Review: The Captive Shifter by Veronica Scott

Review: The Captive Shifter by Veronica ScottThe Captive Shifter (Magic of Claddare #1) by Veronica Scott
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Magic of Claddare #1
Pages: 250
Published by Veronica Scott on March 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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Concealing her own considerable magical powers, Caitlyn enters the service of the northern Witch Queen masquerading as a simple healer. Under order from her goddess, she’s searching for a magical gem stolen long ago from her own people, believed to be hidden in the massive castle. The task is daunting but Caitlyn is sure she can locate the gem and escape, bringing the prize back to the temple where it belongs. Until she meets the captive shifter and her loyalties become dangerously divided.

In payment for her past services to his people, Kyler the leopard shifter has entered into a life of servitude far from his forest home, allowing the Witch Queen to tap his magic to power her ever darker spells. Factions at Court are threatening to turn the Queen to the Shadow. Her increasing demands for magic will cut short his nearly immortal lifespan. Kyler’s resigned to his fate until the day he crosses paths with the new arrival, whose secrets and magic entice and attract both man and leopard. Has he met his mate at last?

The Queen will never willingly release him from captivity. Caitlyn’s goddess refuses to grant her any delay in accomplishing her own task. Can they locate the magical gem, fight the Shadow and win free of the Witch Queen to earn the right to be together?

My Review:

There is something very, very rotten in the state of Azrimar, but that isn’t what Caitlyn has come to the capital to deal with. Not that all roads and all missions don’t eventually lead that way – but that isn’t how they start.

Instead, Caitlyn has arrived at court just in the nick of time for the annual testing of potential sorceresses, only to discover that her preparation missed the key points of the ritual. It is crucial to her mission that she find a place at court – even if that mission is not what it appears to be.

She succeeds, just barely, but only by earning the enmity of the Crown Princess Bradana, and the intense curiosity of the Witch-Queen’s pet shifter, Kyler. Caitlyn knows she’s going to spend the rest of her time at court dealing with those two very opposite interests, just not in the way that she originally expected.

Because both Bradana and Kyler are much more than they appear. But then, so is Caitlyn.

That Caitlyn is some kind of spy on some type of secret mission is obvious from the beginning, but we don’t learn who, how, or why until we get a bit into the story.

This is a fantasy romance, so Caitlyn’s world is not our own, and not even in our past or future. As this world is set up, Caitlyn is from a kingdom to the south, and is a priestess of the nature goddess on a special mission. Because something is rotten in the central kingdom of Azrimar and apparently has been for quite some time.

Long ago, a relic was stolen from the goddess, and she needs it back. Caitlyn has one year to infiltrate the palace and find the missing article. And that’s more than long enough to figure out just how much has gone wrong, and for Caitlyn to fall in love.

Unfortunately for both of them, Caitlyn falls for Kyler, a leopard shifter who has been oath-bound to the Witch Queen for 10 years. He knows that the Queen has been gravitating towards the dark side of the force, but he also knows that he’s dying. Whatever is going wrong, it isn’t going to be his problem fairly soon.

Until Caitlyn comes along and shakes him out of the depths of his depression. Kyler can help Caitlyn find the relic. Caitlyn can beseech the gods on his behalf. And it will take both of them to even take a stab at all that has gone wrong.

Caitlyn, Kyler, the Witch Queen and her kingdom have all come to a crossroad. The choices they make will have dire consequences, not just for themselves, or even for the kingdom, but for their entire world.

They must choose wisely – or all will be lost in the conflagration to come.

Escape Rating C+: This is a mixed feelings review. There were some things about this story I liked a lot, and some that drove me a bit batty.

I liked both Caitlyn and Kyler quite a bit. Caitlyn is very focused. She has a mission to carry out with a very strict time limit, but she still finds time to make friends and to care for and about people. She’s involved with her world, even for the short time she will be in the kingdom, and her actions always trend towards good. At the same time, Caitlyn is in service to a nature goddess, attempting to conceal herself, her power and her mission in a place that seems to be the antithesis of anything natural. It’s no surprise that she befriends Kyler, as he is the only nature-oriented being in the palace.

Kyler’s situation is tragic from the outset, and only becomes more so as we learn more about it. His captivity began honorably, but as time has gone on the Witch Queen has broken all of her oaths and agreements about it. And he is not free to leave – she has bound him with her magic. He has freedom of thought and some free will, but he literally cannot leave the palace, nor can he refuse the Queen’s use of his magic. Caitlyn’s friendship is his one light in a very dark place, and yet he is afraid to spend too much time with her or show her too much favor. While the Queen needs him alive for his magical power, punishing anyone close to him has become a sport for her and especially for her sister Bradana.

The palace intrigue is nasty and the methods of it feel a bit too predictable. And the characters of evil are a bit too much of evil for evil’s sake, which doesn’t work well as motivation. Or rather, that’s Bradana’s character, the Witch Queen’s motives are entirely too clear. She’s her sister’s pawn, and has let herself be manipulated into the darkness. In spite of her being queen, there just doesn’t turn out to be a lot of there, there. She’s an empty shell. To say that Brandana is evil because she was made that way (and she quite literally was) doesn’t give us much insight into the evil that made her. Hopefully we’ll get more of that in later books in the series.

I don’t expect to like the villains, although occasionally one does, but I need to understand them. And I didn’t here. On my other hand, there’s a tendency in fantasy for the West to represent good and the East to represent evil. The Lord of the Rings isn’t the only story where this happens, and it plays to some very old stereotypes, right along with white hats and black hats. In this series it looks like the West is where evil has its kingdoms, and the center and East are where the good, or at least neutral, kingdoms are. It’s always nice to see stereotypes turned on their heads a bit.

I end where I began, with mixed feelings. I liked the heroine and hero a lot, but found the plot to be on the predictable side and the villains a bit cookie-cutter. And while there were hints at interesting worldbuilding, it felt like too many of the details were left on the cutting-room floor. Hopefully things will be become clearer in later books in the series.

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: Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet + Giveaway

Review: Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet + GiveawayBreath of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #2) by Amanda Bouchet
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #2
Pages: 448
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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SHE'S DESTINED TO DESTROY THE WORLD... "Cat" Catalia Fisa has been running from her destiny since she could crawl. But now, her newfound loved ones are caught between the shadow of Cat's tortured past and the threat of her world-shattering future. So what's a girl to do when she knows it's her fate to be the harbinger of doom? Everything in her power.
BUT NOT IF SHE CAN HELP ITGriffin knows Cat is destined to change the world-for the better. As the realms are descending into all-out war, Cat and Griffin must embrace their fate together. Gods willing, they will emerge side-by-side in the heart of their future kingdom...or not at all.

My Review:

Breath of Fire has a whole lot of quest story, wrapped up in a lovely bit of “plucky rebels vs the evil empire”, complete with extremely evil emperor. Or in this case, empress.

It also manages to provide reasonable (for definition of reasonable that satisfies in-world consistency) of how the Greek pantheon from our own history ended up actively running the show in Thalyria. At least for select definitions of active and running.

And the sheer number of times and ways in which the gods step in to “help” their descendant Catalia Fisa lead the reader to the conclusion that her lover Griffin Sinta has always believed – that their meeting and their relationship were fated by those gods, and that neither of them had a chance at resisting the forces that are pushing them together.

That the gods are so hell-bent on saving Thalyria that they are willing to mess with both Cat’s and Griffin’s lives to make damn sure they happen and it happens puts the forced beginning of their relationship into perspective. Like many readers, I found the transformation of their relationship from kidnapper and captive to lovers to smack of questionable consent at the very least, if not an unhealthy dose of Stockholm Syndrome.

Discovering that they are both pawns of the gods makes the whole thing easier to swallow. So to speak. Not that Cat doesn’t swallow, and other things, fairly often when it comes to her relationship with Griffin.

promise of fire by amanda bouchetBreath of Fire follows directly after A Promise of Fire. Now that Cat and Griffin are firmly on the same side, Cat is all in with Griffin’s plan to sweep out the corrupt Alphas in all the kingdoms and replace them with a rule of law. She just doesn’t think she deserves to live to see it.

Naturally enough, those Alphas want to hang onto their absolute power, and are willing to do anything to keep it. To put a further fly in the sticky ointment, the most powerful of those Alphas is Cat’s mother Andromeda, who will do anything to draw Cat back into her sticky and stinking web.

The story in Breath of Fire becomes Cat and Griffin’s quest for magical items and magical assistance that will allow them to defend Griffin’s kingdom of Sinta while they strike out to bring Tarva and Fisa under their control. It’s not an easy quest, and it is not intended to be. Hope seems lost many, many times along the way, only to be found again either through human ingenuity or the grace of one of Cat’s great-great-great-great-great-uncles. Uncles named Zeus, or Poseidon, or Hades.

She even gets to borrow Cerberus again.

Cat’s destiny has always been as the Harbinger of doom. Doom for the evil system that has held Thalyria in chains for far too long. If only she can get past her mother.

Escape Rating B+: We all have mommy issues. Cat’s are just bigger, and a whole lot deadlier, than most. Andromeda is the bitch to end all bitches. There’s no question she’s evil, but I hope we find out more about why, or how she got this way, in the next book. Or we may find out that Thalyria is simply rotten to the core, and Andromeda’s evil is just one of the more obvious symptoms. The other Alphas weren’t any better than Andromeda, just less powerful.

I don’t know why, but I feel much better about the very questionable consent in Cat and Griffin’s relationship after discovering that the whole thing has an element of deus ex machina. Even though I don’t normally like deus ex machina. But there are so many dei machinating in this story that it works. Also that Cat and Griffin are both pawns feels better than when it looked like only Cat was a pawn.

The quest feels like it has elements of the Odyssey. It certainly is an odyssey. Every step along the way leads to another object that must be found, and which can only be obtained through another trial. It is also an important part of the quest that every member of the team gets tried in their own way, and that Cat and Griffin’s relationship gets tried most of all.

One of the good things about this story is that even though Breath of Fire is the middle book in the trilogy, it doesn’t feel like a middle book. The ending certainly has its climactic moments, but it doesn’t end in a terrible trough. Instead, it ends in hope for the future – albeit a future that suddenly has a deadline attached.

I can’t wait for the conclusion of this series, Heart on Fire. It looks like things are headed for an explosive ending.

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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
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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
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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
Goodreads

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: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet + Giveaway

Review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet + GiveawayA Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1) by Amanda Bouchet
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #1
Pages: 448
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on August 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Catalia "Cat" Fisa is a powerful clairvoyant known as the Kingmaker. This smart-mouthed soothsayer has no interest in her powers and would much rather fly under the radar, far from the clutches of her homicidal mother. But when an ambitious warlord captures her, she may not have a choice…
Griffin is intent on bringing peace to his newly conquered realm in the magic-deprived south. When he discovers Cat is the Kingmaker, he abducts her. But Cat will do everything in her power to avoid her dangerous destiny and battle her captor at every turn. Although up for the battle, Griffin would prefer for Cat to help his people willingly, and he's ready to do whatever it takes to coax her…even if that means falling in love with her.

My Review:

This is very much of a mixed feelings review. There were parts of this book that I absolutely loved, and parts that drove me completely crazy. And they were often the same parts!

On the one hand, we have a story of revolution. In this world, the non-magical Hoi Polloi are quite literally the middle and lower classes, just as the name implies. The Magoi are the magic wielding upper class – except in Sinta. A family of Hoi Polloi has just “removed” the ruling family and replaced the late unlamented despots with, well, themselves. Also with a rule of law and justice, instead of the previous “administration” of self-indulgence and utter cruelty.

In order to help his family retain their crown, and their lives, the new Sintan warleader invades a peaceful circus and kidnaps the soothsayer. He doesn’t need a fortune teller, but he does need the mysterious Cat, because Cat is hiding a whole lot of power behind heavy makeup and her fortunetelling shtick.

Cat is a kingmaker. She is not merely a soothsayer, as she claims. Cat is a truthsayer. No one can tell a lie in her presence. She also has a host of other powers, some of which she is not yet aware of herself. She also has powerful enemies, and the favor of more than one of the gods.

And this is where things both heat up and go crazy.

Griffin, the Sintan warleader, kidnaps Cat. He threatens to have all of her friends, her family of choice, thrown in jail if she doesn’t go along with him. Cat has been used and abused before because of her talents, and she will do anything to protect those she loves, including give up her much wanted freedom.

That a relationship develops between Griffin and Cat after these events may read like either questionable consent or an unhealthy dose of Stockholm Syndrome to a whole lot of readers. That Cat’s continued resistance to her enforced captivity is treated as “cute” by Griffin’s war band and his family almost sent me out of the story.

Cat’s agency is taken away, and even her right to feel aggrieved by the removal of that agency is undermined at every turn. Looking at other reviews of this book, I’m amazed that this hasn’t squicked a lot more people out.

But there is also a very strong secondary plot about just how ripe this world is for revolution. That Cat decides to help the new Sintan royals figure out how to survive in the cutthroat world into which they have thrust themselves is fascinating. These are good people who have chosen to engage in a system that is not merely corrupt, but also just plain evil. Whether they can win without losing themselves to the dark side of all the forces arrayed against them is going to make for a very interesting series.

On my third hand, the worldbuilding in this series is based on Greek mythology. Not in the sense that concepts were borrowed, but in the literal sense that the Greek pantheon as we know it from our mythology is actively running the place. At least for certain definitions of active and running. Cat draws some of her power directly from Poseidon’s intervention, and Hades lets her borrow Cerberus. The gods are meddling in regular people’s lives for some reason of their own.

The world created in this fantasy romance does not seem to be a descendant of our Earth, at least as so far seen. How did our Greek pantheon get to this world? Something there begs for an explanation that has not yet occurred in the text. And it needs to.

Escape Rating B: All in all, A Promise of Fire turns out to be a compelling read. The worldbuilding is excellent, even though it does need a few details either worked out or explained somewhere along the way. Griffin’s family and their approach to leadership make them a lovely group of people to follow in this world where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Only the strong and vile survive.

However, the way that Cat is treated and the way that her relationship with Griffin develops gives me a whole lot of pause. But not enough to keep me from looking forward to the next book in the series, Breath of Fire, coming in January.

For another take on A Promise of Fire, check out my friends at The Book Pushers later this week.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Sourcebooks Casablanca is giving away 10 copies of A Promise of Fire to lucky entrants on this tour!

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Review: The Emperor’s Arrow by Lauren D.M. Smith

Review: The Emperor’s Arrow by Lauren D.M. SmithThe Emperor's Arrow by Lauren D.M. Smith
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance
Pages: 160
Published by Carina Press on July 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Grand Prize Winner of Harlequin's 2015 So You Think You Can Write contest
Debut author Lauren D.M. Smith delivers an epic fantasy romance in this soaring tale of a kickass warrior and the emperor she's honor-bound to defend
The bride candidates have been summoned. Their numbers are many, yet only one is an Amazzi warrior. Only one would give her life to protect him.
Evony of Aureline, warrior of her people, has no intention of becoming a hideous old man's bride. Though her people have sworn their loyalty to the legendary emperor Galen, Evony knows little of courts and intrigue. It's simply not her world.
Yet it's on the palace training grounds where Evony's archery skills gain her the respect of soldiers and legates alike. The emperor himself takes notice of the beautiful, ruthless warrior. In turn, the young, steely eyed Galen is nothing at all what Evony expected.
This man could very well conquer her heart. But does he feel the same?
As the rivalry among the remaining bride candidates intensifies and the plot for the throne unfolds, Evony must make a grave choice: fulfill her destiny and protect her people or follow her heart and pursue true love.
Either way, the honor of the Amazzi people and the future of the empire now rests with Evony of Aureline. For she is the Emperor's Arrow.

My Review:

Based on the description, I was expecting The Emperor’s Arrow to be a bit like The Champion of Baresh or The Empress Game. And there are resemblances, but not nearly as close as I expected. Instead, the slightly Roman flavor to the setting and the romance between an emperor and a barbarian remind me a bit of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera. All books terrific company to be among.

The Emperor of this fantasy empire calls on all of the noble houses under his rule to send a daughter to compete to be his bride. And therefore his empress. While the nobility see this as a true competition, Emperor Galen has a different agenda in mind.

And, while he wouldn’t mind finding an empress, what he is really looking for are hostages. The competition is a nonthreatening way to get all the noble houses to send him a person who can become a hostage for their good behavior – if he needs one.

He knows that some of his nobles have made repeated attempts to assassinate him – one of those attempts took the life of his beloved sister. But he doesn’t yet know which one. Or even worse, which ones. Hence the bride competition.

While parts of the bride competition read like a fantasy version of The Bachelor, there is a real contest being conducted. Contestants are eliminated, not necessarily for their performance, but because it has been ascertained that their families are loyal.

Some of the contestants remain, not necessarily because they have a chance of becoming empress, but out of a need to, as the old adage goes, “Keep one’s friends close and one’s enemies closer”.

And then there’s Evony, an Amazzi warrior of the Aureline. Her people are unquestioningly loyal to the emperor, but they are also numbered among the first families of the empire, even as isolated as they generally are. Evony answers the summons to the bridal games because her people’s honor demands it.

The Emperor plans to use her unwavering loyalty to provide him with eyes and ears among the contestants. Evony plans to use the competition to find a man to sire her child.

Neither of them counts on falling in love.

Escape Rating A-: Harlequin was right, this author definitely can write. The author of The Emperor’s Arrow was the Grand Prize Winner of Harlequin’s 2015 So You Think You Can Write contest. This book shows that she absolutely can, and it is marvelous.

The story is wrapped in multiple layers. Evony is a terrific character. On the one hand, she is a fish out of water, so any necessary explanations to her of how the court works and what is going on within it, also work as explanations to the reader.

Evony herself is a great character to follow, because her perspective on court life and court intrigue is so refreshing. Evony is a warrior. She is also an extremely straightforward person, to the point of being very, very blunt. She looks at all the decorative women in the bridal competition and can’t figure out why anyone would allow themselves to be kept from learning to defend themselves, or why some of these women believe that they have no choices about their fate and their future.

She is not unusual among her people in being a warrior. Her tribe has many more female children than male children, and every person is trained in self-defense. Many, many of the women are warriors. She sees herself, her independence, her agency and her self-respect as being normal. Anyone who doesn’t have those things she feels a bit sorry for.

Her people also do not elevate their leaders above their people. So she sees the emperor as just another warrior, albeit one with more responsibility and at the center of more danger. She argues with him, disagrees with him, and calls him by his first name. She tells him things he doesn’t want to hear.

The one thing she never does is bore him. And he trusts her because it is clear from the very beginning that she does not have a political agenda. Until she falls in love with the emperor, and refuses to obey his orders to remain safe and far away. From that point on, her only agenda is to keep him safe and help him catch the people who want him dead.

And in the middle of the romance, there is also a wonderful female friendship between Evony and another of the bride candidates – the shy and somewhat diffident Admina. They discuss their lives, their hopes and their futures, and bond from two very different perspectives. It is refreshing and wonderful that their relationship is not about discussing men, but about who they are and who they want to be. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

In the end, The Emperor’s Arrow is an absolutely marvelous fantasy romance. I am looking forward with great pleasure to much, much more from this author.

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.