Posts Tagged ‘ fantasy ’

Review: Once A Princess

Once a Princess by Sherwood Smith is the first of two novels in the rather laboriously named Sasharia en Garde! duology.  I thought at first that this was from Net Galley, but now I’m beginning to think it might have been a kindle freebie on Amazon.  I’m not familiar with the author – this is, as far as I know, the first of Smith’s books I’ve read, (though I’ve heard the name more than once recently…) but according to the author’s website, Shasharia en Garde! is actually one story split into two parts, set in Sartorias-deles, a world featured in many of the author’s other works.  This background information makes a lot of sense of some points that bothered me about Once a Princess.Once a Princess cover

But we’ll get to that part in a bit.

Sasharia Zhavalieshin is your regular twenty-something woman waitressing her way through grad school.  Except for the small fact that she’s actually a princess.  From another world.  And did I mention the magic?

In the fifteen years since Princess Sun ‘Atanial’ Zhavalieshin of Khanerenth and her young daughter fell through the World Gate from the magical land of Sartorias-deles into Sun’s native Earth, mother and daughter have managed to build a relatively normal, if somewhat paranoid, life for themselves.  Normal, that is, until an unwelcome blast from the past arrives on both Sash and Sun’s doorsteps in the form of mages from Khanerenth, bringing unwelcome news.

Sun’s paranoia is quickly proven correct – you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you – when one of those mages tricks his way into Sash’s flat and drags her unwilling self back through the World Gate into Sartorias-deles.  Where a host of enemy guards are waiting for them; apparently King Canardan Merindar, current ruler of Khanerenth and Sash’s evil uncle, is well aware of the rebellion’s plot to use the Zhavalieshin princesses as figureheads for civil war, and has plans of his own for the pair of them.

While Sash and some unlikely allies do their best to stay one foot ahead of Canardan’s soldiers, Sun’s attempted rescue falls completely flat and she’s soon at the apparently-genuine mercy of the evil King.  Are Sash’s new friends as trustworthy as they seem?  What is Canardan up to?

Will I ever figure out how to pronounce the characters’ last names?

Overall, this was an enjoyable high-fantasy romp, with interesting characters and a detailed setting.  Swordfighting, magic, dashing pirates, lost royalty, conspiracies galore… what more could a girl ask for?   The heroes are flawed and read like real people, and even the bad guys have their good points.  Not to mention bucketloads of charm.

But it does have a few problems.  The beginning of the book is the typical ‘trying so hard to be mysterious and exciting and catch your attention’ that makes me sigh and roll my eyes, and trying to follow all of the cryptic action was less than a barrel of laughs.  The author has apparently written a lot of other stories based in the same world, and it shows – it felt like there was little explanation of the world and culture, let alone the myriad characters mentioned, and it took me a while to keep everything straight.  I still had trouble with the legion of minor characters.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve read a lot of fantasy – or perhaps I’m Just That Damn Good – I predicted the Shocking!Plot!Twist!Sekkrit the first time it was even slightly mentioned, and it was almost disappointing to be proved right.  And I usually love being right.   But it felt far too obvious, with too many ‘subtle hints’ that felt like they added nothing to the story except to broadcast clues and make it All Make Sense Later.

As I mentioned in the intro, apparently Once a Princess and its ‘sequel’, Twice a Prince, are actually one book split into two halves.  What purpose besides profit that was for, I can’t imagine, as Once a Princess doesn’t stand terribly well on its own.  While time passes during the book, and Things Happen, it didn’t really feel like the plot was getting anywhere – by the end of Once a Princess, Sash is still on the run, Sun is still in the clutches of Canardan, and Sash’s father is still Missing, Presumed Dead.  Which is where things were in about chapter four, except we’ve met a whole lot of minor characters and most of them have been shunted off-stage again.

Another thing that really bothered me was the myriad viewpoints.  Sash was the story’s main viewpoint, told in first person, but we also had POV chapters from Sun, the evil War Commander Whose Name I Can’t Remember, Some Random Teenager Who’s Friends With The War Commander’s Nephew, the dashing pirate Zathdar… and probably some other people I’m forgetting.  The contrast between Sash’s first-person and everyone else’s third-person was jarring, and quite frankly I’m not sure why we needed so many points of view.  Or maybe that’s just me not caring about what’s happening with The Evil War Commander and associates.

And, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, the cover isn’t very pretty.  At least my copy was on my kindle, so I didn’t really see it.

So, (somewhat more numerous than I thought) issues above aside, I quite enjoyed this story.  At least until I got to the very abrupt ending, considered paying $5 (ebook price on Amazon; paperback is $12) to read the second half of the book, and balked.  It’s a fairly traditional fantasy/YA romance (no sexy times or naughty parts), and if you actually have both parts of the story from the start it might be a smoother read.  I don’t know that it’s worth $10 ($25 in paperback) to read the whole story.  $5 for the whole thing would be more reasonable than $5 for each half, especially when you’re getting half a story at best.

Because of the number of issues and caveats I’ve had to give, and the price-point, I can’t quite bring myself to tag this as a ‘recommended read’, but if pirates and alternate world YA fantasy is your thing, go for it.  Particularly if you can find it cheap or free somewhere.

Review: The Sevenfold Spell

Cover for The Sevenfold SpellGrand adventure and romance always works out so well in fairy tales, but not every girl is a princess…

In an utterly unique and charming turn on the traditional fairy tale, Tia Nevitt takes us “behind the scenes” in the story of Sleeping Beauty, where plain spinster Talia loses her livelihood – and prospective bridegroom – when the kingdom’s spinning wheels are destroyed by royal edict.

The harsh realities of life, disastrous attempts at learning to weave, and an ever-dwindling supply of money soon result in Talia and her mother making the risky decision to try to build their own spinning wheel despite the ban – and with no money to spare, Talia has to find some way to pay in kind for the skills and materials they need…

An extremely enjoyable light read, The Sevenfold Spell appealed to both my love of fairy tales, and my far-too-infrequently-indulged liking for non-traditional romance.  Talia is far from a pure, sheltered maiden, and her knight in shining armour is neither lordly, gallant – or even present for most of the book!

For those who enjoy an alternate take on a traditional tale, or who are just looking for some enjoyable spring reading, The Sevenfold Spell is highly recommended.

Review: Not Your Typical, Scantily-Clad Virgin Sacrifice

Not Your Typical, Scantily-Clad Virgin Sacrifice is a hilariously-named collection of short stories by H. Jonas Rhynedahll.  I picked up an .epub version from an author giveaway after the title attracted my interest.  It contains the following short stories:

  • Not your typical, scantily-clad virgin sacrifice
  • Virtue
  • Causality
  • Personal Space
  • Fred Was a Mutant
  • Science

The stories vary in length and style, from fantasy (Not your typical, scantily-clad virgin sacrifice; Virtue) to science fiction (Causality; Personal Space) and something in between (Fred Was a Mutant; Science).

Hblabanechalatooc repeated the sacred words and rang the sacred bell, which responded with a muted clank.
“Where’s the Sacred Golden Bell of the Moon Goddess, Morton?”
Morton looked apologetic. “Well, sir, the insurance company sent us a memo saying they thought that bringing the Sacred Instruments out of their cases was too risky, so we had to substitute this year.”

The author’s style strongly reminds me of Terry Pratchett in both style and themes, particularly Not your typical, scantily-clad virgin sacrifice, Virtue, and SciencePersonal Space managed to pull off a less in-your-face trying-hard-to-be-funny style without completely sacrificing a sense of humour, and is my favourite piece from the anthology.

While some of the stories, namely Causality and Science, weren’t quite my personal cup of tea, overall I enjoyed this collection.  Not Your Typical, Scantily-Clad Virgin Sacrifice is currently retailing on for the Kindle at $0.99, and is well worth the price.  Recommended.

Review: Lust

Lust by Charlotte Featherstone is the first book in The Sins and the Virtues, a brand-new series of books that follow the stories of seven Fey princes, each cursed with one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Lust is due to be released by Harlequin’s Spice line in January 2011.Lust cover

Centuries ago, the Queen of the Seelie Fey, Aine, was kidnapped by Duir, King of the dark Unseelie Fey.  Whilst in captivity she bore him twin sons, Crom and Niall.  Aine eventually managed to escape, taking Crom with her, but before doing so she laid a curse on Niall and on the other male children of Duir’s line.  Each Dark Fey prince was cursed with the personification of one of the Seven Deadly Sins, their nature shaped by that sin and forced to act upon its desires.  Thanks to Aine’s curse the Unseelie court is dying, and Niall, now king, was helpless to stop it until he discovered the key to unravelling his mother’s curse.  For each Fey prince cursed with a Sin has a counterpart, a mortal woman who embodies one of the Seven Virtues.  If they can find these women, earn their love, and bring them willingly to the Dark Court, perhaps the Seelie Queen’s spell will be broken…

Our first story, Lust, is the tale of Thane, one of Niall’s younger half-brothers.  Thane possesses the Sin of lust, and along with it an insatiable appetite for the pleasures of the flesh.  He and his siblings quickly track down the first three of the human Virtues they need to break the curse, and Thane is unable to take his eyes from Chastity Lennox, the third of the Duke of Lennox’s four beautiful daughters.

Chastity, as her name implies, is one of the embodiments of a Virtue, and Thane’s mortal counterpart.  She has spent all of her life cold and restrained, unmoved by the handsome faces and elegant compliments that make other female hearts flutter – until a chance encounter at a masked ball rocks Chastity’s world, and she finds herself responding to a man, however reluctantly, for the very first time.  A man who she quickly begins to suspect is not a man at all, but a Dark Fey seeking her soul…

Lust is part of the Harlequin Spice line, and very much deserving of the classification.  Lust is a very sexy read, with smouldering chemistry and red-hot sex scenes.  The combination of historical setting and fantasy elements is difficult to find, and certainly makes this book stand out from the crowd.  I spent several enjoyable hours whiling away the time with Lust, and will certainly keep my eye out for the rest of the books in the series to be released.

If you dislike fantasy elements or explicit sex scenes, then this book is not for you; it is very much an erotic romance., with heavy emphasis on the erotic.  However, if  you like your heroes mythological and your sex scenes smokin’ hot, then Lust comes highly recommended.

Review: Breath of Magic

Now, I’m not normally a fan of time travel romance, but Breath of Magic by Teresa Medeiros might have changed my mind.  Just a tiny bit.  I loved her Charming the Prince, a medieval romance take on Cinderella, and I’m glad I was willing to give this story the benefit of the doubt based on past experience.Breath of Magic cover

Arian Whitewood is the daughter of a French courtesan, plagued by rumours of witchcraft and devil-worship in the small Massachusetts town where she and her Puritan step-father live.  Though the details are exaggerated, the townspeople’s fears are true – Arian can work magic, with the help of a magical amulet than once belonged to her mother.  The amulet saves Arian’s life when she is tried for witchcraft and ‘ducked’ into the pond to drown, and instead of breathing water, she finds herself flying through the air in New York City, three hundred years into the future.  After her broomstick has an unfortunate run-in with a chimney and catches fire, Arian finds herself crash-landing into the arms of billionaire bad-boy Tristan Lennox.

Tristan is a renowned skeptic, and not the least bit amused when his well-publicised “magic contest” – one million dollars to anyone who can prove that magic exists – is interrupted by a lovely slip of a girl on a flying broomstick, of all things.  Though it’s clearly a hoax, it will take time for Tristan’s scientists to find the trick and prove it; until then, he finds himself reluctantly enjoying the company of the strange young woman he thinks a charlatan and a fraud.  And Arian finds that perhaps there’s something more important than getting home to be killed for witchcraft…

There’s no complicated plot or arching character development, but that only meant the story was straightforward.  The characters and plot weren’t particularly believable – this is a time-travel romance, after all, and suspension of disbelief is de rigueur.

Tristan started off the story gruff and quite unpleasant.  It was nice to see his cold shell slowly thawing as Arian wormed her way inside his defences, and the struggle to align what his heart feels with what his head thinks.  IT was interesting, if sometimes cringe-inducing, to follow Arian’s attempts to adapt to the twentieth century and all the ways society and technology has changed since her time in Puritan Massachusetts.

While not a stunning literary masterpiece, this story is a light and enjoyable piece of fluff that was perfect for lightening the dreary chill of a late autumn afternoon.  Recommended.

Review: A Magic of Twilight

Well.  After the disappointment that was Viscount Vagabond and The Devil’s Delilah by Loretta Chase, I decided to take a step away from romance and read a straight fantasy (albeit, reportedly one with a character romance).  The fantasy book I made the mistake of picking was A Magic Of Twilight – my husband has the first two books and enjoyed them enough that the third is on his buy list.  I’ll admit that out tastes don’t always match, but often they do in epic fantasy.A Magic of Twilight cover

Boy, did I pick the wrong book to try.

A Magic Of Twilight (not to be confused with sparkly vampires) is the first book in S. L. Farrell’s Nessantico Cycle.  I suppose that the series’ name should have been the first clue of what I was in for.  The second should have been that the cover quote was from George R. R. Martin.

The book opens with what is no doubt intended to be an enticing insight into the world of Nessantico, but the plethora of pseudo-Italian for names, terms, everything had me frustrated before the end of the first page.  Don’t get me wrong – I like fantasy languages when used tastefully and moderately, to add flavour and realism to a world.

This was neither tasteful nor moderate, and I don’t know how realistic it made the world when I spent more time trying to figure out how to pronounce the names in my head than I did actually reading the English words.  In case you think I jest, some samples:

She’d listened to the teni thundering their admonitions from the High Lectern enough to realise that. U’Teni cu’Dosteau, the Instruttorei a’Acoyte, was just as blunt and direct: “A teni does not thwart Cenzi’s Will unpunished…”

At the front of the room, the Sun Throne gleamed beneath the Kraljica Marguerite ca’Ludovici, the ruler of Nessantico and the Holdings, the great Genera a’Pace, the Wielder of the Iron Staff, the Matarh a’Dominion…

I was honestly confused after the first few pages whether there was supposed to be an omg!shocking incest/molestation reference, a la Game of Thrones, or not; no reference is provided for the relationship outside of the pseudo-Latinate, and no age approximation is provided for two of the three characters that appear in that first scene.  Possibly there was for  the third, but she was comatose, and not involved in the sexual reference.

I was willing to give the first section the benefit of the doubt, in case the author was attempting an immersive scene to catch the reader’s attention and would back off and provide some context after that, but no.  In fact, it seemed to get worse as I progressed through the first chapter, and a switch in view-point every few pages only frustrated me further.

I couldn’t get any further.  This book completely failed to capture my interest, and trying to keep the ridiculous terms straight gave me a headache, and I didn’t even get that far in the book!

This is definitely a Will Not Finish.  Would not recommend to anyone, unless they’re looking for a penance and the thought of a hair shirt is too mild.

Review: Raven’s Strike

Raven’s Strike is the second book in Patricia Briggs‘ rather wonderful Raven Duology.  I reviewed the first book, Raven’s Shadow, here after reading the pair over the weekend; it seemed only right to continue straight onto the second and concluding book of this series.

Raven's Strike original cover

Raven’s Strike picks up soon after the end of Raven’s Shadow; Tier, Seraph, Jes, Lehl, and Hennea have collected Rinnie and returned to the farm near Redern following the events of Raven’s Shadow. Their hard-earned peace is soon interrupted by the arrival of Phoran, a friend of Tier’s and an ally from Raven’s Shadow, with some bad news. Another Epic Quest™ ensues, this time with the whole family along for the ride. And anyone else they pick up along the way, or so it seems.

This second book in the series actually has more of an Epic Quest™ tradition than its predecessor, which I enjoyed. It’s tough to find a good traditional epic quest storyline these days, and between the two books I was rather reminded of David Eddings’ Belgariad. I enjoyed the questing itself, but felt the resolution to be a little flat and I do have some unanswered questions. I suppose it doesn’t help that it turned out that I’d (correctly) guessed the identity of the current Big Bad in the first book, so the Big Reveal™ was pretty wasted on me.

In Raven’s Strike we got to see some areas of the Empire mentioned in the previous installment but never visited, and learned more about the history of the Travelers, the Nameless King and the Wizards of Colossae. The story of Colossae and the origin of the Traveler Orders was a part I particularly enjoyed reading about; as I think I mentioned before, the world is well-built and well-detailed.

Raven's Strike new cover

Familiar faces returned from Raven’s Shadow, and were further developed and fleshed out. Phoran made the step from being an important secondary character in the first book to one of the main characters in this, and I enjoyed seeing the continuation of the growing up and maturing he began in Raven’s Shadow. It’s a shame that I won’t be able to find out how he continues to mature and establish himself going forward (which I know is vague, but I’m trying not to give specific or too many spoilers).

The relationship between Seraph and Tier had some lovely intimate moments, and I greatly enjoyed the development of the not-a-romance between Jes and Hennea. Thankfully, Briggs does not seem inclined to commit the cardinal sin of having to pair up every main or important secondary character over the age of 16, and these were the only real romantic relationships.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a great deal, and would love to see either a continuation of the existing stories or an unrelated tale set in the same world. My chances of that are slim to none, but a girl can hope. This is is definitely a recommended read, though you will need to read Raven’s Shadow first; this book borrows heavily from its predecessor, and would not stand well on its own.

For anyone who is interested, Patricia Briggs has some author commentary and supplementary artwork and author’s comments available on her website. The new covers for the books are pretty, but I actually prefer the older artwork. YMMV.

Review: Raven’s Shadow

With feeling like crap the past few days I’ve done a bit more reading than usual for the first part of the week, and managed to get through both Raven’s Shadow and Raven’s Strike (the review for which will follow probably some time later this week), amongst a couple of category and historical romances (which I’m sure will also be reviewed eventually).

Raven’s Shadow is the first book in Patricia Briggs‘ Raven Duology.  The books are a Quest tale set in the (as far as I can tell) unnamed Empire, a typical high fantasy medieval world with horses, palaces, and men who wander around with swords.

Raven's Shadow original cover

And magic, of course.

There are two kinds of magic in the Empire: traditional fantasy ritual magic and spellbooks used by ‘wizards’ and their ilk (solsenti sorcery, according to Seraph), and the innate magic of the Travelers.

The Travelers are a rather gypsy-esque group, who, as the name suggests, travel around rather than settling in one home.  Like in the real-world, these gypsy clans are disliked and persecuted by much of the Empire.  The magic of the Travelers is broken down into six Orders, Raven (mage), Falcon (hunter), Lark (healer), Owl (bard), Cormorant (weather) and Eagle (guardian).  The people with these particular magic Orders (Order-bearers) are relatively rare even amongst the Travelers, and Travelers who aren’t Order-bearers can (I think) still be mageborn enough to use wizardry, if they were so inclined.

I’ll try not to give away too many spoilers for the plot, but just recount the basics of the first couple of chapters that constitute Part One (which are mainly story-setting) and a general overview of the remainder.

Our story begins with the first meeting of our two main characters: Seraph, Raven of the Traveler Clan of Isolde the Silent, and Tieragan of Redern, a baker-turned-soldier returning to his mountain village home.  At the start of our tale Seraph’s older brother Ushireh, the only other member of her Clan, has been burned at the literal stake for the crime of… well, being a Traveler.  Tier rescues Seraph from a Fate Worse Than Death (essential slavery) and she journeys with him to Redern.  Things happen, and the pair of them end up married and most definitely not in love.

Raven's Shadow new cover

At this point we hit Part Two of the story, and jump forward 20 years. Tier and Seraph are married, farmers living just outside of Redern, and now have three children; Jes, who is Eagle, Lehl, who is Falcon, and Rinnie, who is Cormorant.  Tier is missing, presumed dead, but actually kidnapped by Evil Wizards™ and taken to the Empire’s capital city of Taela. The Quest ensues and Seraph, her two sons, and Seraph’s fellow Raven Hennea set off an Epic Journey to rescue him.

While I added both ‘fantasy’ and ‘romance’ tags to this, it isn’t a paranormal romance novel by any stretch – but it does follow a married couple, Tier and Seraph, who are clearly in love even if they don’t verbally admit it until almost the end of this book.  As a romance reader as well as a fantasy reader, I enjoyed the relationship between them; even though they spent most of the book apart, they were never far from each other’s thoughts, which is something I can relate to in my own marriage.  The side-tale with Jes’ developing feelings for Hennea was sweet and touching, and every bit as awkward as I remember my first romance being.

The overall interaction and relationships between the character was extremely well-written, and the world they were set in was detailed and interesting.  While some secondary characters felt like name placeholders, the more important and frequently-seen were well fleshed-out and engaging.

Though part of a duology, this book stands perfectly well on its own with a well-resolved ending.  I would definitely recommend this as a high fantasy sword-and-sorcery tale, and look forward to working through the rest of my Briggs books.

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