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Fantasy Romance

REVIEW: A Wind Out of Indigo by Callan Primer

REVIEW: A Wind Out of Indigo by Callan Primer

Dear Callen Primer:

Thank you for sending me your book for review.  I really liked the idea of this book as pitched in the review query and initially I was very excited about where the story was going.  Alice Standish, former mistress of the King, is kidnapped and brought to the palace.  Either marry Louis Montanero, the margrave and Warden of the Night or suffer dire consequences at the hands of the new Queen, Marie, who is now Queen of Day but cousin to Louis.  Some of the lowlanders still chafe under the King’s rule and look to Louis as the acceptable heir to the throne.  To disqualify Louis in the eyes of his people, Ned, the King, and the Queen ask Alice to marry Louis because under lowland law, a king cannot marry a slave born woman.

A window out of IndigoIn exchange of the marriage, Alice gets Ned to agree to repeal the Pursuit Clause.  It used to be that prior to the treaty between the lowlands and Highlands, if a slave of the North stepped a foot on the soil of the South that she or he would be free.  The Pursuit Clause gave the slave owners the right to pursue their quarry into the south.

Alice was a slave until Ned and his troop of men came stumbling through her orchard. She fed them and he took her up and carried her off.  Despite their 10 year relationship, Ned and Alice did not love each other and Alice gladly let him go when he needed to marry to secure the crown.  All this is interesting. Unfortunately, it is not what the story is about.  Instead, the story’s main thrust focuses in a magic in the southern fens but we aren’t introduced to this issue until about the 30% mark of the book.  I think that the story gets lost in the attempt to make a rich and complex world.

The problems were in both the big and small details.  Alice is a former slave and there are some strains of the slave issue that follow her into the south but there is no explanation of who were slaves, how they were freed, what role they played in the south versus the north.  Slaves seemed to be accepted in the south by everyone.  The highlands were bright sunlight and day filled. The lowlands were dark, an eternal night. Why?

There were airships and a new gasworks plant.  The gasworks plant processed oil and created diesel.  Where was the rest of the manufacturing that would go along with that?  Why was the gasworks, the only one, not creating a stronger foothold of power for the south?

There is such a strange amalgamation of landmarks such as the men wearing kilts and the use of Highlands v. Lowlands suggesting an alternate form of Scotland.  Yet, there are ice walls to the north and other references that might make one think of the Netherlands.  There was a mix of surnames from Indian to Japanese to Korean/Chinese.  There is Standish, Louis Monatero, Janey Li, Abel Wahid, Kai Sung, Rafe Tokami.  Surnames provide a lot of cultural and regional placement.  If this was a full on fantasy, then the use of existing landmarks confuses readers.

The world building in the story is dense with little dialogue or character interaction throughout the story.  The latter half of the book moves at a much faster clip and I couldn’t help but wonder if the story began at the wrong place.  The pace of the story was slow, without anything really happening until about after chapter 8.  Up until that point, Alice travels from the Highlands t o the Lowlands and settles into her home.  There are a host of new words thrown at the reader and new meanings to existing phrases such as “For a fire marriage to become permanent, the couple had to live together for a year and a span, or have a child together.  Otherwise, it could be asserted by one party just leaving.”  Asserting means to leave the marriage, but I’m not certain the exact meaning or why the word “asserted” was used. I point this out as an example of how word choices made the book less accessible and slowed down the pace at which the book moved.  I had to re-read words several times to gain their meanings.  I wasn’t even sure what a span was.  I did a word search after multiple appearances but still was unclear.

  • Admittedly the woman only been queen of Day for three spans, not enough time to learn how things worked here..
  • Big Kloster rang in the new span, Little Kloster followed with the first hour, then with the second…
  • “How long were they together?”  “About three spans,” said Janey.

Finally, the romance is non existent. I think Louis and Alice are present in about three scenes together and while the conflict presented could have been a very good one, it wasn’t explored in depth. This is really a story about the world and about Alice’s battle with the big bad.  Long time fantasy readers may have a greater appreciation for this than I.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

REVIEW: Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Dear Ms. Snyder,

I feel like I’ve been neglecting the fantasy genre. This is a terrible thing in my opinion because I love the genre. So I thought to rectify the decided lack of non-YA fantasy in recent reading. I thought your latest novel, the first in a new series, would be a good way to jump back in. It wasn’t a doorstopper and from what I recall of your previous books, your writing is light enough to suit my preoccupied brain during the holidays.

Touch of Power by Maria V. SnyderAvry is a healer. Once she considered this a badge of pride. But ever since a deadly plague hit the populace and healers blamed as being the cause, it’s become something she must hide or face execution.

Unfortunately, Avry suffers that particular flaw that afflicts many heroines in fantasy novels: she cares too much for her own good. Here, this manifests as the inability to turn away from a sick child, even though using her abilities means revealing her true nature to people who 1) are hostile to healers in general and 2) receive a sizeable reward for turning in healers. Avry’s been able to elude capture until now but her luck has finally run out.

Or so she thinks. Avry is rescued from certain death but it comes with a price. In exchange for being set free, she must agree to heal a prince who’s contracted the plague and is currently in magical stasis to keep the symptoms at bay. The problem? While healers can cure the plague, they don’t survive the process and die. (In this world, healing works by the healer taking on the damage/illness of the afflicted person and letting their super-immune system do its thing. The problem with the plague is that their immune system doesn’t work fast enough to counter the effects.)

I honestly believed a light fantasy would be right up my alley. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe light fantasies aren’t for me and I’m doomed to keep reading perpetual downers like George R.R. Martin. But this book just didn’t work for me on any level.

First of all, I knew right away that a romantic subplot would develop between Avry and Kerrick, the man who frees her in order to heal his best friend, the prince. I could see that a mile away, but my beef has nothing to do with the predictability. No, my issue has to do with the fact that he treats her like shit for most of the book and since I knew they would eventually fall in love, I spent most of the novel actively repulsed by this endgame.

I understand their relationship is initially meant to be a coercive one. Avry is given an ultimatum and when she didn’t immediately agree, Kerrick spends chapters trying to convince her to change her mind. Desperate people can do horrible things. I understand this. But I cannot root for a romance in which the hero does things like expose the heroine to the elements so that hypothermia will make her capitulate, starve her, tie her to a tree like an animal, and most spectacularly hit her in the face. I don’t care what the circumstances are. I don’t care that the supporting cast chastises him for the abuse. You’ve lost me. Especially when the hero justifies his actions with, “I’m sorry. I was mad.” I can’t get behind this romance at all.

There’s also the minor detail of Avry making an assumption about Kerrick that I’m not certain would or should have been made. In fact, I felt that the only reason this assumption existed was to give the plot artificial tension. Why would she not tell him? Even if she made the erroneous assumption, I feel like she should have tossed this little fact in his face at least once. It was unbelievable that it never came up in conversation at all. This also only compounded my disgust with the romance because if Avry honestly thought Kerrick knew this specific detail, why in the world would she fall in love with him? I’d be pretty pissed that this guy was asking me to die for someone I owed nothing to and who did bad things to my family. It’s not romantic at all and makes me seriously question Avry’s taste in men.

And as so often happens, because I was growing increasingly annoyed by the storyline, I began to notice other flaws. For example, the worldbuilding was shoddy at best. Now I can certainly enjoy fantasy novels in which the worldbuilding is left deliberately vague. But I didn’t get the impression that was the case here. Now I realize that one of the reasons some authors choose to set their novels in the generic faux-medieval European milieu is because that’s the basis for many a fantasy novel. Fantasy readers well-versed in the genre are familiar with it and thus the writer can just spend less time on creating the world and move onto the story. But there’s relying on pre-existing knowledge and then there’s just being plain lazy.

We have healers. We have several other types of mages. Some of which are elemental (bonus points for including traditional Asian elements though) and some of which are not. Other than healers, I had no idea about the power structure or hierarchy of the mages? Do they form gangs? Do they have guilds? Are mages only born to nobility?

Then we have the Death Lilies and Peace Lilies. It took me a couple chapters before I realized the lilies were actually giant man-eating plants and not human peacekeepers with funny names. I hate infodumps but I really don’t think I should have reached such a ridiculous conclusion. On the other hand, maybe I’ve been reading fantasy too long and just assumed that there was no way a Death Lily could actually refer to a lily that causes death. It’s far too obvious. My bad.

On top of this, there were some attempts at political intrigue but due to my distaste with the romance, I actually spent several chapters rooting for the bad guy despite knowing he was the bad guy. Not a good sign in a fantasy novel. Thankfully, we resorted to the age-old cliche of “The villain experiments on children and that’s how you know he’s evil” so I was able to regain my bearings.

Overall, this obviously wasn’t a good choice for jumping back into the fantasy genre. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to cover it. The romance was distasteful and the shoddy worldbuilding was just more icing on the fail. D

My regards,
Jia

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