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Historical Fantasy

REVIEW:  The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

REVIEW: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey...

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The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.

Dear Authors,

When I read the blurb for this book at Netgalley, I had high hopes for it. A princess who is an expert swordswoman, pirates, treasure, true love and what I hoped, based on the cover, would be a story filled with swashbuckling adventure. The elements were there but the execution wasn’t what I’d hoped for. The story is slow, the magic is lacking and the romance is almost non-existent. By the end, I just wanted it over.

The first chapter is slow, leisurely and packed with backstory. We discover how poor little Swansgaard has 12 princesses and one crown prince and can’t hope to pay out that many dowries without breaking the bank so the princesses will have to make their own way in life. I was slightly miffed that 12 girls will get booted out so that sonny boy won’t be poor. It’s a set up that left a bitter taste in my mouth but I kept going in the hope that the eldest would be off to a life of grand adventure.

Months later, Clarice decides to head to the new world, which except for some barely changed names sounds much like North and South America. Long and tedious detail describes how she chooses a ship and begins to learn about life on board. If a reader doesn’t know much about sailing ships, this information can be handy but for someone who does, it’s slow going. Frankly the first chapter is a little boring.

But then in chapter two, finally things start to come together and the pace picks up a bit. Things happen, there’s a little swordplay and my interest revived only for the action to slow again. This is more the thinking person’s adventure as at the half way point and slightly beyond, I frankly couldn’t say there’s much “rousing adventure.”

Instead, Dominick and Clarice have to think their way through their problems – why did the captain act the way he did? Where was he going to take the ship and why? And now that they’re there, what lies ahead and how do they anticipate danger and deal with it? At this point, Clarice truly comes in handy with her lifelong training in politics, statesmanship and reading a situation to gain the advantage. But since they’re up against magic, ultimately all this means little.

Ah, the magic. It gets explained more than once but I still never truly “got it.” The most magic that appeared was wielded by the villain and it became more eeevil villainy that just is because it’s there rather than anything that makes much sense. Even the villain’s evil quest is never satisfactorily explained. It just all goes to pieces in the end and something, I’m still not sure what, happens and it’s over. Huh, okay then.

Despite the fact that this is mainly a fantasy novel, there’s still the romance, right? Only Clarice’s is the only point of view in the story and she loves Dominick but he’s utterly clueless about her true gender and identity for most of the story so all that we get is her unrequited feelings up until suddenly he’s in love with her to break a spell. Well, I felt cheated.

The pirates don’t save the story either as they are little but props for the evil villain. The pirate haven is a beautiful but dismal spot, as we learn but it hardly seems to matter as that is left behind too.

The story limps along to an end and it’s then that I realize that there are lots of loose ends left. Since this is, I believe, supposed to be the start of a series, I have to believe that this might be to leave issues to be resolved later. I, however, am not willing to read the next eleven books to find out. D

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The King’s Viper by Janine Ashbless

REVIEW: The King’s Viper by Janine Ashbless

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“When Lady Eloise of the Isle of Venn becomes betrothed to the King of Ystria, she looks forward to a life of luxury and status at the royal court. She certainly doesn’t anticipate being shipwrecked on the way to her wedding, escorted by the Kings assassin, Severin de Meynard, the most hated man in the kingdom. Nor does she anticipate them having to make their way back home to Ystria on foot, through hundreds of miles of enemy territory. Above all, she doesn’t expect to fall in love with the cynical, ruthless Severin. Eloise and Severin struggle to control their growing attraction to each other because if they do not if she returns to the King no longer a virgin then they will both be executed. Yet their passion threatens to be far stronger than their self-control, leading them to other ways to satisfy their desires. Severin and Eloise are torn between duty and their burning need for one another, and both will face bitter sacrifice before the end.”

Dear Ms. Ashbless,

Ever since I fell in love with “Heart of Flame,” I’ve been meaning to try another one of your books. After reading blurbs and hemming and hawing, I finally took the plunge and got “The King’s Viper” since I couldn’t resist the image of the title – that of a deadly man willing to do anything for his King.

The opening of the story threw me off a little. Told from Eloise’s POV, we learn almost nothing about the ruthless Severin beyond the fact that he truly does come across as silent and deadly. He’s a man who could and probably has done just about anything and I wondered why she’d agreed to marry him when she was already miserable from something he’d probably done. The reason is in the story and the story is compelling.

Severin shows his steely nature from the start. When Eloise asks him why the King, his best friend, asked her, a quiet woman of few worldly accomplishments, to marry him, he’s blunt and honest. The King thinks Eloise will be pliable and on her father’s death, his land will revert to the crown. How’s that for plain speaking?

But the festivities are already planned and so off the bridal party goes via ship to the mainland. When disaster strikes, the King’s Viper lives up to his name and reputation. All he does is for his King and since Eloise is to be his Queen, he’ll kill, lie and do whatever is needed to see that she gets where she’s supposed to go Virgo Intacta since anything less will be seen as treason against the man who raised Severin from nothing.

Most of the book is thus spent on an extended road trip across enemy territory with Severin and Eloise watching every step they take and word they utter. Severin sets Eloise straight on their likely fate should they be discovered and later he fesses up what their likely fate will be if they make it home. Along the way, they fall in love.

What does this cold man see in Eloise that not even her betrothed has noticed? Eloise starts the journey as a naïve, young woman. She’s been sheltered but to Severin’s relief, she’s practical and willing to go along with the lies he invents to save their lives. She’s a hard worker, doesn’t complain and impresses him by her ability to improvise. Yet this isn’t what finally cracks his heart.

Eloise is honest above all things. Severin has warned her to guard her emotions and thoughts at court and to beware of those who would use her for their advantage. He’s used to lies, treachery, and flattery as a way of life among the mice and the snakes of court. Eloise’s innocence and truthfulness calls to something deep in him. Yes, she’s a touch teeth clenchingly naïve during their “everything but vaginal intercourse” sex but she’s refreshingly open – and I don’t mean that in only a sexual manner.

So what can the future be for Severin and Eloise who have to prove their loyalty to the King or die? Well, it’s here that the book faltered a bit for me. Severin has laid it out to Eloise – the reasons she will need to be proven a virgin, the ways he’ll be tortured to prove he didn’t despoil the King’s intended and how it’s all going to go downhill from there. After the intimacy of their extended road trip and period of falling in such deep emotional love, this felt like a let down in intensity. Things started coasting along and slowing down. But from the opening events in the story, I knew there was more to come.

The ultimate scene when these two were finally back together and could express their emotions is cathartic. It’s also slightly sad since, as no one has to point out, they still have roles to play in order to keep from losing their heads. As I finished the book, I hoped that there was a sequel since Severin and Eloise aren’t currently faced with a lot of options for a conventional HEA. And this, along with the coasty part above, is why the grade dips. I loved how dark Severin could be, I loved seeing him fall so hard, I loved watching Eloise find a man who would steal the moon for her but, damn it!, I want some payoff for the emotional ride I’ve been taken on and the bitter sacrifices these two have made. I want some rainbows and happy bunnies for these two and right now, I don’t have them. B-

~Jayne

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