first realizations that romance and epic high fantasy could be blended together. While the series presented the fated mate concept as part of the root of the worldbuilding, it was treated in very interesting ways. The fated mate bond could be used to keep bonded pairs alive and tormented or it could lead to the death when the bonded pair was separated. The series made me take a deeper look at a well worn trope and thereby elevated the series above its sisters in the subgenre.

When The Winter King was announced, I trembled with excitement. All of this is to say that perhaps my expectations were simply too high. The Winter King is a readable fantasy romance but at moments it was unbearably twee and took too many safe paths to arrive at the rather lackluster conclusion.

The naming convention in this fantasy series is indicative of the worldbuilding–it’s serviceable but not very original.  Wynter Atrialan of Wintercraig is the kin of the Northern kingdom. His brother is named Garrick. Where’s the “winter” in Garrick?

On the flip side is the Summerlea king, Verdan. The Summerlea princesses are named “Summer” “Autumn” and “Spring” and then there’s the one sister, hidden away. She’s named “Storm” because of her uneven control over weather like elements but her real name is Khamsin and that is what she is called despite everyone else being called by their nicknames. I.e., why isn’t she called Storm other than the most obvious reason to show how different she is and what an outcast she is.

The theme of Winter King is sweet…only an act of true love with thaw a frozen heart…which is a great concept but it’s repeated continuously throughout the book. We know how the book has to end then and it does end in a predictable fashion.

The suspense of the story is that Wynter made a bargain with an evil spirit to gain power to avenge himself against the Summerleas. Prince Falcon killed Wyn’s brother and stole Wyn’s wife away.  The Ice Heart that imbues Wynter with power is overtaking him and without a thaw, he will die.  He demands one of the Summerlea princess’s hand in marriage with the intent of begetting a child with her.

King Verdan will not spare one of his “seasons” but he hates his fourth daughter and willingly sacrifices her. Of course, he does not tell Wynter because Verdan hates his daughter and therefore believes wrongly that Wynter will hate her as well.

The nice thing is that Khamsin’s sisters don’t hate her and try to arrange things so that her marriage to Wynter is somewhat pleasant. But Khamsin is not well received by the Wintercraig soldiers or their people.

Parts of the book felt dated to me such as the trickery, use of aphrodisiacs, Khamsin as the outcast. While it was a pleasant read, I never felt like anyone was in jeopardy or that I should be worried about the outcome. Now, I know it’s a romance so the outcome is always going to be a happy one, but I didn’t once think to myself ‘how will they get out of this?’ The final battle scene is over the top with nearly everything imaginable thrown at the wall.

The writing is good, the characterizations are believable. I appreciated the thoughtfulness in the worldbuilding even if some of it felt common to me. I wanted to like this book and as I closed the novel I wondered if my discontent really sprung from missed expectations more than anything which is a reader problem; not a book problem.  My grade is reflective of my own interaction with the book and I’m giving it a C.

Best regards,

Jane

 

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REVIEW:  Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

REVIEW: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Dear Mr. Aaronovich,

I enjoyed all your earlier books in the Peter Grant urban fantasy series, from Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London) to Moon Over Soho to Whispers Under Ground, although I put off reading book four, Broken Homes, because I had mixed feelings about your comments in the discussion thread following this post.

BrokenHomesThen my husband and a good friend urged me to read the book, saying they enjoyed it a great deal. I decided to read Broken Homes to see what I was missing, but while I enjoyed some of it, it wasn’t to the same degree that I enjoyed your earlier books.

The book begins with a strange car accident. The driver, Robert Weil, runs a red light and hits another car, but when the police investigate, they find blood in the backseat but no sign of the missing passenger.

Police constable and magician’s apprentice Peter Grant receives an email alert because Weil is a member of the Little Crocodiles, an Oxford University dining club investigated by Peter and his cohorts in earlier books for dabbling in magic.

The car accident case turns up nothing of a magical nature, however, and life goes back to normal, which means that Peter and the coworker he’s had a crush on, Leslie, study for detective classes, learn Latin for their magic practice with their supervisor Nightingale, and begin work on crafting their wizard staffs.

Then a few other unusual things happen. A man named George Nolfi is hospitalized with burns after conjuring a fireball for his six year old granddaughter’s birthday party. He claims he hasn’t practiced magic since early childhood when his mother taught him a few spells.

Another man, Richard Lewis, kills himself, but his apparent suicide may be no suicide at all. And Peter stumbles on a German book whose title translates to On the Fundamentals that Underlie the Practice of Magic in the London Stolen Art Directory.

Of this handful of cases, one on further investigation inarguably points to the Faceless Man, a magic practitioner whom Peter and Nightingale have been fighting for three books now. But are these cases connected? What is the Faceless Man plotting? And are Peter, Leslie and Nightingale adequately prepared to face an opponent of the Faceless Man’s power and skill?

The beginning of this book felt exciting, with one incident of magical violence following after another. But that level of excitement wasn’t sustained and Broken Homes didn’t hang together quite as well as the earlier books.

As the most helpful positive review on Amazon points out and this plot summary shows, the structure of this novel is different from that of the earlier books. Rather than following one case, Peter and company work on a few cases before one turns up something that leads them to their archenemy, the Faceless Man.

Consequently, the book feels more disjointed and episodic than the earlier books. It meanders here and there but doesn’t gel into anything cohesive until the final third of the story.

On the upside, there is an interesting development in Leslie’s personal life. On the downside, I really missed the London history that was woven into the first three books. It felt like a significant loss.

The novel’s pacing feels off, too. After the exciting beginning, not enough headway is made on the cases being investigated during the long and sagging middle. In the final third, the engine of the story revs up and things finally start happening again.

Fortunately the writing is as witty as ever. Here’s an example:

Negotiating the inerface between the Folly and the rest of the police is always tricky, especially when it’s the murder squad. You don’t get to be a senior investigating officer unless you have a degree in skepticism, an MA in distrust and your CV lists suspicious bastard under your hobbies.

And here’s another:

Tracking down the exploding granddad’s antecedents was yet another thing that was still sitting in the low priority things-to-be-done pile. It might have to be moved up.

“Indeed,” said Nightingale. “I’d like you to have a look at the house today.”

“Today?”

“If possible,” said Nightingale which meant, yes absolutely today.

I still love Peter. He still has the same core of human decency and honor, and he still makes me laugh. He still comes up with creative solutions to the problems that he faces. He still wants to do the right thing by the people he cares about and by the people of London, whom he serves.

I still like Peter’s companion characters, from by-the-book Leslie to bright, curious Dr. Walid, to snooty-but-impressively-good-at-magic Nightingale to magic-sensing dog Toby. I still like the Rivers and the goblin Zack and the Quiet People and the other magical characters. The diversity of the cast (Peter himself is biracial—his father a white jazz musician and his mum a black immigrant from Sierra Leone) appeals to me as always, and the Faceless Man and those aiding him still scare me.

But much of Broken Homes feels like groundwork being laid for future books, and for the explosive twist that comes at the end of Broken Homes. For a reader who doesn’t foresee what happens, the big plot turn is likely to be impactful, and I’m sure its reprecussions will reverberate through the upcoming Foxglove Summer.

Unfortunately for me, I first started suspecting that this might be where the series was heading two books back. So for me, the twist wasn’t as twisty as it is for some readers. Rather than having the surprise come out of nowhere, I felt helpless as I watched what I’d predicted unfold, and a little frustrated that one or two characters who should have been able to anticipate it didn’t see it coming.

The introduction of two new characters with magical abilities makes me anticipate good things in book five, so I suspect I will be reading it. Then again, when I finished book three, Whispers Under Ground, I was sure we were in for some big things in this, book four. And to be fair I think that readers who don’t figure things out ahead of time may get that from this book to a greater degree than I did. C.

Sincerely,

Janine

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