Review: The Shift of the Tide by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Shift of the Tide by Jeffe KennedyThe Shift of the Tide (The Uncharted Realms #3) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Uncharted Realms #3
Pages: 400
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on August 29th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A QUICKSILVER HEART

Released from the grip of a tyrant, the Twelve Kingdoms have thrown all that touch them into chaos. As the borders open, new enemies emerge to vie for their hard-won power—and old deceptions crumble under the strain…

The most talented shapeshifter of her generation, Zynda has one love in her life: freedom. The open air above her, the water before her, the sun on her skin or wings or fur—their sensual glories more than make up for her loneliness. She serves the High Queen’s company well, but she can’t trust her allies with her secrets, or the secrets of her people. Best that she should keep her distance, alone.

Except wherever she escapes, Marskal, the Queen’s quiet lieutenant, seems to find her. Solid, stubborn, and disciplined, he’s no more fluid than rock. Yet he knows what she likes, what thrills and unnerves her, when she’s hiding something. His lithe warrior’s body promises pleasure she has gone too long without. But no matter how careful, how tender, how incendiary he is, only Zynda can know the sacrifice she must make for her people’s future—and the time is drawing near…

My Review: 

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.” While I may be quoting Spock from Star Trek, the maxim applies equally to Zynda of the Tala in The Shift of the Tide. The Tala are dying, slowly but inexorably. The barrier that kept non-Tala, in other words, non-magical people like you and me, from reaching Annfwn and its Heart of magic, also kept the Tala from going outside to the rest of the world.

The magic doubled and re-doubled upon itself, creating lethal mutations. And the Tala people, a relatively small population trapped together, inbred over the generations, with all the problems that creates. Too many children with extreme birth defects, and too few children all together.

Even though the barrier has expanded greatly, it may already be too late. The Tala population may be too small for viability on their own. And while it is possible for the Tala to have children with non-magical humans (the Tala, for all their gifts, are human still) those children, while they have a better chance of survival, have a much lesser chance of inheriting any of the magic that sets the Tala apart.

Zynda seeks a third way. If she can learn to shapeshift into the “Final Form”, as a dragon she will have the capability, among many, many others, to help Tala babies survive to term, and be born healthy.

Like all great gifts, it will come at great cost. If she survives the tests set by the dragon Kiraka, Zynda will herself become a dragon. The boon to her people is enormous. The price for Zynda is equally so. Dragon is the Final Form for the shapeshifting Tala. Once she becomes a dragon, she can never be anything else, ever again. She won’t be able to swim as a dolphin, canter as a pony, hover as a hummingbird, or take on any of the hundred other forms she has learned. She will be a dragon and only a dragon. She will be immortal. But she will never be human again.

Zynda believes that it will be worth any cost to save babies like her tiny niece, born with parts from multiple animal forms, but unable to be just one whole, healthy creature of any. Zynda has held herself apart from everyone, steeling herself against the day when she will have to give it all up.

But her goddess has one final test for her, before she makes that ultimate sacrifice. One stubborn, persistent man who teaches her the meaning and sweetness of love, even as he learns that lesson for himself.

Because it’s not a sacrifice unless you have something to give up.

Escape Rating A: I have, for the most part, absolutely loved these two interconnected series, The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted Realms. (Ironically, one of the stories that I personally did not care for as much just won a RITA)

And the two series are deeply interconnected. In order to get the full marvelous flavor, you really do need to start at the very beginning with The Mark of the Tala, which is utterly terrific. The story in the first three builds to an epic conclusion. The results and/or fallout of that epic conclusion are then dealt with in the subsequent (so far) three books, of which The Shift of the Tide is the third. But The Shift of the Tide does not feel like the ending of this arc of the story. It is complete in and of itself, as all the stories in this series are, but the overall epic is not over, because the evil that is brewing is not even within sight, let alone defeated.

These series are fantasy romance, but in the sense that there is an epic fantasy story being told, which happens to include romances for the protagonists of each story. The epic fantasy element is every bit as strong as the romance, and it creates the conflicts and moves much of the action.

There is too much at stake for any of these romance to fall into petty jealousies or misunderstandammits. These people have the fate of their world resting on their very capable shoulders.

A huge part of the appeal of this series is that the stories are all heroines’ journeys and not heroes’ journeys, and not even heroes’ journeys with a gender swap. Nor are they remotely variations on the same heroine’s journey. Instead they showcase many different ways for women to be strong and to be heroines.

In the first series, the heroines are, respectively, a sorceress (The Mark of the Tala), a spoiled brat (The Tears of the Rose) and a warrior (The Talon of the Hawk). In this second series, we have, so far, a scholar (The Pages of the Mind), a warrior (The Edge of the Blade) and now a sorceress in The Shift of the Tide.

There is more than one road to heroism for these women. Nor is the route to power through either love or marriage. Even the scholar Dafne is powerful in her own right before she falls for King Nakoa in The Pages of the Mind.

The stories also explore many different variations of love and partnership, from the relatively traditional marriage between Dafne and Nakoa to the relationships between the two Queens and their consorts, which are true partnerships but are not legally defined. Love flourishes in many different ways.

The romance in The Shift of the Tide, while different from the ones that have come before, is similar in its differences. Zynda has kept herself apart, planning to become the dragon. Marskal the soldier, worms his way into her heart by first being her stalwart right hand, even when she doesn’t want him to. But his role is to support her on her journey, which he does marvelously.

She has all the hard parts. She has to prepare herself for the one-way trip away from his love, while still trying to drink the cup of sweetness to its dregs. We feel both her hope and her pain, and when the time comes, we understand the depth of her sacrifice, even as we hope against hope for another way.

Zynda’s story is marvelous from its beginning, rooted in the events of The Pages of the Mind, to its surprising end.

And I’m so happy that this story is not over, the now Thirteen Kingdoms are not yet safe. The story continues in The Arrow of the Heart, coming next summer. Not nearly soon enough for this reader.

Reviewer’s Note: A word to the wise – both Goodreads and Amazon originally said that The Shift of the Tide is a 250 page book. Having just finished it, I’m certain that it can’t possibly be only 250ish pages. It’s over 5000 kindle locations, and based on my reading time, it’s probably 400+ pages. They’re all excellent pages, and well worth the read, but if you are looking for something short, this isn’t it.

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 Edge of the Blade by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Edge of the Blade by Jeffe KennedyThe Edge of the Blade (The Uncharted Realms #2; The Twelve Kingdoms #5) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Uncharted Realms #2, Twelve Kingdoms #5
Pages: 400
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A HAWK S PLEDGE "The Twelve Kingdoms rest uneasy under their new High Queen, reeling from civil war and unchecked magics. Few remember that other powers once tested their borders until a troop of foreign warriors emerges with a challenge . . ." Jepp has been the heart of the queen s elite guard, her Hawks, since long before war split her homeland. But the ease and grace that come to her naturally in fighting leathers disappears when battles turn to politics. When a scouting party arrives from far-away Dasnaria, bearing veiled threats and subtle bluffs, Jepp is happy to let her queen puzzle them out while she samples the pleasures of their prince s bed. But the cultural norms allow that a Dasnarian woman may be wife or bed-slave, never her own leader and Jepp s light use of Prince Kral has sparked a diplomatic crisis. Banished from court, she soon becomes the only envoy to Kral s strange and dangerous country, with little to rely on but her wits, her knives and the smolder of anger and attraction that burns between her and him . . .

My Review:

talon of the hawk by jeffe kennedyWhat makes Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series so awesome is the way that all of her heroines have incredible amounts of agency, whether they are supposed to or not. And the way that often very nontraditional women manage to make their own way in the world without giving away that agency or resulting in what is considered stereotypical feminine behavior.

Jepp is no exception to those rules. She is a scout, spy, warrior, occasional assassin and general all-around knife-wielding badass. She has lived her life entirely by her own rules, rules which include giving her service to someone she respects, specifically High Queen Ursula of the Thirteen Kingdoms. And Jepp goes where her queen sends her.

Specifically in this case, Jepp has been sent to the Kingdom of Dasnaria as Ambassador. Saying that Jepp is an interesting choice is an extreme understatement. Possibly to the point of extreme sarcasm.

Dasnarians take the belief that a woman’s place is in the house, and only in the house, to its own extreme. Women live in seraglios, separate from men. They have absolutely no rights, no agency, and are believed to have no desires except to please and to serve. And of course this is far, far from so, even in their own kingdom where the men enforce all the rules.

The Thirteen Kingdoms fly in the face of all of those assumptions. Ursula is High Queen, and she rules her kingdoms. She is not the figurehead the Dasnarians assume she must be. She is also not ruled from behind her throne by her consort Harlan, an exile from the Dasnarian royal family.

The Dasnarians believe that Ursula was stupid, or short-sighted, or typically female in some other way, to send a woman as ambassador. Woman are not even SEEN in the Dasnarian court.

But Jepp is no typical ambassador, and Ursula knew exactly what she was doing when she sent her best scout to hide in plain sight, spy out her enemies and possibly even suborn the King of Dasnaria’s brother.

After all, if one woman of the Thirteen Kingdoms can sway a died-in-the-wool men’s rights activist from the error of his ways, why can’t another? And if Jepp can locate her Queen’s worst enemies along the way, so much the better.

Until it very nearly turns out to be so much the worse.

Escape Rating B+: I love Jepp as the heroine. She is incredibly awesome, and also completely unapologetic about who and what she is. And that’s very much her strength.

When Prince Kral arrived in the Thirteen Kingdoms searching for his brother Harlan, Jepp treated him exactly like any other man who grabbed her attention. They had one night of very, very mutually enjoyable sex, and then went their separate ways. Or so Jepp thought.

A big part of this story is Jepp and Kral negotiating a relationship that frustrates both of them in more ways than one, and that neither expected at all. Jepp saw Kral as a merely an excellent one-night stand, with no apologies, no remorse and absolutely no slut-shaming whatsoever. Jepp likes sex, and is not interested in commitments.

Women in Dasnaria do not act that way. Frankly, women in Dasnaria don’t seem to act at all, at least as far as the men can see. Kral has zero experience with a woman who takes her pleasure where she finds it, expects nothing in return, and has absolutely no need or desire for his protection or his financial support or anything else that he thinks women are supposed to want. He thinks their night together means a contract, and that Jepp is now his bed-slave for as long as he wants her to be.

Jepp is a free woman. She tells him so, she shows him so and she demonstrates that it is so. And she is perfectly capable of defending herself, thank you very much. It takes the entire voyage from the Thirteen Kingdoms to Drasnaria, and a rather long voyage it is, for Kral to figure out that Jepp is exactly who and what she claims to be, and that he actually likes a woman who is his equal. Jepp makes him feel, in ways that he was not expecting. More importantly, Jepp makes him think that a whole shipload of his assumptions about women, and possibly other things, have been completely wrong.

pages of the mind by jeffe kennedyJepp did not expect to be the ambassador. That was supposed to be Dafne’s job. But Dafne got caught up in Kral’s machinations in the Kingdom of Nahanau, as related in The Pages of the Mind. So Jepp, who feels that she would have been much more capable of guarding the ambassador than being the ambassador, is now stuck with a job that she does not feel suited for.

And the early parts of the book drag a bit, as Jepp loses some of her agency while stuck on the ship, indulging in a bit of a pity party. Once she, and the story, reach Dasnaria she gets her agency back with a vengeance, not in spite of her perceived shortcomings as an ambassador, but in many ways because of them. She is incapable of being what she is not, which means she is incapable of seeming meek and subservient and what the Dasnarians consider typically female. She sets the court on its ear.

She also shakes up the seraglio, and wins over the women of the court, who wield a much different type of power than the men recognize – but it is power all the same. Watching Jepp demonstrate all the things that a woman can be if she sets her mind to it, and the way that she navigates the court, often by running uphill and against the wind, is awesome.

She even manages to teach Kral that there is much, much more to life than power and the pursuit of it. Especially in a place where the fish has rotted from the head very, very far down.

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
Goodreads

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: Teeth Long and Sharp by Grace Draven, Antioch Grey, Aria M Jones, Jeffe Kennedy and Mel Sterling

Review: Teeth Long and Sharp by Grace Draven, Antioch Grey, Aria M Jones, Jeffe Kennedy and Mel SterlingTeeth, Long and Sharp by Grace Draven, Antioch Grey, Aria M. Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Mel Sterling
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy, horror
Pages: 276
Published by Draven/Grey/Jones/Kennedy/Sterling on October 4th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

A collection of tales sharp and pointed.
IVORIES by Aria M. Jones - Eleanor resents the afternoons sacrificed to piano lessons and a disagreeable teacher who gloats over her failures and humiliations. Today, it’s Mrs. Lundemann’s turn for a sacrifice of a very different nature…
NIGHT TIDE by Grace Draven - Something hunts the surf at night, luring villagers to their deaths with a lullaby of sorrow and the torture of nightmares. Blessed with the gift of water-sight, Zigana Imre senses the presence of an ancient predator possessing a taste for human flesh sweetened by grief. With the help of a child of earth, she will battle a spawn of the sea to protect a loved one and save a man who will one day save a world.
THE NOISE OF FUR by Jeffe Kennedy - The first time, it came at night…
In the forest, a Thing prowls, picking off members of young Raven’s tribe. If they flee their home, they face starvation. If only Raven can answer the question of what kind of fur makes that noise.
VENETRIX by Antioch Grey - A merchant and a poet come to the City, seeking justice for the murder of a relative, and if justice cannot be found, they will have revenge. They collude with vampires, negotiate with mermaids, share ale and meat pies with gargoyles and navigate the prisons, waterways and court system of a city ruled by a Master possessing long life and even longer teeth.
The City will make you a fortune, or it will kill you, but it will always change you.
THE VAMPIRES OF MULBERRY STREET by Aria M. Jones - Living the simple life in small town Indiana, Mrs. H has everything she could possibly ever want: a cozy house, peace and quiet, and a garden that is the envy of Mulberry Street. But when sinister outsiders disrupt the tranquility of her neighborhood, it might be time for her to come out of retirement and take up tools more deadly than pruning shears and a trowel.
VOICE OF THE KNIFE by Mel Sterling - Biologist Charles Napier doesn’t mind getting lost in a Florida swamp—it’s part of a scientist’s job. Logic and training will get him out safely. Except lurking in this swamp, there’s a monster Napier’s science can’t explain...a lonely, exquisite, desperate monster.
Foreword by Ilona Andrews

My Review:

I should have saved this one for Halloween. Some of the stories in this collection are absolutely raise the hair on the back of your neck scary. And the rest are fairly creepy. Think of this one as horror for people who don’t really like horror.

Like me.

My favorite story in this collection, hands down, is Venetrix by Antioch Grey. It’s the one story in the collection that feels most like paranormal or alt-history-type fantasy, and is the least, well, creepy. Instead we have an alternate Venice where everyone is wearing a mask, even if they are not, and creatures who are varying shades of not-quite-human mingle with the more usual denizens of the city – the humans AND the vampires. The crux of this story centers on one group of the otherworldly, the mermaids who live in the canals and the harbor and trade with the humans. And they are more than willing to avenge the death of someone who was actually willing to talk with them and hear what they had to say. This world, with it’s hidden dangers and it’s ultra-communicative masks, is a place I would love to visit in a longer work. And the ending was spectacular in its devious cleverness.

The Venice in this story reminded me a lot of the Venice in Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Fallen Blade. Which was awesome.

I also really liked Grace Draven’s Night Tide, which is another story about the creatures of the sea. And also reads like fantasy as much as it does horror. There’s a creature living out beyond the waves of this fishing village, and it is luring the villagers to their deaths. Zigana Imre and her marvelous horse Gitta battle both the creature and the darkness of their own hearts. At the end of the story, Zigana has triumphed over the monster with the help of the one man she should never be near – her sister’s husband. The ending is open – evil is vanquished, but Zigana will have a battle ahead to rein in her own desires.

The trawling horses in this story are absolutely awesome.

Ivories by Aria M. Jones is a fun little story that borders on horror. At the same time, it has a definite appeal to anyone who has ever endured unwanted lessons, particularly music lessons, at the hand of a sadistic teacher. This is one where the just desserts definitely taste sweet, but in the mouth of something that is best not identified completely.

I found both The Noise of Fur by Jeffe Kennedy and The Vampires of Mulberry Street by Aria M. Jones to be interesting but not quite as arresting as Venetrix or Night Tide. However, the heroine of Mulberry Street reminds me of a Granny Weatherwax in a way that brought a smile of memory to this reader. She’s just that kind of sharp-edged old lady, for all of Weatherwax’s definitions of old and sharp.

Voice of the Knife by Mel Sterling absolutely chilled me to the bone. It’s not a story I’ll forget for a long time. And that scares me.

Escape Rating A-: Like all collections, my reaction to this one is a bit mixed. I preferred the stories that bordered on fantasy, like Venetrix, Night Tide and The Noise of Fur to the outright horror of Voice of the Knife. That I found Voice of the Knife to be utterly chilling tells me that it is a good story, but just not my cuppa. And I needed a warm cuppa after that one to chase the chill from bones.

All in all, Teeth Long and Sharp is a chilling, thrilling choice for your Halloween reading pleasure.

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
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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: For Crown and Kingdom by Grace Draven and Jeffe Kennedy

Review: For Crown and Kingdom by Grace Draven and Jeffe KennedyFor Crown and Kingdom by Grace Draven, Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Pages: 226
Published by Grace Draven and Jeffe Kennedy on May 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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~Two fantasy romance tales by bestselling and award winning authors Jeffe Kennedy and Grace Draven~

***The Crown of the Queen: a novella of the Twelve Kingdoms by Jeffe Kennedy

It's been a lifetime since librarian Dafne Mailloux saw the coronation of the tyrant who destroyed her family. She did her part to pull him off the High Throne. But his daughter, the would-be Queen, and her sisters must still tame their conquest. If her victory is to last, Dafne must forge peace with the subtle, ruthless methods of a diplomat--and the worst memories of her life...

***The Undying King by Grace Draven

The stories are told in whispers, even after so long: of a man whose fair rule soured when he attained eternal youth. Imprisoned by a sorceress wife in a city out of time and place, he has passed into legend. Few believe in him, and fewer would set their hopes on his mercy. But Imogen has no choice. To break the curse that's isolated her since birth, she'll find the Undying King--and answer his secrets with her own...

My Review:

For Crown and Kingdom is a duology, two separate works of fantasy romance. I read the first entry in the pair, The Crown of the Queen, not long ago, and absolutely loved it. Last night, I read The Undying King by Grace Draven, and loved it almost as much. This is the first time I’ve read something by this author, and now I understand why my friends at The Book Pushers love her Master of Crows so much.

Someday, when my virtual TBR pile isn’t virtually toppling over, I have to read Master of Crows.

undying king by grace dravenBut in the meantime, I have this little treat of a story in The Undying King.

The story has the feeling of being inside a myth. If fiction is the lie that tells the truth, this story feels like one of those truths that exists back in the mists of time. Even though there is no fairy tale of Cededa the Fair and the lost city of Tineroth, there should be. It feels true.

And it feels true because it does an excellent job of combining elements that we know, things that feel true because even though these specific incidents might not have happened, they echo things that do.

Imogen is a young woman with a death curse. It’s not that she herself is cursed to die, no more than any more than any other mortal, but she is cursed that every person she touches dies instantly. This has nothing to do with intent, or at least not her intent. The curse is part of her blood and bone.

The first time she touches a person without gloves, it is to bring her adoptive mother the release of death, after a long, painful and debilitating illness. Niamh can’t be saved, she can only be given the mercy that shortens her last few hours of agony.

But she leaves Imogen alone, and with the burden of a promise. To read her diary, take the magic key found within, and make her way to the lost city of Tineroth. In fabled Tineroth the Undying King haunts and protects his crumbling city. And Cededa is a much-practiced (4,000 years gives one a lot of time to practice!) sorcerer who should be able to remove Imogen’s curse.

4,000 years of loneliness and endless existence have burned the anger and cruelty out of Cededa the Butcher, as he was once known. With nothing but time to reflect on his past deeds, the man who once slaughtered cities beyond counting has nothing left but regret, remorse and the wish for an end. He has become again what he was in the beginning, Cededa the Fair, the handsomest man that many, including especially Imogen, have ever seen.

When Imogen reaches him after a magical journey, he bargains with her for the one thing no one else has ever been able to give him. In return for removing her curse, Cededa asks Imogen for four months of her company in his living ghost town.

He seeks companionship. She hopes for the ability to live a normal life. Instead, they find that her curse matches his mistaken burden every bit as well as they match each other. Until the world intrudes, and steals her away from the life and the man she has come to love.

Escape Rating A: Like The Crown of the Queen, The Undying King feels utterly complete at its ending, a rare feat for a novella. (I only said I didn’t love it quite as much as The Crown of the Queen because that story is part of a series I am already totally hooked on).

The Undying King is a beautiful love story, while it explores themes that resonate long after the book is done.

It is a coming of age story. Imogen is relatively young, and certainly somewhat innocent, at the beginning of the story. She is also intelligent and well-taught, but she has no experience with relationships of any kind. Her adoptive mother Niamh is the only person she speaks with, for fear that someone will accidentally touch her and die.

Her mother and mentor sends her on a quest, to return the key that Cededa gave her long ago, and to find a cure for her curse. Her journey is both magically begun and magically eased – the key makes her path sure and short, and creates a bridge for her where none exists.

Tineroth and Cededa have faded into the mists of legend. Even the stories are fading. His is the story of the ring that came with a curse. He wanted immortality, and he found it. But that gift binds him to the place that gave it to him. He cannot leave, and no one can find him. His loneliness is absolute, along with his regrets.

Imogen and Cededa are equal and opposite. She kills with a touch, and he can never die. Separately, they live in complete isolation. But together, her curse brings him just enough mortality for him to feel life again. And his resistance to her curse makes him the one person she can touch whenever and however she likes.

Their love seems almost preordained. But there is always a snake in the garden. In this case, it is Imogen’s unknown past that drives them apart. Because of course Imogen is a lost princess, and that makes her a pawn.

When she makes herself a queen, the ending is glorious.

Review: The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe KennedyThe Pages of the Mind (The Uncharted Realms #1; The Twelve Kingdoms #4) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Twelve Kingdoms #4, Uncharted Realms #1
Pages: 432
Published by Kensington on May 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An Orphan's Throne
Magic has broken free over the Twelve Kingdoms. The population is beset by shapeshifters and portents, landscapes that migrate, uncanny allies who are not quite human…and enemies eager to take advantage of the chaos.
Dafne Mailloux is no adventurer--she's a librarian. But the High Queen trusts Dafne's ability with languages, her way of winnowing the useful facts from a dusty scroll, and even more important, the subtlety and guile that three decades under the thumb of a tyrant taught her.
Dafne never thought to need those skills again. But she accepts her duty. Until her journey drops her into the arms of a barbarian king. He speaks no tongue she knows but that of power, yet he recognizes his captive as a valuable pawn. Dafne must submit to a wedding of alliance, becoming a prisoner-queen in a court she does not understand. If she is to save herself and her country, she will have to learn to read the heart of a wild stranger. And there are more secrets written there than even Dafne could suspect…
Praise for The Mark of the Tala
"Magnificent…a richly detailed fantasy world." --RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, Top Pick
"Well written and swooningly romantic." --Library Journal, starred review

My Review:

crown of the queen by jeffe kennedyI have, for the most part, adored Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series. Ami’s book, The Tears of the Rose, was the lone exception, because Ami spends the first half of the book as a spoiled princess bitch. While she gets much, much better, the first half of the book drags a bit.

As much as I loved the bridge novella featuring librarian Dafne Mailloux, The Crown of the Queen, Dafne’s own story in The Pages of the Mind drove me batty. I loved the beginning, and liked the end, but in this case it’s the middle that gave me fits.

Let me explain…

Dafne has been the librarian at Castle Ordnang for decades. Her family held the land and castle that formerly sat on the same spot, but when High King Uorsin decided that Castle Columba would be the seat of his new throne, the end was inevitable. He conquered the castle, razed the building, and built his capital in its place. Daphne was the only member of her family to survive the siege. While she may be, as she says, “ a demon on documents” in her early years it was her ability to hide in plain sight that saved her life over and over.

That and the fact that Queen Salena charged her with caring for her daughters, the princess Ursula, Ami and Andi. Ursula is now High Queen, after the events in The Talon of the Hawk and The Crown of the Queen. It is Daphne’s task to be Ursula’s adviser.

talon of the hawk by jeffe kennedyDafne has always been an observer and recorder. That’s what librarians do. So Daphne is more surprised than anyone when Ursula tasks her with the position of ambassador, first to the island kingdom of Nahanau, and then to the court of Dasnaria. Nahanau has been damaged by the movement of the magical barrier that formerly surrounded the Tala, and Dasnaria is the home of Ursula’s lover Harlan. His people might ally with the Twelve, now Thirteen Kingdoms, or might attempt to conquer them instead. The Kingdoms are still recovering from the late King’s treachery and tyranny, Ursula needs to stave off that possible war.

So off Dafne goes, with Harlan’s older brother Prince Kral as escort and guide.

We expect treachery, or at least some double-dealing on Kral’s part. It seems to be what the Dasnarians are known for. So when Kral essentially hands Dafne over to King Nakoa KauPo as either a hostage, sex slave or unwilling bride, readers are not totally surprised.

But the twists and turns that overtake Dafne’s fate from that point forward change the course of her life into directions she never expected. And is never sure that she wants or can even accept.

Escape Rating B-: I loved the beginning. Dafne’s life as librarian turned adviser fit right in with the snippets of her character we have seen in the earlier books. She has been working all of her life towards seeing Ursula crowned High Queen. And she not only expects the job of Royal Adviser, but is totally prepared and qualified for it.

She enjoys being the power behind the throne, and doesn’t see herself as powerful at all. She is merely an instrument of Ursula’s power. And she’s very, very good at it.

But when she is effectively abandoned at the Nahanau court, the story, along with Daphne’s personality, went temporarily off the rails for this reader. Because the story devolved into both the fated mate trope and the magic peen fallacy. That it turns out that both of these issues are actually manipulated into being by a third party redeems things somewhat, but not completely.

Dafne seems to become completely enslaved to sex with King Nakoa, to the point where she loses all her sense at many points. Yes, this sometimes happens when people discover how good sex can actually be, but that level of crazy usually happens earlier in their lives. Dafne is old enough that she believes she is no longer capable of bearing children. Becoming that mushy-headed just didn’t feel right.

For a significant part of the story, Dafne understands little to nothing of the language around her. The Nahanaus speak a language that is not derived from any of the several that Dafne knows. So there is a big portion of the story where a person who is only comfortable when in full possession of all the knowledge available has none to work with. It feels off-character when Dafne is forced to resort to stereotypical feminine wiles that she has never relied upon in order to get information felt wrong.

There is also a huge power imbalance in this relationship. Nakoa essentially kidnaps Dafne and keeps her prisoner. That she falls for him in these circumstances where she is totally dependent on him smacks of Stockholm Syndrome. Which does get called out later in the story, and then all too easily dismissed.

It turns out that everyone in this situation is being manipulated by a third party, one whose eventual advent into the story is explosive enough to kick the story back on track.

One of the things that I liked best about the previous entries in this series is that the princesses did not need to change who they were to find fulfillment and happiness, or to find their equal in love. Dafne has to change completely to get through most of her adventures. It’s only at the end where she goes back to being the intellectual powerhouse that is her true self.

At the end of this story, there are several people still on the loose who seriously need to get their comeuppance, particularly Kral. While events turned out for the best, his duplicity still needs to be accounted for. And I look forward to reading all about it in The Edge of the Blade.

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.