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Fantasy Romance

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,



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REVIEW:  Archer’s Sin by Amy Raby

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.



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