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REVIEW: Wars of the Heart by Inari Gray

REVIEW: Wars of the Heart by Inari Gray

Dear Ms. Gray,

When I read the blurb for Wars of the Heart, I was utterly confused. Let me explain; or better yet let me sum up the blurb, which goes something like this:

Katherine Morgan is a diplomat from Earth, she thinks that someone is out to destroy Earth’s Ozone Shield, and goes to the Peace Keeping Intergalactic Council (PKIC) for both assistance and an investigation. But the PKIC can only offer up someone else’s muscle. Of course, the muscle is King Ja-el Lamar, the guy whose heart Katherine broke a long, long time ago. So she’s told by the PKIC that she has to “force” an alliance with Ja-el or else he will lose his kingdom. Oh, and Ja-el has his own scheme.

Wars of the Heart by Inari GrayYep. There’s a powerless council that will force a king to do something, a diplomat that is apparently in charge of Earth’s environmental well-being, and a king that is described as impetuous and at the mercy of said diplomat. You may ask why I would bother to read this after such a strange and WTF-laden blurb. Well…it’s space + romance. Let’s face it, I just can’t get enough of space and romance combined, and I’ll try anything that’s billed as SciFi Romance once. And after reading the first five pages of the book I was in serious hope that things would get better.

They didn’t.

But before I delve into my issues with the book, let me sum up for realz:

Katherine Morgan is a diplomat for Earth, working hard at a job she’s always wanted. She’s discovered that there have been strategic attacks on Earth’s Ozone Shield, targeted at the most important loci to do the maximum amount of damage. Fearing that Earth is in danger of attack and will become a scarred wasteland, Katherine appeals to the elders of the PKIC for help. During a video conference with numerous representatives, they admit that they can offer technological assistance but the only planet that can offer true military backing is Salatiel, but it’s representative, King Ja-el Lamar, doesn’t bother to dial in to the meeting. In a twist (ok, not really), Tobias Laivir, the head of the Elder Council and Katherine’s ex-boyfriend, moves to send Katherine to Salatiel to tell Ja-el to “yield” or the PKIC will be forced to take action.

Katherine goes to Salatiel and Ja-el refuses to see her immediately. Katherine has conversations with her ex-mentor Laramie, who happens to be Ja-el’s political advisor, Ja-el’s military master and member of the PKIC Elder council, Neelam Reybak and her father who is an Elder member of the PKIC. Katherine delves into memories of her time on Salatiel for diplomat training, goes for long walks on the beach, and pretty much accomplishes nothing. There’s a lot of what is supposed to pass for political maneuvering; Ja-el makes Katherine wait to see him and Katherine makes noise to the PKIC, but it just reads as two kids sniping at each other. Ja-el is also…er…enjoying the benefits of a princess of a neighboring planet. She’s none to thrilled that Ja-el is unable to give her his heart, or any sort of emotion whatsoever. But apparently they are having some hawt sex.

The plot…er, I should say, the Ozone Shield plot, becomes more confusing with different twists added. There seems to be some weird things going on, but no one shares information with each other. As I read the book I realized that a lot of clues were thrown out, but nothing was tied together in a way that made complete sense. In addition, everyone on Salatiel is operating in their own little bubble, existing on bitter feelings and reliving glory days, none of which move the plot or the romance forward. The lack of communication between the characters means you have one giant clusterfuck of a who-did-what-to-whom-and-why storyline. On the romance side, the heat between Katherine and Ja-el is nonexistent. There seems to be more going on below the belt and mentally with Ja-el’s princess paramour. The Katherine/Ja-el romance is flat and uninspiring and there are times when it feels like I’m reading about to bratty teenagers rather than a king and a diplomat.

But my real issues with the book are Katherine and Ja-el. She met Ja-el and they fell in…something when she was sixteen. Oy. I couldn’t wrap my head around that, or the fact that yep…Ja-el “did” something to her to tie them together forever back when they were in “training”. Two: the writing was so…out there with descriptions that I had a hard time imagining what people were really thinking or feeling. Take a gander:

In the center of the screen, eyes brighter than glowing amethysts stared at her intently. Exasperation showed in the constricted brows that towered above them. Katherine looked at the man they belonged to, a vision of fairytale-like beauty with striking features and wispy sandy brown hair. Behind the mask of his attractiveness, his violet stare was cold as stone.

Is she looking at his constricted brows? What the hell is a constricted brow? But the weird descriptions go on:

Her tongue felt thick, too heavy to form coherent words. “I was just about to go find you.” He didn’t respond. He simply stared, deathly silent, unnerving. She fought the urge to recoil. His eyes pierced hers as though they saw a web of lies beneath the surface of her skin. Honesty, she reminded herself, though the urge to lie came more naturally. “There’s something I really wanted to discuss with you,” she said, when the silence stretched to an uncomfortable level.

I would have thought the piercing of her eyes was more uncomfortable than the silence.

Finally, Katherine neither acts nor thinks like a diplomat, a grown woman, or someone who is in a position of authority. Ja-el neither acts nor thinks like a king, a mature man (ok, that might be an oxymoron, but nonetheless…), or again, someone in a position of power. There’s zero strategy from Katherine and a bit more than a thimbleful from Ja-el. I plowed through this one, but unless you’ve got a hard on for space-based romance like I do, I wouldn’t bother. C-

~ Shuzluva

Since anything else might veer into spoiler territory, I’ll refrain from saying more about the plot.

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REVIEW: Breaking Faith by M. King

REVIEW: Breaking Faith by M. King

Dear Ms. King.

bf-21Although brilliantly written, with stunningly well-drawn characters, and a very compelling plot, this book was difficult to read. It wasn’t a happy-go-lucky, care-free, lift-you-up read. It was difficult and depressing. So while I couldn’t put it down, and I thought about it for days and weeks after I read it, I would find it very difficult to read again (which is why this review took me months–I had to read it again! So I read it during Drill for the National Guard :).

Brett Derwent has his life planned out. He’s going to make some money teaching skiing and working at a store in his hometown in Montana, and then he’s going to go to Washington for a pre-med degree, where he’s going to explore his sexuality in the freedom of a college campus far away from home. His happy, solidly middle-class life is thrown into wonderful disarray when he meets Tommy Hawks at the local ski shop. Tommy is the oldest son of an abusive father and a seriously codependent mother. Everything he does, he does to keep peace at home, or to take the worst of his father’s rages onto himself when he can’t. He is chained to and by his family in ways that are painful and inevitable, and he sees his time with Brett as freedom to be himself, freedom from his crushing responsibilities:

Brett, in fact the whole summer, had been the last gasp of his rebellion. One thing to call his own, to keep sacred. Tommy hadn’t gone looking for it and hadn’t expected it to last, or to be so important. You couldn’t put a river in a glass; all the dazzling water, the sound and the light and the whirling eddies…all parts of something else.

Their relationship builds slowly over a few months. You show them falling in love so gently, so delicately, that both of them are there before they really know it. Their love is real and solid, well-drawn and deep, and when they break up for self-sacrificing, slightly melodramatic, teenaged reasons, I was just as devastated as both characters.

And then the unthinkable happens. After a particularly awful night, Tommy’s father is killed. Brett instinctively gets involved in the aftermath by searching for and finding Tommy at their special private meeting place and then trying to take him over the border to Canada. They are, of course, stopped, and eventually, after confessions and lawyers and pre-trial motions and plea deals that are discussed exhaustively and, I think, realistically (Jane would have to tell me for sure), Tommy ends up in jail with a ten year voluntary manslaughter charge.

I love how realistically you draw Brett through all of this. He’s not all devotion and love. He’s furious at Tommy for leaving him. He feels terribly guilty that he didn’t push Tommy to tell him what was going on at home, perhaps forestalling disaster, although you show perfectly how inevitable it all was. Brett’s both desperately afraid for and blindingly angry at Tommy, but he sacrifices for Tommy, using his own money to hire a lawyer, switching from pre-med to physical therapy so he can stay close to Tommy to visit him. He’s both frustrated and comforted at the time as it passes inexorably. And all through it, his emotions are realistically dark and angry, even when he’s hopeful, even when he’s with Tommy:

He kicked half-heartedly at the shrubs below the deck. He couldn’t just have a damn good bitch about it and feel better, either. Too much, too many conflicting things roiled in him for that. Oh, he’d expected the anger, the inability to understand what Tommy had done-but the sense of betrayal, of loss and abandonment and, God, yes, even hatred, of all things! That had taken him by surprise.

One niggle: I don’t like how the question of whether Tommy knew what he had done was an issue for Brett. If Brett if going to support Tommy no matter what for doing something that was done in self-defense, does it really matter whether Tommy knew exactly what he was doing or not?

I also question whether a teenage boy would actually do this for his first lover, no matter how much he thought he loved him. Six years is a very long time when you’re nineteen, after all, and Brett’s commitment is admirable but maybe slightly unrealistic (says the woman who is married the boy she started dating at sixteen).

When Tommy gets parole and returns home, how much of their relationship is obligation and habit and gratitude and how much of it is real? You actually leave this question unanswered. Tommy and Brett seem still to be in the flush of reunion joy, even though several months have passed since Tommy’s parole at the end of the book. It’s begging for a sequel, which you’ve indicated to me that you’re writing. Although I adored Breaking Faith–your writing ability and the characterization of Brett and Tommy are both superlative–and although I can’t wait to read more of Brett and Tommy, I really hope that the sequel is slightly happier, slightly more optimistic. Although it more than rewards the effort, this is a difficult book to read.

Grade: B

-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Freya’s Bower in ebook format.