Review: The Forests of Dru by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Forests of Dru by Jeffe KennedyThe Forests Of Dru (Sorcerous Moons, #4) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #4
Pages: 180
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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An Enemy LandOnce Princess Oria spun wicked daydreams from the legends of sorceresses kidnapped by the barbarian Destrye. Now, though she’s come willingly, she finds herself in a mirror of the old tales: the king’s foreign trophy of war, starved of magic, surrounded by snowy forest and hostile strangers. But this place has secrets, too—and Oria must learn them quickly if she is to survive.
A Treacherous CourtInstead of the refuge he sought, King Lonen finds his homeland desperate and angry, simmering with distrust of his wife. With open challenge to his rule, he knows he and Oria—the warrior wounded and weak, the sorceress wrung dry of power—must somehow make a display of might. And despite the desire that threatens to undo them both, he still cannot so much as brush her skin.
A Fight for the Future With war looming and nowhere left to run, Lonen and Oria must use every intrigue and instinct they can devise: to plumb Dru’s mysteries, to protect their people—and to hold fast to each other. Because they know better than any what terrifying trial awaits…

My Review:

tides of bara by jeffe kennedyI love this series, but I’m not completely sold on this particular entry in it.

Let me explain…

This book picks up where The Tides of Bara leaves off, but it doesn’t really go anywhere until the very end. As the story begins, Lonen and Oria have finally reached Lonen’s kingdom, and all is not nearly as well as Lonen had hoped.

His people believe that Oria is an evil Baran sorceress who is controlling him with her magic. And while she certainly has bewitched Lonen, it isn’t with any nefarious power or sorcery. Against all odds, they have fallen in love with each other. And while love is certainly a kind of magic, if in this particular case it’s a snare, it’s a snare that has trapped them both.

lonens war by jeffe kennedyBut his people don’t see that. Particularly his older brother Nolan. Nolan should have been king, but when he and his troop fell into a mighty crevasse during the battle for Bara, all the way back in Lonen’s War, everyone quite reasonably assumed he was dead. Considering that it took him two years to find his way back from under the earth, it wasn’t a totally ridiculous idea.

Especially since the Destrye needed a king right that very minute, and Lonen was the only prince available. Now they all have to live with the consequences of that moment. One of those consequences is that Lonen has brought Oria back from Bara to be his queen, whether his people like it or not.

And they mostly don’t.

Oria doesn’t believe that this is a long term problem. She is not the first of her people to be brought to Destrye, even if she is more willing than has usually been the case. She has nothing to go back to in Bara, not after the events of Oria’s Gambit. She is a fugitive and an exile.

But Baran sorceresses simply do not live long away from the magic that wells up under Bara. She believes that she will die of starvation, and relatively soon, unless she can find a way to reach the magic that exists within the forests of Dru, no matter how different that magic is from her own.

There might be a way, but not with all the forces of Destrye and Bara stacked against them. Unless they manage to outrun their fate yet again.

orias gambit by jeffe kennedyEscape Rating B-: The problem that I have with this entry in the series is that it feels like a chapter in a waiting game. Until the very end, it doesn’t move the action forward very much. For most of the book, Lonen and Oria are effectively held captive by their own need to recover, by the Destrye court, and by Lonen’s duties to his family and his doubts about his kingship. It takes most of the novella for them to get out from under all the burdens and back on the road again.

The individual entries in the Sorcerous Moons series are relatively short – less than 200 pages each. When there is a lot of action, as there was in the first two books, those pages really fly by. But now that the story has hit what feels like the equivalent of the “middle book”, those short pages continue the trough and don’t have enough time to get back to the action.

I still like Lonen and Oria quite a lot. They are still negotiating a difficult marriage, and it appropriately goes in fits and starts. They love each other, they need each other, but they began with no understanding of each other whatsoever, so reaching a place where they work together smoothly is a trial for them. As it should be.

Oria spends much of this book, and the last one, losing strength and heading towards her demise. Seeing her finally rally towards the end of this book made for an excellent scene, even if the result did cause even more problems.

The most interesting character in this whole story is Oria’s familiar, the derkesthai Chuffta. Chuffta is a small dragon with all the snark a reader could ever ask for in a long-term companion. He has been with Oria all her life, and not only knows all her weak spots, but also knows just when to tweak them. And he LOVES to start fires.

But it feels as if his fate as well as the humans, is peering over the edge of a dark precipice. Nothing will be the same after the battle to come. I just wish it would get here already!

Review: The Tides of Bara by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Tides of Bara by Jeffe KennedyThe Tides of Bára (Sorcerous Moons, #3) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #3
Pages: 200
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on October 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonKobo
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A Narrow Escape
With her secrets uncovered and her power-mad brother bent on her execution, Princess Oria has no sanctuary left. Her bid to make herself and her new barbarian husband rulers of walled Bára has failed. She and Lonen have no choice but to flee through the leagues of brutal desert between her home and his—certain death for a sorceress, and only a bit slower than the blade.
A Race Against Time
At the mercy of a husband barely more than a stranger, Oria must war with her fears and her desires. Wild desert magic buffets her; her husband’s touch allures and burns. Lonen is pushed to the brink, sure he’s doomed his proud bride and all too aware of the restless, ruthless pursuit that follows…
A Danger Beyond Death…
Can Oria trust a savage warrior, now that her strength has vanished? Can Lonen choose her against the future of his people? Alone together in the wastes, Lonen and Oria must forge a bond based on more than lust and power, or neither will survive the test…

My Review:

orias gambit by jeffe kennedyThe action in The Tides of Bára picks up immediately after the end of Oria’s Gambit. Or perhaps I should say the failure of Oria’s gambit, as they are both the same thing. Unfortunately for Oria and Lonen.

In other words, this is not the place to start Sorcerous Moons. Start at the beginning with the marvelous Lonen’s War. The Sorcerous Moons series isn’t so much as series as it is one long story, broken up into publishable-sized chunks.

They’re short chunks so start at the beginning.

The Tides of Bára is the second half of the middle book in what is so far projected to be a four-book series. The author hasn’t committed trilogy, she’s committed tetralogy. But that tetralogy feels like it is necessary for this story to reach its conclusion.

In Lonen’s War, we saw the set up. We saw the arrogance and corruption of the Bárans first-hand, both through the eyes of neglected Princess Oria and conquering “barbarian” Lonen. Lonen has brought war to Bára, a war that was only begun because the Bárans were stealing water and mass murdering his people using nearly unkillable golems. Lonen brought the war to Bára to make them finally face some risk to their own people.

Oria breaks herself out of a literal ivory tower existence that was supposedly for her own good, but was mostly to benefit those in power. As such things usually are. When the peace she brokered between Lonen and her people is betrayed, Lonen returned to Bára in Oria’s Gambit to punish someone for that betrayal. He thinks that someone was Oria. When he finds out that it wasn’t, Lonen and Oria join forces.

Oria sees a marriage of convenience to Lonen as the only way to re-take power before her corrupt brother manages to seize the throne. The marriage takes place, but in spite of her political maneuvering, her power grab fails and her brother tries to have her killed.

As The Tides of Bára opens, Lonen and Oria are fighting their way out of Bára . While Oria believes that the wild magic of the desert will kill her sooner or later, she has some hope that she can find a way to survive. And she is certain that if Lonen can get out of the city, he will survive to go back to his people. Remaining in the city is guaranteed death for both of them. A sliver of hope of survival is better than none.

But once they are free of the city, after a hair-raising escape, they have a long and dangerous journey ahead of them to reach the Destrye, Lonen’s people, with no guarantee that Oria will survive the journey, or that if she does, she will be capable of helping his people survive. Or even if they will let her.

In spite of the odds against them, they have to try. It is their only hope. But what neither of them expects is that along the way, their marriage of convenience will change into something much, much more.

lonens war by jeffe kennedyEscape Rating B+: The Tides of Bára is a road story. It’s the story of Lonen and Oria’s literal journey from Bára to Destrye, and it is also the story of the journey of their relationship from marriage of convenience to marriage of love. The physical journey has more than its share of very real dangers, but the emotional journey is equally as charged.

They began this story on opposite sides of a battlefield. Out in the desert, Lonen and Oria, with the help of Oria’s familiar Chuffta and Lonen’s stalwart battle stallion, the incongruously named Buttercup, are all alone in a vast sea of sand. Bára has drained the life out of the land for endless miles around. What little water there is rises in sudden and deadly tides, and is not merely undrinkable salt water, but is actually poisonous to humans.

They seem to be all alone in the world, and absolutely forced to rely upon each other. Initially their pride keeps them apart, but as they journey, the barriers between them break down. It’s an emotional journey from wary trust to love. To the point where they are each a bit too willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, with nearly disastrous consequences. They are still both learning that they are stronger together than either can possibly be separately, and it’s a difficult journey with a lot of two-steps-forward and one-step-back. As it should be.

This is a necessary part of the story, for the action to switch from Bára to Destrye, and for Oria to be forced to leave everything she knows behind so that she can finally become who and what she is meant to be. But the journey itself is grueling, and bears an unfortunate resemblance to another grueling journey in fantasy, that of Frodo and Sam through Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. The land is equally desolate, and the long dark night of the story and the soul is equally difficult to read through.

And it sets up the story for what I hope will be an epic and glorious conclusion in book 4. Soon please!

Review: Oria’s Gambit by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Oria’s Gambit by Jeffe KennedyOria’s Gambit by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #2
Pages: 198
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on August 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A Play For Power
Princess Oria has one chance to keep her word and stop her brother’s reign of terror: She must become queen. All she has to do is marry first. And marry Lonen, the barbarian king who defeated her city bare weeks ago, who can never join her in a marriage of minds, who can never even touch her—no matter how badly she wants him to.
A Fragile Bond
To rule is to suffer, but Lonen never thought his marriage would become a torment. Still, he’s a resourceful man. He can play the brute conqueror for Oria’s faceless officials and bide his time with his wife. And as he coaxes secrets from Oria, he may yet change their fate…
An Impossible DemandWith deception layering on deception, Lonen and Oria must claim the throne and brazen out the doubters. Failure means death— for them and their people.
But success might mean an alliance powerful beyond imagining...

My Review:

lonens war by jeffe kennedyOria’s Gambit picks up where Lonen’s War leaves off. This isn’t a sequel, it is a continuation of the same story. So if you love epic fantasy romance and have not yet read Lonen’s War, go forth and get a copy posthaste. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Also, and I don’t think this is a spoiler, Oria’s very dangerous gambit feels doomed to fail from the very beginning of the story. Not just because this is the middle book in a tetralogy (four scheduled books so far). If there are at least two more books, Oria can’t possibly succeed yet. There wouldn’t be enough story.

But also because Oria is still very much learning, both about politics in general and about her own power in particular. She’s still in the unfortunate position where she believes way too much of what she has been told, even as she proves it wrong at every turn.

And even though the people who taught her are selfish asshats who kept her power suppressed for their own gain. She needs more seasoning before she will be able to see through all the BS that she was indoctrinated with.

This is a story about the building of trust. It is also a story about figuring out that everything that you have been taught is wrong. And that just because someone says they are doing something for your own good, the reality is that they are acting for their own good and don’t give a damn if you get hurt along the way.

As the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. That is a good chunk of what happens between Lonen and Oria. They may not be sure of each other at first, but they both want what is best for all of their people. Oria, who has been barred from the circles of power in Bara, sees her homeland’s supreme selfishness as wrong. The Barans have been wasting water in a desert for centuries, using their superior magic to steal it from anyplace that cannot stand against them, without a care for how many people they destroy along the way.

It feels like there’s a worldwide water shortage on this planet, and the Barans are doing more than their fair share to make it worse. They don’t care who they kill or what they destroy as long as they can preserve their supposedly superior lifestyle.

And that’s the drama that plays out between Oria and the powers-that-want-to-continue-to-be in her homeland. Oria, with Lonen’s assistance, is doing her best to work within the system for a solution that has a chance of saving everyone. But the forces that have chosen to defend the status quo are willing to stoop to any means, including mass murder, to maintain their place at the top of the heap.

They see Oria and Lonen as traitors and collateral damage. It is going to take a miracle, and a catastrophe, not necessarily in that order, to change that perspective. If Oria survives.

Escape Rating A-: If you like epic political fantasy, this series is like crack. It has everything. Complex magic, political skullduggery, epic battle sequences, horrible monsters and a love story that looks like it is going to be one for the ages.

Oria and Lonen start out from a position where they don’t trust each other, and with good reason. They begin the story in Lonen’s War on opposite sides of a battlefield. But the more they are forced to work together the more they both discover that an honorable enemy makes a better friend than a treacherous ally.

Their marriage is intended to be a marriage of convenience. Oria requires a spouse in order to grab power before her immature, reckless, selfish and idiotic brother manages to claim it. Yar will be a tool of the priesthood, where Oria thinks for herself.

Oria believes that her power makes it impossible for anyone to touch her without making her faint from overload. That’s why she insists on a marriage of convenience. Lonen, knowing none of this but seeing her as the only way of saving his people, agrees.

But the more they work together, and the more time they spend together, the less sensible that marriage of convenience seems. Not just because Lonen wants the only prize he is likely to get after his conquering of Bara, but because the more they work at being allies, the more that Oria feels for her “barbarian” consort.

Watching her perspective change is marvelous. The seduction scene is beautiful and hot and still manages to respect the necessary boundaries that Oria has drawn around herself. The reader sees that those barriers are slowly falling, but Oria, appropriately for her character, isn’t there yet.

The story ends on a low note, as middle books so often do. Our hero and heroine face grave challenges ahead. I can’t wait to find out what happens next!

Review: Lonen’s War by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Lonen’s War by Jeffe KennedyLonen's War (Sorcerous Moons #1) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Sorcerous Moons #1
Pages: 233
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on July 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonKobo
Goodreads

An Unquiet Heart
Alone in her tower, Princess Oria has spent too long studying her people’s barbarian enemies, the Destrye—and neglected the search for calm that will control her magic and release her to society. Her restlessness makes meditation hopeless and her fragility renders human companionship unbearable. Oria is near giving up. Then the Destrye attack, and her people’s lives depend on her handling of their prince…
A Fight Without Hope
When the cornered Destrye decided to strike back, Lonen never thought he’d live through the battle, let alone demand justice as a conqueror. And yet he must keep up his guard against the sorceress who speaks for the city. Oria’s people are devious, her claims of ignorance absurd. The frank honesty her eyes promise could be just one more layer of deception.
A Savage Bargain
Fighting for time and trust, Oria and Lonen have one final sacrifice to choose… before an even greater threat consumes them all.

My Review:

mark of the tala by jeffe kennedyIf you like stories of overlooked princesses coming into their own in spite of withering expectations, you will love Lonen’s War. Likewise if you enjoy epic fantasy with lots of political skullduggery, ( like The Goblin Emperor and Sorcerer to the Crown) because this book certainly fills that bill as well.

And if you are a fan of Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series, you are going to absolutely adore this.

The story in Lonen’s War has strong resemblances to the story in The Mark of the Tala, as well as The Queen of the Tearling. In all of these stories, a young woman who has been locked away and denied the knowledge of her birthright finds out everything anyway, and takes somewhat untutored command when events head towards disaster. Also as in The Mark of the Tala, the definition of “barbarian” depends a lot on which side of the conflict you are standing in. If handsome is as handsome does, and barbarism is as barbarian does, the supposedly savage Destrye turn out to be way less barbarous than the supposedly civilized Barans.

No one expects any of these overlooked princesses to succeed. In fact, there are plenty of forces in all three stories who are gleefully counting on failure – and most of them are supposedly on the princess’s side.

The story in Lonen’s War starts out as a conquest story, and ends up as the very beginning of a very necessary (and probably very messessary) political overthrow. The powers that be in Oria’s kingdom of Bara have held unchallenged sway for far too long.

We have a tale of power corrupting, absolute power corrupting absolutely, and all the chickens coming home to roost in the form of vicious monsters who are happy to kill everyone on both sides to get what they believe is their due.

Oria is the princess that everyone tries to forget. She seems to be unable to muster the maturity to grasp the magical power that her people hold. Now in her early 20s, she is a princess-bird in a gilded cage, who must remain in her cage or be overwhelmed by the unmanaged and unmanageable emotions of others.

Oria is thought to be emotionally and psychologically fragile, and is kept physically fragile as well. She is also kept in the dark. She may not be able to master her people’s magic, but her intellect works perfectly well. As she proves when her country is conquered and she is the last member of the royal house still standing.

But the peace that she negotiates with the leader of their conquerors is as fragile as she is, and her power is swept away by law and custom the moment that an alternative ruler is found. It is up to Oria to make common cause with the Barbarian King, Lonen, in order to forge a peace for both their countries, to face an enemy that will destroy them all.

For sport.

Escape Rating A-: Lonen’s War starts out just a bit slow. It is necessary for the progress of the story to see the way that power is controlled in Bara, and to learn both just how much Oria has been kept in the dark, and how deeply out of touch the powers that be in her country are. But when Oria is essentially gnashing her teeth at everything that is being kept from her, this reader was gnashing right along with her.

All of the problems that occur in this story are problems that the Barans have brought upon themselves. I would say that they may deserve their fate, but it is the people who will die first while the so-called nobility hide behind their walls.

The Barans believed that they could do as they pleased to the rest of their world, because they believed that no one could stop them. And they choose to stop at nothing to stay on top of what turns out to be a rather decaying heap. It is Oria, with her lack of formal training, who is able to think outside of the conventional box and see her people for what they really are.

Although the story is titled Lonen’s War, most of the perspective comes from Oria’s side of the story. Lonen and his people are forced to bring their war to Baran, but it is Oria who helps find a peace that can work for both parties. Unfortunately there are just too many forces arrayed against her among her own people for her way to be easy. Or quick.

One of the constant themes in this story that is both interesting and frustrating centers around the keeping of secrets. Oria is kept in the dark because she is supposedly incapable. And the powers that be do everything in their power to reinforce that assumption. They want a weak and easily manipulated monarch, and Oria is not that.

However, once Oria finally becomes privy to some of those deadly secrets, she in her turn keeps them from Lonen so that he will fall in with her plans. She has the best of intentions, but those secrets are bound to bite them both in the ass in later books. Especially as our heroes are about to enter into a marriage of convenience (and probably a lot of inconvenience) as this book closes. For this political alliance to turn into a real marriage, someone is going to have to eat a lot of crow.

I can hardly wait. Oria’s Gambit is coming next month!

Review: The Crown of the Queen by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Crown of the Queen by Jeffe KennedyThe Crown of the Queen by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Twelve Kingdoms #3.6
Pages: 100
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on May 24th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website
Goodreads

Dafne Mailloux, librarian and temporary babysitter to the heirs to the High Throne of the Twelve – now Thirteen – Kingdoms, finds it difficult to leave the paradise of Annfwn behind. Particularly that trove of rare books in temptingly unfamiliar languages. But duty calls, and hers is to the crown. It’s not like her heart belongs elsewhere. But how can she crown a queen who hesitates to take the throne?

My Review:

talon of the hawk by jeffe kennedyJeffe Kennedy’s Talon of the Hawk made my “Best of 2015” list. I have adored every entry in her Twelve Kingdoms series, and was just a bit sad to see this epic fantasy series conclude last year, no matter how much I loved that conclusion. So I was pleased as punch when I was contacted to review The Crown of the Queen, a bridge novella between The Twelve Kingdoms and their continuation in The Uncharted Realms, which begins with The Pages of the Mind later this month.

When last we left our heroines, the war had just ended in a rather spectacular fashion. Princess Ursula had defeated the tyrant king Uorsin in single-combat, and the crown of the Twelve Kingdoms had just become hers. But Ursula, while she is picking up the reins of leadership, is unwilling to officially pick up the crown that she fought so hard for.

Uorsin was mad, ensorcelled and an utter bastard. Also tyrannical in a way that would fit right into Game of Thrones, complete with the bloody banquets. But he was also Ursula’s father, and she can’t seem to manage to forgive herself for killing him, no matter how utterly necessary his killing might have been.

And it was, after all, in single combat. It could easily have gone the other way, and Ursula was certainly fighting for her life, as well as the lives of everyone in the Twelve Kingdoms. A court of law would certainly call it self-defense.

But guilt is never logical, and Ursula is wallowing in it.

The heroine of this tale is Dafne Mailloux, the official and often disregarded librarian of the Twelve Kingdoms. Dafne, the daughter of a defeated kingdom, retreated to the library as a place of safety, in the hopes that the increasingly mad Uorsin would forget she existed.

His late queen entrusted the raising of her daughters, especially the future queen Ursula, to the young recluse. It was Queen Salena’s plan that Dafne would become her daughter’s high councilor in the future that she sacrificed herself to bring to pass. Now it is Dafne’s duty to bring some common-sense order out of the chaos that followed the death of the mad king.

And to, if necessary, shake some sense into his daughter. Dafne must take up her mantle, and deliver some unwelcome truths to the woman who must become High Queen – before the restless factions of the Twelve Kingdoms manage to shatter the kingdom back into its constituent parts.

Uorsin conquered the Twelve by ruthless war. The warrior-princess Ursula must learn to rule them with justice and law – before they get ahead of her and start ruling her.

Escape Rating A: I seldom give novellas an A rating. Not because I don’t enjoy them, but because the short length usually leaves me wanting something. The Crown of the Queen is an exception. Much as I might want to spend more time in the Twelve Kingdoms, this interlude does not need a full-length novel to tell its necessary tale. It would probably feel bloated if it were stretched to novel-length.

Dafne provides an excellent perspective on these events. She is at the center, but yet she stands a bit to one side. Her job is to provide advice and counsel, which requires that she keep a level head and a slightly outside point of view to do her job well. While she has been at the center of the court all her life, she is not a member of the royal family. Her job is to do the best she can for the kingdom and its people, often by telling the High Queen and the royal family things that they do not want to hear, no matter how much they might need to hear them.

We also have hints that Dafne’s own story will be bigger and more important some time later, but this is not her story. It is the story of Ursula’s coronation and the cementing of her place on the throne of the Twelve Kingdoms as they become Thirteen Kingdoms and probably Fourteen.

As Dafne herself says, they need a name that doesn’t involve numbers.

What we see in this story is Dafne negotiating events. It is up to her to get Ursula out of her funk and get her royal butt officially on the throne. With a lot of tough love, and help from Ursula’s partner Harlan, Dafne sets Ursula on the course to her coronation and all of the pomp and circumstance that must follow in order for Ursula’s reign to be seen as legitimate.

Dafne does a great job of making the machinations of politics seem not just interesting, but actually exciting. As a faithful reader of the series, I had tears in my own eyes during Ursula’s coronation ceremony.

pages of the mind by jeffe kennedyDafne’s deep knowledge of all the players in this drama helps her achieve her goals, and gives readers a great refresher on previous events at the same time. It marvelously whets the appetite for the epic story that is to come.