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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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REVIEW: A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day

REVIEW: A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day

Dear Ms. Day,

9781590210635 Last May, when I reviewed Wicked Gentlemen, Ann Somerville recommended some m/m romances to me. I checked out excerpts from the books she mentioned, and of them all, A Strong and Sudden Thaw stood out the most.

I purchased a copy of the book intending to read and probably review it, but not long after that, you posted that the publisher which originally put out your book in October 2006, Iris Print, was sending you royalty checks that bounced. Since you officially requested that readers not purchase new copies of A Strong and Sudden Thaw, I was torn over whether to review the book. I didn’t so much make a decision not to do it, as was enticed by the many other books clamoring for my attention, and as time passed, I forgot about my good intentions to review your book.

But this story has a happy ending. In July, Iris Print went out of business, and two and a half months ago, a new edition of A Strong and Sudden Thaw was published by Lethe Press. Readers can now purchase the book without worrying about stolen royalties.

In January, I signed up for Keishon’s TBR Challenge, and when Keishon posted that April’s theme would be “Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, SFR or Fantasy” I looked through my bookshelves and found A Strong and Sudden Thaw. Since the book is not only a m/m romance but also a fantasy/science fiction hybrid set in a post-apocalyptic Virginia, the April challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to read and review the book.

As best as I can tell, A Strong and Sudden Thaw is set about a hundred years in the future. The land has become frozen and much technology has been lost, at least in the town of Moline, where David Anderson, the narrator of the book, lives. Because of the Ice, as it is known, society has reverted to pioneer ways, and David and his family live off the land. The family is close knit; David is the oldest of five children ranging in ages from sixteen (David) to five (his little sister, Almond). David’s maternal grandmother, whom he calls “Grandmam” (his parents are “Pa” and “Mam”) also lives with the family.

Recently dragons have appeared in the skies of Moline, to snatch a sheep here or there, but once they even snatched a baby. The people of Moline organized a posse to go after them, but the mission failed – the dragons’ scales protect them from bullets.

But that is not David’s most immediate concern. His mother, May-Marie, wants David to marry one of the girls in town, but David has no interest in this girl or in any other girl. He knows other boys his age are interested in girls, and he realizes that something about himself is different.

When a young healer named Callan comes to Moline from Florida, David strikes up a friendship with Callan, who lends him his precious and rare books, and treats Almond and David’s grandmother’s ailments with gentle thoughtfulness.

David and Callan become close, and David begins to realize he is attracted to Callan, and to dream about his friend at night. But David doesn’t believe his feelings are reciprocated, and doesn’t even realize that it is possible for two men to become lovers.

It’s not until Callan and another man in town are arrested for engaging in sexual acts (something to which David was a witness) that David realizes it might be possible for him to have the kind of relationship he has dreamed of with Callan.

There are many obstacles to face first, though: the intolerance of the townspeople, including David’s own mother, Callan’s punishement for his “crime,” the dragons, and the government, which beings to seem more and more corrupt.

A Strong and Sudden Thaw is narrated in a David’s distinctive voice. Here is the opening paragraph:

There’s an old scenic view about halfway up the mountain, alongside where the old highway runs. The signs are fading, of course, and the pavement’s cracked and ruined, invaded years ago by roots of the scrub pines reclaiming what men stole from them back in the Before. There used to be a fence, a low barrier of iron-grey metal put up by the old people, but it’s gone now too. My mam always told me not to lean on that fence, and she was right, because one day late last summer, after a torrential rain that left us all knee-deep in cold black muck, that twisted fence went right over the edge. Just following after our world, I guess, plummeting over the edge into the abyss. Or at least that’s what Grandmam says, and she ought to know, as she remembers the Before times. She tells stories that make the old world sound like spun sugar candy you get at the Harvest Fair. Rich and sweet, but destined to crumble away at the first hard rain.

The narrative voice of A Strong and Sudden Thaw is one of my favorite things about it. Another is the way the characters, both major and minor, come alive.

David is wonderful, and I loved the way that despite his relative ignorance of things like history and politics, you showed that he possessed a lively intelligence. He is also courageous and honest, so much so that I sometimes feared for him. Callan is less distinctive, but very sympathetic, a gentle, educated, bright and caring man who clearly loves David.

David’s family members are also very memorable, from the fairy tale telling Grandmam, who remembers the days before the Ice and shows more tolerance and understanding of David’s love for Callan than most of the other characters do, to David’s father, Brock, a deeply honest and honorable yet pragmatic man, to David’s siblings and his mother, May-Marie, a religious woman who believes that physical love between men is wrong but loves her son very much nonetheless.

Many of the townspeople are also distinctive, so I was very impressed with the thought that went into creating each and every character.

The fantastical element is introduced at the beginning of A Strong and Sudden Thaw but it soon takes a backseat to the relationships and the story of the town’s intolerance toward Callan’s sexual orientation. Eventually though, the dragons make their presence in the story felt in spades, and the focus of the story shifts somewhat, though not entirely.

The book is quite suspenseful, so much so that I peeked ahead to see how things would turn out for the two heroes, something I almost never do. It was also, to me, reminiscent of both the later Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books, because of its focus on a pioneer-like community’s survival, and of the movie version of “Brokeback Mountain,” because of the censure David and Callan face from their community, and the way they have to hide their feelings for much of the story.

David and Callan’s initial falling in love happens very quickly, and I would have liked for it to be drawn out more. The conflict is mainly an external one, the fact that their relationship is forbidden. I liked that the book didn’t take the simple way out most of the time, so I was a bit disappointed in the resolution to David and Callan’s difficulties, which seemed a bit too easy.

A bigger problem for me, though, was the age difference between the two heroes and the way it was never addressed in the book. When things first get physical between them, David is sixteen and Callan twenty-three, and that seven year age gap bothered me. I have mixed feelings about it because in many ways David’s youth is necessary to the book’s coming-of-age story aspect.

I realize that David was a mature sixteen year old, and Callan a young twenty-three, but I was still uncomfortable. I think that if David had been even a year or two older, or if Callan had been younger, or else if the age difference had been discussed by the main characters, I might have not been so uncomfortable with it. But the only time the age difference came up was in the context of the narrow-minded side characters who felt that Callan had corrupted David and turned him gay. While I have no doubt that David was gay before he ever met Callan, I would have liked to see the age difference debated or at least acknowledged without being attached to homophobia.

For that reason, I can’t endorse A Strong and Sudden Thaw as strongly as I might otherwise. I’m not sorry that I read this original and well-written tale, I just wish that my enjoyment had been wholehearted. B for this one.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from independent bookstore near you or ebook format at AllRomanceEbooks and other etailers.