Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet

Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda BouchetFire of the Frost: A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance, holiday romance, short stories
Pages: 368
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on December 22nd 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology…

From Darynda Jones, A Wynter Fyre a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet
The Kingmaker Chronicles meets modern-day New York City! Piers, an exiled warrior from Thalyria, finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. The world and everything in it might be utterly foreign to him, but that won't stop Piers from helping to complete a vital mission for Athena and protect Sophie, a French teacher from Connecticut who's suddenly knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena, danger, and henchmen after an Olympian treasure that should never have ended up in her hands—or remained on Earth after the Greek gods abandoned it.

The King of Hel by Grace Draven
A novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.

Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy
It’s holiday time at Convocation Academy, but best friends Han and Iliana are finding it hard to celebrate. As a familiar, Iliana is facing her assignment to a life of servitude to a wizard, very soon. And Han… despite being tested by the oracle daily, he is still uncategorized. As Iliana and Han face being separated forever, they at last find the courage—or desperation—to break the rules and acknowledge their deeper feelings for each other. But it will take more than true love to save them from the laws of the Convocation…

My Review:

This holiday treat dropped into my lap this week and I couldn’t resist starting it immediately! Isn’t that what holiday treats are for? Immediate consumption for the yes! Especially as I’ve received earlier versions of this confection of a collection (Under a Winter Sky, Seasons of Sorcery and Amid the Winter Snow) and they’ve all been wonderful reading treats.

For the most part, this year’s collection of winter fantasy romances was a very sweet treat indeed – with just enough naughty in the mix to give Santa a blush or four.

My absolute favorite story this year was Grace Draven’s The King of Hel, and not just because it’s a standalone story that isn’t set in one of her other worlds. It’s the kind of fantasy romance that didn’t really have to be a fantasy romance. In fact, its real world inspiration was not. Inspired by the real life romance between Madame de Maintenon and Louis XIV of France, this is the story of Doranis, the magic-touched king of Helenrisia and his queen’s best friend, the modestly born Castil il Veras. What made this story so beautiful is the way that Castil’s deep, life-long friendship with Doranis’ queen is not broken by the romance. Rather, Castil is heartbroken when her best friend dies in childbirth yet still honors that friendship. But life goes on, and the queen’s death gives Doranis the freedom to marry the woman who is suited to him in all ways but birth, and lets Castil acknowledge her love for a man who was otherwise twice beyond her touch.

This was just a beautiful winter romance between two strong and surprisingly equal partners and I loved every page of it.

On the other hand, my least favorite story in this collection was Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy. It’s not that it’s not a good story, because it is, and it’s not that it’s not well done, because it is that as well. It’s that the protagonists of the story are fundamentally, by law and custom, absolutely powerless and their powerlessness gets rubbed like salt into their wounds and the reader’s psyche at every turn. This is just one of those cases where I know it’s good and I know there’s an audience for it and I’m just not it.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet was just plain fun, kind of in the way that the first Thor movie was fun. At points, literally in the way that the first Thor movie was fun, a fact that the heroine references more than once during the course of her whirlwind romance while running from bad guys story plays out. Although Piers of Thalyria, an exile from the world of the author’s Kingmaker Chronicles, has no godlike powers, it turns out that his heroine does and he’s been jerked across time and space in order to protect her while she figures out how to either use them or give them back. The story here is kind of a lighthearted romp – in spite of being chased down by evil entrepreneurs and their henchmen at every turn.

Last but not least, my second favorite story in the collection, Darynda Jones’ A Wynter Fyre. The beginning had a bit of an “aliens made them do it” start – not that any of the characters in this story are actually alien to this world. But there’s a common fanfiction trope for series like Stargate and its spinoffs where the characters are compelled by unbridled libidos to have sex because of “alien sex pollen”. The way this story begins, with vampyres biting Wynter in order to infect her with the equivalent of “vampyre sex pollen” had a very similar feel. Particular when the hero fends off the bad vamps in order to woo her for himself, once he’s helped her take the edge off, so to speak.

After that hot, heavy, creepy and slightly rapey beginning the story itself takes a surprising turn. Wynter has been awakened from 70+ years as a statue because her mother the demon (yes, the being she believes is her mother is an actual demon) needs her to rescue a kidnapped vampyre princess.

But it’s all a setup. Not that the princess hasn’t been kidnapped, but it’s all part of the plot to give Wynter the chance to do her job of protecting the vampyres properly – by killing the greatest threat to their existence – her demon mother. That the setup also manages to change the romance from a sex into love story into a second chance at love story is all part of its charm – something this one had absolutely oodles of.

Escape Rating B+: This collection is always a lovely holiday treat. But like any collection, some stories hit the mark with this reader – or any other – while others aren’t quite as close to the bullseye.

If I were giving individual ratings, A Wynter Fyre would get an A; Of Fate and Fire would receive a B; The King of Hel hits the high spot at A+ while Familiar Winter Magic just didn’t work for me at all. Your reading mileage – even through the snowy landscape of these winter tales – will definitely vary.

No matter which stories in the collection tickle your holiday reading fancy, the collection is definitely worth curling up with some hot chocolate and a cozy blanket for a delicious holiday read!

Review: The Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince by Jeffe KennedyThe Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Heirs of Magic #1
Pages: 384
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on January 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A Legacy of Honor

Crown Prince Astar has only ever wanted to do the right thing: be a credit to his late-father’s legacy, live up to his duties as heir to the High Throne of the Thirteen Kingdoms, and cleave to the principles of honor and integrity that give his life structure—and that contain the ferocious grizzly bear inside. Nowhere in those guiding principles is there room for the fierce-hearted, wildly free-spirited, and dizzyingly beautiful shapeshifter, Zephyr. Still, even though they’ve been friends most of their lives, Astar is able to keep Zephyr safely at arm’s length. He’s already received a list of potential princess brides who will make a suitable queen, and Zephyr is not on it.

A Longtime Obsession

Zeph has wanted the gorgeous, charming, and too-good-for-his-own-good Astar for as long as she can remember. Not that her longing for him—and his perfectly sculpted and muscular body—has stopped her from enjoying any number of lovers. Astar might be honorably (and foolishly) intent on remaining chaste until marriage, but Zeph is Tala and they have no such rules. Still, she loves Astar—as a friend—and she wants him to at least taste life before he chains himself to a wife he didn’t choose. There’s no harm in him having a bit of fun with her. But the man remains stubbornly elusive, staving off all of her advances with infuriatingly noble refusals.

A Quest to Save the World

But things change when a new terror threatens the Thirteen Kingdoms. Following prophecy, Astar and Zeph—along with a mismatched group of shapeshifter, warrior, and sorceress friends—go on a quest to stop a magic rift before it grows beyond anyone’s ability to stop. Thrust together with Zephyr, Astar finds himself increasingly unable to resist her seductive invitations. And, in the face of life and death battles with lethal monsters, he begins to lose sight of why having her, just once, is such a terrible idea…

My Review:

Once upon a time, there was a marvelous epic fantasy romance series that is both epic fantasy and contains a romance in each story, titled The Twelve Kingdoms. It begins with The Mark of the Tala, and if you love fantasy romance, or if you love epic fantasy and don’t mind if romance happens within it, start there and be prepared for an utterly marvelous reading binge.

That series, with its sequelae and spin offs that spun back in, tells a story of the fall and rise of kingdoms, the creation of an empire, a war between magic and sorcery, and the triumph of good over evil.

But what happens after their richly deserved happily ever after? That’s the story that began with the novella The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, in the Under a Winter Sky collection.

And the book we have here, The Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince, picks up right where the cliffhanger at the end of Long Night left us. Welcome to The Twelve Kingdoms: The Next Generation.

I am so here for this!

This is a story about the heirs to the kingdoms that were established in the earlier series. And it’s so different but every bit as fascinating.

Part of what makes it so different is that it is the next generation. (Sorry to keep punning on that, but it’s just so true!) In the original series, all of the protagonists, but especially the three princesses of the Twelve Kingdoms, had all been raised in constant strife. Not with each other, but with their father the king.

Because the late King Uorsin was insane, driven mad by grief and sorcery. Growing up in his household was like growing up in an armed camp, always at war or at least on the verge of it. It made his daughters grow up hard and early, and their maturity for their ages was reflected in their stories and how they saw their world.

The time preceding this new story, however, was a time of peace and prosperity. Not that High Queen Ursula and her allies haven’t always been keeping a weather eye on the world around them, but there hasn’t been a war since their last enemy was defeated.

Also Queen Ursula is quite sane. That helps a lot – especially in comparison.

But as the story picks up, her heir and all of his generation have known nothing but peace during their lifetimes. Even though all of them seem to be 20 or thereabouts and considered adults, they’ve been allowed to BE children, to be foolish and more than a bit irresponsible, for most of their lives.

A situation that has just changed. Dramatically, drastically and unpredictably.

The children are sent out as ambassadors, envoys and spies in order to discover what has gone wrong in the northern reaches of the empire and see if they can fix it or at least figure it out before it overwhelms the land they will one day inherit.

They have an important and potentially terrible job to do. But the first thing they ALL need to do will be the most difficult task of all.

They have to grow up. A task that will turn out to be every bit as hard and fast as it was for their parents. If they survive it.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, let me just say that this entire series, from its beginning with The Mark of the Tala, through all of its various subseries, right on through the conclusion of the entire original series in The Lost Princess Returns, is absolutely, completely, utterly, awesomesauce, wonderful and epic.

It’s also a lot for new readers to get into. But if you love fantasy romance or epic fantasy with romance it is so worth it. While you wouldn’t need to read every single story to get up to speed for Golden Gryphon, you would need to read the main arcs of The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted Realms for this story to have the resonance it should.

That being said, the story we have in this one combines, on the one hand, two themes into a single whole, while setting up the rest of the series. On the other hand, this is also the first of the four romances that are going to provide the individual happy for now stories that power each individual book.

Let me explain.

This is, first of all, a coming of age story, for all of the protagonists. They are all technically adults, but one thing that peacetime allows that the warfare their parents grew up under does not is the ability for children to not just have an actual childhood but for some of the irresponsibility of that childhood to extend into early adulthood.

Up until this crisis, two of Prince Astar’s companions and friends, Zephyr and Rhyllian, could both be seen as “failures to launch” into adulthood. By culture, by nurture, by inclination, both of them live very much in the “now” and let tomorrow worry about itself, if at all. Their irresponsibility and naivete reminded me a lot of Princess Ami in her original series entry The Tears of the Rose. I have to say that the new kids are, for the most part maturing quicker than Ami seemed to do, and that’s an excellent thing.

Both Zephyr and Rhy are in love, not with each other – because that would be hilarious and awful at the same time – but with people who are their opposites. People who are responsible, have responsibilities, take those responsibilities seriously, and worry about the present and the future ALL THE TIME.

So Zephyr (the Golden Gryphon)  is in hot pursuit of Prince Astar (the Bear Prince), a pursuit that he has resisted at every turn. At least so far. His approach to responsibility and authority is the direct opposite to hers. Also he knows himself better than she knows herself at the beginning of the story.

He knows if they have an affair that he’ll never want to let her go. And he knows that she is not suitable High Queen material because of her unwillingness to act responsibly or take much of anything seriously.

And of course in the face of the impending crisis all of their plans go completely pear-shaped.

A part of me wants to say that there’s a disturbance in the Force, because it does have that air to it. What is happening is a disturbance to magic that is causing parallel worlds to invade each other with disastrous results. As the story kicks off, the list of things that might go wrong is long and growing and potentially catastrophic.

And general panic-inducing if it becomes common knowledge.

So this group of heirs and friends are sent out to look like a bunch of spoiled noble youngsters in order to see if they can figure out what’s going on, or going wrong, and how to stop it – without alerting the people they’re visiting and observing that there is a serious purpose behind the visits.

No pressure.

This is a journey that is just beginning. A beginning that uncovers big problems, makes big changes, but is only the start. A fantastic one.

I’m already on tenterhooks for the next book in the series, The Sorceress Queen and the Pirate Rogue, coming in mid-April.

Review: Under a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope

Review: Under a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. PenelopeUnder a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Pages: 373
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on November 19, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Four powerhouse authors of fantasy and urban fantasy bring you a feast of romantic midwinter holiday adventures. These heartwarming and pulse-pounding tales celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, the solstice, Yule – and holidays from worlds beyond our own. With fancy-dress balls, faery bargains, time travel, blood sacrifice, and festive cocktails, these stories will delight lovers of fantasy and romance, with a dash of seasonal joy.
Ballgowns & Butterflies by Kelley Armstrong
The North Yorkshire moors are always a magical place, but they’re particularly enchanting at the holidays…especially if one gets to travel back in time to a Victorian Christmas. For Bronwyn Dale, it is the stuff of dreams. Fancy-dress balls, quirky small-town traditions, even that classic one-horse open sleigh, complete with jingle bells. There’s just the tiny problem of the Butterfly Effect. How does a time-traveler make a difference without disrupting the future forever?
The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, a prequel novella to Heirs of Magic, by Jeffe Kennedy
Shapeshifter Prince Rhyian doesn’t especially want to spend the Feast of Moranu at Castle Ordnung. First of all, it’s literally freezing there, an uncomfortable change from the tropical paradise of his home. Secondly, it’s a mossback castle which means thick walls and too many rules. Thirdly, his childhood playmate and current nemesis, Lena, will be there. Not exactly a cause for celebration.
Princess Salena Nakoa KauPo nearly wriggled out of traveling to Ordnung with her parents, but her mother put her foot down declaring that, since everyone who ever mattered to her was going to be there to celebrate the 25th year of High Queen Ursula’s reign, Lena can suffer through a feast and a ball for one night. Of course, “everyone” includes the sons and daughters of her parents’ friends, and it also means that Rhyian, insufferable Prince of the Tala, will attend.
But on this special anniversary year, Moranu’s sacred feast falls on the long night of the crystalline moon—and Rhy and Lena discover there’s more than a bit of magic in the air.
Blood Martinis and Mistletoe by Melissa Marr
Half-dead witch Geneviève Crowe makes her living beheading the dead--and spends her free time trying not to get too attached to her business partner, Eli Stonecroft, a faery in self-imposed exile in New Orleans. With a killer at her throat and a blood martini in her hand, Gen accepts what seems like a straight-forward faery bargain, but soon realizes that if she can't figure out a way out of this faery bargain, she'll be planning a wedding after the holidays.
Echoes of Ash & Tears, an Earthsinger Chronicles Novella, by L. Penelope
Brought to live among the Cavefolk as an infant, Mooriah has long sought to secure her place in the clan and lose her outsider status. She’s a powerful blood mage, and when the chieftain’s son asks for help securing the safety of the clan, she agrees. But though she’s long been drawn to the warrior, any relationship between the two is forbidden. The arrival of a mysterious stranger with a tempting offer tests her loyalties, and when betrayal looms, will Mooriah’s secrets and hidden power put the future she’s dreamed of—and her adopted home—in jeopardy.

My Review:

If it’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays where you are, this collection is a terrific way to get into the holiday spirit. Or spirits, as the case might be, for multiple definitions thereof. It certainly made me shiver with the remembered chill and sparkle of the kiss of snow, even if we don’t get much of that around here.

There are five stories in this little collection, all featuring winter and some type of solstice or longest night type story, and all with just a little bit of something extra.

It could be those holiday spirits, although not necessarily Christmas or Yule, as not all of these stories take place on our Earth. These are all some variety of fantasy romance, so the world is not necessarily the world we know – at least not quite.

Ballgowns & Butterflies by Kelley Armstrong is a bit of a time-travel story, and it is set in our world and does feature Christmas. But it isn’t quite the one we recognize – although it sorta/kinda is in a delicious way.

Because the Christmas that Lady Bronwyn Thorne is celebrating is an honest-to-goodness Victorian holiday, in the Victorian era where she spends part of her life. The Victorian Christmas celebration is the one on which many of our contemporary traditions, at least in Britain and North America, are based. As a historian, it’s the era that is nearest and dearest to Bronwyn’s heart – as is her husband who she met in that time period, but has married in both.

This was a lovely little story, and I enjoyed its evocation of the holiday spirit as well as feeling for Bronwyn’s time-travel dilemma. At the same time, this story feels like a coda to another, longer story, only because it is. This is the followup to A Stitch in Time, which is wrapped around the romance between Bronwyn and her Victorian-era husband William, and I very much wish I’d read that first.

Likewise, the only other story set at least partially in our world, Blood Martinis & Mistletoe by Melissa Marr, read like just the kind of urban fantasy that I love to sink my teeth into. But this was also part of the author’s Faery Bargains series, and I felt like I’d missed all of the setup which is in the first book in the series, The Wicked and the Dead. Which I now very much want to read because this seems awesome.

(Actually I bought the first books in both of these series because I was so intrigued.)

And now I have to confess two things before I get to my favorite story in the collection.

I didn’t read L. Penelope’s Earthsinger story because I haven’t read the series, and I just didn’t want to get teased yet again by a story that is even more bang in the middle of a series than the previous two.

And, as much as I was looking forward to reading the Grace Draven story, because I have read at least some of her Wraith Kings series, that story wasn’t included in my eARC. C’est la vie.

But, but, but, the story I got this collection for was definitely there. And I’m so happy about that.

I love Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Kingdoms/Chronicles of Dasnaria mega-series, so I’m always up for more. And The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, a prequel for Heirs of Magic, her upcoming series set in the same world, certainly delivered.

Did it ever!

The story is “the Next Generation” of that long-running saga, taking place 25 years after the (final?) defeat of the evil Deyrr at the end of the (now we know it’s not) final book, The Fate of the Tala. Which I adored even though I was sorry to see the whole thing wrap up.

I always hoped the saga would continue, so this was a treat from beginning to end.

What’s lovely about this one is that we get to see everyone we met in the previous series, know that they are all doing well and that they have all managed to have their happy ever afters. HEAs that they all definitely earned.

But this story focuses not on the previous heroes, but rather on their children, all of whom are now adults – albeit some more mature than others. Then again, that’s kind of the nature of being in one’s 20s, figuring out who one really is and what kind of a future one is looking for.

Or, in the case of these seven princes, princesses and princelings, the kind of future that is barreling towards them at breakneck speed – even if they don’t know it yet.

So, on the surface, we have the story of the longest night of the year, coupled with a romance that could either be a second-chance-at-love or a story of two lovers who missed their chance and need to close that door before their future truly begins.

The question of which it is going to be is not quite answered by the end of this story about unfinished business and lost chances because a much more dangerous future rears its ugly head just as we think there might be a resolution.

All those delicious and perilous chances are left hanging off the edge of a sheer cliff when the interlude closes, leaving readers – especially this one – absolutely salivating for what is to come.

I can’t wait. Hopefully I won’t have to wait long, as the projected publication date in Goodreads says next month!

Howsomever, just like the other stories in this collection, The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon is not the place to start your journey with this fantastic series. Start with The Mark of the Tala and settle in for a wonderful reading binge.

Possibly a long enough – and certainly captivating enough – binge to carry you through until spring!

Escape Rating A-: I got this collection for the Jeffe Kennedy story, and I loved that story, so that makes the whole thing a win. I liked both the Armstrong and the Marr stories enough that I bought the previous books in their respective series’ so also a win. I felt the chill of winter snow even in the warm Atlanta fall weather so even more of a win for bringing me just the right taste of a season that I don’t have to experience too much of, definitely a win all the way around! If you are into any or all of the series featured in this collection, you’re in for a treat!

Review: The Lost Princess Returns by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Lost Princess Returns by Jeffe KennedyThe Lost Princess Returns (The Uncharted Realms #5.5) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Uncharted Realms #5.5, Chronicles of Dasnaria #4, Twelve Kingdoms #11.5
Pages: 172
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on June 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

More than two decades have gone by since Imperial Princess Jenna, broken in heart and body, fled her brutal marriage-and the land of her birth. She's since become Ivariel: warrior, priestess of Danu, trainer of elephants, wife and mother. Wiser, stronger, happier, Ivariel has been content to live in her new country, to rest her battered self, and to recover from the trauma of what happened to her when she was barely more than a girl.
But magic has returned to the world-abruptly and with frightening force-and Ivariel takes that profound change as a sign that it's time to keep a promise she made to the sisters she left behind. Ivariel must leave the safety she's found and return to face the horrors she fled.
As Ivariel emerges from hiding, she discovers that her vicious brother is now Emperor of Dasnaria, and her much-hated mother, the Dowager Empress Hulda, is aiding him in his reign of terror. Worse, it seems that Hulda's resurrection of the tainted god Deyrr came about as a direct result of Jenna's flight long ago.
It's up to Ivariel-and the girl she stopped being long ago-to defeat the people who cruelly betrayed her, and to finally liberate her sisters. Determined to cleanse her homeland of the evil that nearly destroyed her, Ivariel at last returns to face the past.
But this time, she'll do it on her own terms.

My Review:

The lost princess who returns in this story is Jenna, once an Imperial Princess of Dasnaria. Jenna, with the help of her younger brother Harlan, was partially rescued and partially rescued herself from not just an excruciatingly abusive marriage but an entirely abusive culture as well, in the Chronicles of Dasnaria series, beginning with The Prisoner of the Crown. Which Jenna so definitely was when her story began.

Jenna transformed herself into the warrior-priestess Ivariel, she saved her adopted people AND their elephants, healed or buried the abused young woman she had been, married a good man, made a life for herself far away from the Imperial seraglio where she was born and was supposed to die, and had four children.

As the forces gather in the stunning climax of The Uncharted Realms series, a story told in The Fate of the Tala, Ivariel nee Jenna brings her people and her elephants to the fight. And finds herself fighting alongside two of the brothers she left behind, her rescuer Harlan, now consort of the High Queen Ursula of the Twelve Kingdoms (their story is The Talon of the Hawk) and her near-betrayer who has finally gotten his head out of his ass, her brother Kral (details of his story in The Edge of the Blade.) That Kral’s lady Jepp is the daughter of the woman who trained Jenna shows just how deeply Jenna/Ivariel has been ingrained in the combined series, even when she has not been present.

The enemy that is finally defeated in The Fate of the Tala has been a thorn in the side of the Twelve Kingdoms from the very beginning of this saga, all the way back in The Mark of the Tala. It’s an enemy that has been funded and nurtured by the Emperor Hestar and his mother, the Dowager Empress Hulda, of Dasnaria. The place from which Jenna, Harlan and eventually Kral fled so long ago.

Now that the forces of evil have been finally routed, it is time for the exiled children of Dasnaria to return home – to cut out the enemy’s heart. That said cutting out will require killing both their brother and their mother is the ice cream on a dish of revenge being served, at last, chillingly cold.

A dish of revenge that needs to be delivered personally by Ivariel, Harlan and Kral. No matter how much it hurts them to return to the place that tortured them and tossed them away.

That’s a lot of intro, all in order to say that all three of these interconnected series (Twelve Kingdoms, Uncharted Realms and Chronicles of Dasnaria are epic, compelling, marvelous and intertwined so deeply that by the time the reader reaches this lovely endpoint (I hope it’s the endpoint, they ALL deserve a lasting HEA) that the stories are so interwoven that there is no reasonable way to start here and have it all make sense. This is a series that rewards the reader with a deeply absorbing tale of magic, machinations, maneuvers and yes, romance.

Start with The Mark of the Tala and wend your way through to this terrific wrap-up, The Lost Princess Returns.

I wish you joy of the journey. It’s a great one.

Escape Rating A+: It’s obvious that I loved this story. In fact, it’s pretty obvious that I’ve loved the entire interconnected series, as I’ve reviewed them all. This is also a series that operates on two layers. First, it IS epic fantasy. The epic is the story of the three princesses of the Twelve Kingdoms rebelling against the rule of their abusive father. That father is also taking the Kingdoms down a terrible path, so they set out on a course to right his wrongs and remove him from his throne. Once that battle is won, they then have to rout the forces that helped set their father on his terrible path – not that he wasn’t plenty terrible on his own. The story of their journey, now as queens of their own kingdoms, to help each other find and fight those forces, gathering allies and enemies along the way, is told as The Uncharted Realms.

And then there’s Jenna, groomed, beaten, abused, betrayed and nearly dead, barely escaping with her life in the Chronicles of Dasnaria, only to build herself a new life as Ivariel and return here as the fabled “Lost Princess”.

This book serves as both an extended epilogue for the combined series and as the culmination of Jenna’s need to return to her origins, to heal the wounds she has covered over for more than 20 years. It is a story of revenge, and it’s a revenge that is necessary. Neither Hulda nor Hestar are capable of redemption. In the end, this is the story of not just Jenna but also Harlan and Kral moving beyond the people they were and the people who made them and tried to mold them into their own corrupt images, and finding their true selves. The selves they have built and become far from that terrible places.

The healing that comes for them is personal, but they also leave healing behind them, finally setting Dasnaria on a path to its own brighter future.

And the entire epic from the very beginning to this marvelous conclusion, is absolutely fantastic.

Review: The Fate of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Fate of the Tala by Jeffe KennedyThe Fate of the Tala (Uncharted Realms #5) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Uncharted Realms #5
Pages: 398
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on February 4th, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An Uneasy Marriage,
An Unholy Alliance.

The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, conquered her inner demons to become the high queen. The youngest, and most beautiful outlived her Prince Charming and found a strength beyond surface loveliness.

And the other one, Andi? The introverted, awkward middle princess is now the Sorceress Queen, Andromeda—and she stands at the precipice of a devastating war.

As the undead powers of Deyrr gather their forces, their High Priestess focuses on Andi, undermining her at every turn. At the magical barrier that protects the Thirteen Kingdoms from annihilation, the massive Dasnarian navy assembles, ready to pounce the moment Andi’s strength fails. And, though her sisters and friends gather around her, Andi finds that her husband, Rayfe, plagued with fears over her pregnancy, has withdrawn, growing ever more distant.

Fighting battles on too many fronts, Andi can’t afford to weaken, as she’s all that stands between all that’s good in the world and purest evil.

For Andi, the time to grow into her true power has come. . .

My Review:

Once upon a time, there was a story about three sisters. The daughters of a mad king and his foretold (and foretelling) queen. But soothsayers, especially true ones, always fare badly – just ask Cassandra. In the end, Queen Salena went mad and died, before her time but not before she had fulfilled her purpose.

Once upon a time, even longer ago than the first story, there was a story about an innocent young woman, betrayed by her parents, abused by her husband, and saved by her baby brother with a little bit of help from a warrior priestess.

The story of those three princesses, the sorceress Andromeda, the beautiful Amelia and the warrior Ursula, was told as the three parts of The Twelve Kingdoms, where Andi was swept away by a sorcerer king, Ami loved and lost her prince charming, and Ursula took her father’s throne as well as his life.

Through all of their trials and tribulations, the sisters fought against the dead minions of the Priestess of Deyrr, and the machinations of the voracious Drasnarian empire.

That young abused woman was once a Drasnarian princess. She escaped and fled to a faraway land where her former family could not reach her – not through the ranks of the elephants who came to guard her and the people she came to call hers. Her story was told in the Chronicles of Drasnaria.

But the baby brother who helped rescue his sister the former Drasnarian princess grew up to become the mercenary leader who captured the heart of the Warrior Queen Ursula, tying the two stories, and all of their peoples, together.

Throughout the followup to The Twelve Kingdoms, The Uncharted Realms Andi, Ami and Ursula, now queens with lands of their own to rule, found themselves fighting the deeply entrenched tendrils of that High Priestess they first defeated in their father’s throne room.

The Fate of the Tala is the climax to this entire 12-book saga, and it is an epic and stunning conclusion to everything that has come before it.

The series ends, as it began all the way back in The Mark of the Tala five years ago, with the magical kingdom of Annfwn, once the tiny keeper of all of the magic in the world. Andi married Rayfe, the King of Annfwn, to protect the precious heartstone that controlled that magic. A control that has been under attack since long before the sisters were born. An attack that their birth was intended to finally defeat.

If they can. If Andi can let herself embrace all of the power that could be at her command, without giving way to the doubts and fears that have plagued her all her life. And without giving in to the insidious voice of the High Priestess who has planted so many of those fears in order to exploit them now, at the climax of it all.

But the visions of the future that Andi has seen show her the defeat of all she loves and the loss of all she holds dear. She fears can only save the kingdoms only at the cost of her heart and soul. A cost that she only thinks she is willing to pay.

Escape Rating A+: The Fate of the Tala is the shattering conclusion of an epic long in the making – and the reading. And as the conclusion of such an epic, the depths of which I have barely hinted at above, it needs to be read as the conclusion to either a long and lush reading binge or, as I did, years of waiting with bated breath for the next installment in the series.

One of the things that I love about this series, and this is every bit as true for this entry as the others, is that these women, their stories, their kingdoms, their worlds, are complex and beautiful and sometimes terrible in that beauty. Many of their stories walk through very dark places, and we feel their pain, deeply and even heartbreakingly.

So it is in The Fate of the Tala. Andi is assaulted on all sides by the fears that have plagued her all her life – and those fears are so very real. She is pregnant and fears that her husband no longer loves her, wants her, or values her as a partner. She knows that they were fated to marry, whether they loved each other or not, and while she has come to love him desperately it seems that his mask of caring has slipped.

More importantly, he no longer seems to trust her as his co-ruler, meaning that she cannot trust him as hers. Their kingdom, their world is in a desperate fight for its life, a fight that is centered on their kingdom. The division at their very heart could be the crack that destroys them all.

As readers, we can see what is wrong, and we both empathize with Andi and desperately want her to be able to repair the breach, even as we understand that she must do what is right for her people above all, and that the breach may not be repairable – and neither may be her marriage or her husband. And yet she shoulders on.

At the same time, this is also a story about desperation and struggle and hope and fear and pulling together against all the odds. And it’s a story about finding sisterhood and family and hope in even the darkest and most desperate of times.And that last stands do not have to be the last – or actually even a stand, and that sometimes the way to win it all is to let it all go.

If you love fantasy romance and/or epic fantasy tinged with romance, you owe it to yourself to begin with The Mark of the Tala and immerse yourself in a beautifully created and fantastically detailed world. This series is epic in scope and marvelous in detail. If you’re looking for a sweeping heroines’ journey this series can’t be beat.

Although I’d love to see the author try, with more heroines and even more fantastic worlds.

Review: Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe KennedyOria's Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #5
Pages: 166
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on January 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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:

This series began back in Lonen’s War with Princess Oria being betrayed by her own brother, an event that echoes down the entire length of the series so far.

In this latest book in the series, events have almost, but not quite, come full circle, as this title is named for Oria, but the events that it encompasses revolve around Prince Lonen’s brother and his betrayal of Lonen.

But a whole lot of things have happened along the way. Oria, the princess-bird freed from her gilded cage, will have to come into the power that she does not even believe she has in order to save both of their kingdoms – and both of themselves, as well.

Lonen has to grasp his duty and his destiny – even if, or especially because – he needs to leave Oria behind in order for her to be able to leap ahead and save them both.

If she survives a testing process directed by dragons. Either she finally masters her power – or they will destroy her before she destroys everything around her – including herself.

Escape Rating B+: Oria’s Enchantment is the fifth book in what was originally listed as a trilogy – and the story isn’t done yet. It’s turning out to be “trilogy times two”. So a Hexology, or a dual-trilogy, or a sextet.

Sextet feels appropriate, as the Sorcerous Moons series, whatever you call it, is a fantasy romance that does some very interesting things with sex and seduction. Lonen and Oria’s marriage begins as a marriage of convenience because her magic will not allow anyone else to touch her skin-to-skin without causing her tremendous pain. That their relationship changes from cautious allyship to a true marriage in spite of that limitation – and just how far and how sensuously they manage to skate the edge of that restriction, has been steamy as well as fascinating.

About the story as a whole – the story is a whole. By that I mean that the Sorcerous Moons “series” feels like one long story rather than a series of even slightly separate books. Like the Lord of the Rings, where the story that begins in Fellowship ends in Return of the King. The ending of Fellowship is merely a pause as that book does not tell a complete story in and of itself.

So it is with Sorcerous Moons, This is one story from its beginning in Lonen’s War to what looks like will be its ending in the next book, Lonen’s Reign. So start at the beginning and not anywhere in the middle. The individual books are relatively short – so the compilation of the whole is only a moderately sized tome.

The part of the story that takes place in Oria’s Enchantment is a rise from the “waiting game” that occurred in the previous book in the series, The Forests of Dru. That book felt like the trough of the entire story arc, and now we’re on the rise that leads to the conclusion.

Things finally happen here, although mostly in the second half of the book. The first half is a “road story”, of which there have been many in this series. Lonen and Oria do a LOT of travelling, in order to fix what’s wrong in either one kingdom or another – and to give them time to bond as a marital partnership.

It’s in the second half of this story that events begin to ramp up, as Oria finally takes control of her power and her destiny while Lonen forces himself to do the right thing for the kingdom he never expected to rule.

I can’t wait for what should be the epic conclusion to this series in Lonen’s Reign. Because Lonen and Oria are going to have to make a lot of war to fix everything that’s wrong in both Bara and Dru!

Review: The Arrows of the Heart by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Arrows of the Heart by Jeffe KennedyThe Arrows of the Heart (The Uncharted Realms #4) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Uncharted Realms #4
Pages: 297
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Karyn af Hardie is on her own, for the first time in her life. While all around her brace for war with Karyn’s former homeland, the Empire of Dasnaria, all Karyn really wants is to find a husband who will care for her. After all, she gave up everything for the chance at a normal family life with love and children. She has no way of supporting herself and the only thing of value she has to offer is her virginity. The last thing she’ll do is squander that on the flirtatious shapeshifter Zyr.

Zyr is fascinated by the golden-haired and exotic Karyn—but not enough to put up with all of her mossback rules. She’d be considerably happier, in his opinion for some good bouts of healthy sex. Still, that’s not his problem and he has plenty that is. His sister Zynda has disappeared, possibly never to return, leaving him with a mission to use the mysterious map-sticks to find ancient n’Andana and recruit help for a war they seem doomed to lose to otherwise.

Suspected as a Dasnarian spy, Karyn can’t stay in Annfwn while the defense is planned—so she’s sent with Zyr to assist on his desperate quest. If they can keep from killing each other, Karyn and Zyr might just discover they hold more than a map to saving the world.

My Review:

As our story begins in this fourth book in the Uncharted Realms series, Karyn of Hardie, the exiled former future Empress of Dasnaria, is adrift among the shape shifting Tala in Annfwyn – trying to figure out where she belongs and looking for a purpose to replace everything she left behind.

Meanwhile clinging to the rules and restrictions of her past that marked her as a pampered, protected, caged upper-class woman in Dasnaria.

Considering that the Tala have very few rules about behavior of any kind (I don’t think they have much past Wheaton’s Law), almost no respect for rank and very little consideration of privilege of any kind, Karyn is as completely at sea as anyone could be on dry land.

To add to her complete and utter confusion, she is being romantically pursued by Tyr, who would be a kind of prince where she came from, but in Annfwyn is just another Tala. And a seemingly feckless one at that.

Tyr has plenty of power, but he’s been a bit flighty for most of his life. Particularly when it comes to sexual conquests – not that the Tala have anything like the taboos and prohibitions that Karyn is used to. But Tyr has been fairly free with his favors for most of his life – while Karyn risked literally everything for the possibility of true love, real romance, permanence and eventually children.

She’s looking for normal, while Tyr seems to be looking for a good time. Unfortunately for both of them, life in the now Thirteen Kingdoms is anything but normal. Annfwyn and the rest of the Kingdoms are preparing for war. War with the evil Deyrr, and war with Karyn’s former home – Dasnaria.

The Tala are sorcerers whose power is based on life magic. The Deyrr are as far opposite as can be imagined. To call them necromancers is possibly an insult to necromancers. They’re really that bad.

But the Queen of the Tala has foreseen that the war is at a crossroads. In order for there to be even the possibility of victory, she must send Karyn and Tyr, together, into the heart of darkness. And hope against hope that Karyn makes the hard choice one more time.

Escape Rating A-: Like nearly all of the books in the Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series, this book is absolutely awesomesauce. But also like many of the books in this series, and the spinoff Chronicles of Dasnaria series, it is not for the faint of heart. The treatment of women in Dasnaria is enough to give any woman flashbacks of one kind or another. And the Deryrr seem to worship evil as well as death. Anytime they show up, it makes for very hard reading. Necessary to the story, but hard.

This story is the fourth book in the Uncharted Realms series, which makes it the seventh in the combined series. That’s a lot of backstory. And while you don’t HAVE to have read the whole thing, if you enjoy epic fantasy with romance blended in, the series is definitely worth a read. Howsomever, the action in this particular entry is a direct followup from its two immediate predecessors in the series, The Edge of the Blade and The Shift of the Tide. How Karyn ended up in Annfwyn is a result of events in The Edge of the Blade, while Tyr’s emotional state follows from his sister’s actions in The Shift of the Tide. Neither begins this story in a good place.

However, I found Karyn’s actions and reactions much easier to understand after reading the Chronicles of Dasnaria, particularly the first book Prisoner of the Crown. In that story, we see how a woman very similar to Karyn was raised, or perhaps it should be phrased as brainwashed or conditioned. Having followed Jenna’s journey it’s much easier to understand why Karyn acts the way she does to the lack of strictures in Tala society.

And that’s what makes The Arrows of the Heart so much Karyn’s story. She’s the butterfly that has broken out of its chrysalis. And it hurts. So she has to decide whether to try her wings or retreat back into her “safe” little shell. Freedom is hard, and the choices she has to keep making to retain it are harder still. That’s what makes her such a powerful heroine.

One final note – I keep conflating this title with Mercedes Lackey’s debut fantasy, Arrows of the Queen. After having finished The Arrows of the Heart, that conflation is not entirely wrong. Although this book, is deeper and darker – as it should be. Lackey’s book was aimed at a young adult audience, while The Arrows of the Heart, and the entire Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series is definitely for adults.

But the part about a brave heroine being on a difficult mission for the Queen – well that’s true in both stories. And wonderfully so.

Review: Amid the Winter Snow by Grace Draven, Thea Harrison, Elizabeth Hunter, Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Amid the Winter Snow by Grace Draven, Thea Harrison, Elizabeth Hunter, Jeffe KennedyAmid the Winter Snow by Grace Draven, Thea Harrison, Jeffe Kennedy, Elizabeth Hunter
Formats available: ebook
Series: Twelve Kingdoms, Elder Races
Pages: 454
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on December 12th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

As the snows fall and hearths burn, four stories of Midwinter beginnings prove that love can fight its way through the chillest night...

THE DARKEST MIDNIGHT, by Grace DravenThe mark Jahna Ulfrida was born with has made her a target of the cruel and idle all her life. During the long, crowded festivities of Deyalda, there’s nowhere to escape. Until a handsome stranger promises to teach her to save herself…

THE CHOSEN, by Thea HarrisonIn her visions, Lily sees two men fighting for her tiny country’s allegiance: the wolf and the tiger, each deadly, each cunning. One will bring Ys chaos and death, one a gentler path—but she’s destined to love whichever she chooses. The midwinter Masque is upon them, and the wolf is at her door…

THE STORM, by Elizabeth HunterWhen her soul mate died in a massacre of the half-angelic Irin people, Renata thought she’d never feel happiness again. She’s retreated to the snowy Dolomites to remember her hurts—until determined, irrepressible Maxim arrives to insist on joy, too. And before she can throw him out, they discover a secret the Irin have to know…

THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN, by Jeffe KennedyAs a blizzard threatens their mountain keep, the new Queen Amelia of the Twelve Kingdoms and her unofficial consort Ash face their own storm. Ash knows a scarred, jumpy ex-convict isn’t the companion his queen needs. But when a surprise attack confines them together in their isolated sanctuary, the feast of midwinter might tempt even Ash into childlike hope…

My Review:

Be sure to wrap up warmly before you start this one. And have a cozy blanket and a hot cup of tea or cocoa – along with a cat or dog to keep your feet warm. All of these stories do an excellent of job of making the reader really feel Jack Frost nipping at their nose – and everywhere else!

I came to visit the Twelve Kingdoms, and ended up making the whirlwind fantasy romance tour. And I’m glad that I did – even if my toes are still frostbitten.

The Snows of Windroven by Jeffe Kennedy

I read The Snows of Windroven first. While I have enjoyed all of the Twelve Kingdoms books, I’ll admit that Amelia, the heroine of The Tears of the Rose, was my least favorite heroine of the entire series. She begins that story as a spoiled brat. It’s only when everything and everyone who has spoiled her is taken away that finally grows into the woman she was meant to be.

And that woman is the heroine of The Snows of Windroven, not that we don’t occasionally see flashes of the spoiled princess that Ami used to be. But this time, she’s mostly right.

None of the daughters of High King Uorsin have ended up in traditional-seeming relationships. Andi is now the Queen of the Tala, but her husband had to kidnap her in order to get her on her throne. He’s not king, only Prince Consort. Even then, their relationship is more traditional than that of the new High Queen Ursula, who cannot marry her consort due to political tensions in his home country. But she will not marry another.

Ami’s fairy tale husband died in The Tears of the Rose. Her paramour is Ash, a Tala half-breed ex-convict with just a touch of healing magic. While Ash is the person who helped Ami grow into who she was meant to be, using a whole lot of very necessary tough love, he’s also certain that she will outgrow him. That he’s not good enough for her, and that she will eventually bow down to the pressure that surrounds her to marry someone of the nobility, someone who can be king to her queen.

So a lot of The Snows of Windroven is about Ash sticking his head in his ass and refusing to take it out. He loves Ami, she loves him, her children love him, but he is determined to set her free. And she is equally determined to keep him. But Ami has a goddess on her side, and poor Ash doesn’t stand a chance. Not that he really wants one.

Escape Rating B+: I have to admit that I still don’t like Ami all THAT much. She has definitely grown up, but there’s still an element of “I’m queen so I can change the rules to get what I want” in her. I’ll also confess that the “I’m too good for her so I have to give her up” trope is not one of my favorites, because it always comes with a heaping helping of misunderstandammit.

That being said, the strength of this story is that it is written entirely from the perspective of the normally taciturn Ash. Being inside his head, seeing his reactions to Ami from his perspective, was marvelous. I liked his “voice” and would be interested in seeing more of their adventures from his point of view – especially now that he’s managed to mostly extract his head from his fundament.

The Darkest Midnight by Grace Draven

Every time I pick up one of Grace Draven’s novellas (For Crown and Kingdom and Teeth Long and Sharp) I’m reminded again that I really need to grab a round tuit and read Master of Crows. Based on her short work, that one must be awesome.

I will say that I very much enjoyed her entry in this volume, titled The Darkest Midnight. But as I read it, I found the story a bit too familiar, to the point where it was driving me a bit batty. The central theme of The Darkest Midnight is quite similar to the central point in the recent (and terrific) historical romance Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh, to the point where they blend together a bit.

As I loved them both, that’s not really such a terrible problem to have!

Escape Rating B+

The Storm by Elizabeth Hunter

If I’ve read other work by Elizabeth Hunter, I don’t remember doing so. And after reading The Storm, I’m not sure that I’ll seek her out. This was the weakest story in the collection for me. I think it has to do with the whole “fallen angels” thing. I’ve read several different stories that use the whole “Grigori are half-breed fallen angels” premise, and it just doesn’t work for me. I actually liked the romance between Maxim and Renata, but the background just didn’t do it for me.

Escape Rating C+

The Chosen by Thea Harrison

And finally, last but definitely not least, The Chosen by Thea Harrison. I have not read Harrison’s Elder Races series, but now that I’ve dipped my toe into this series, I can’t wait to go back and start from the very beginning. This novella is a kind of historical fantasy romance. By that I mean that the setting feels a bit historical, but that it is definitely fantasy. It’s a kind of story I’ve read before, but in this case it’s done particularly well. The seeress Lily knows that she will be forced to chose between two alliances for her country, represented by two men who visit her in her prophetic (and sexy!) dreams. Her tiny country, no matter how much magic it contains, is no match for either of the two predators who are bearing down on her. She knows that one alliance leads to not merely survival but actually increased prosperity, and the other leads to ruin and death. But she has little to judge between them, until one of the predators arrives at her doorstep.

It is only then that she has enough information with which to make a choice. She can pick the distant kingdom, and the man who goes with it, who sends polite and thoughtful missives but she has never met, or the wolf at her door, a man who brings his army, his gifts, and most of all, his overwhelming self. Lily is caught between terrible choices, and is not certain whether the wishes of her own heart represent the best decision for her people, or the worst.

Escape Rating A-: This one is just too short. I wanted more of the this world, more of the conflict that sets this story in motion, more of Lily’s life as the Chosen of Camael, and more of the developing relationship between Lily and Wulf. I loved that they are both the reluctant leaders of their people, and that Wulf is willing to help LIly understand how hard that kind of position is without ever attempting to take it from her. They have a terrific “court and spark” romance that just sizzles on the page. This is a series that i can’t wait to go back to.

One of the reviewers on Goodreads said that she came for the Elder Races and got sucked into the rest. I came for the Twelve Kingdoms and got sucked into the Elder Races. This a series to be added to the towering TBR pile and binged on as soon as manageable. One of the marvelous features of collections like this one is that readers get introduced to writers and series that they have not heard of, or in my case with the Elder Races, skipped because by the time I heard about it the series was already several books in. I’m happy for this introduction, even if I can hear the towering TBR pile groaning in the background.

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) Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Uncharted Realms #3
Pages: 400
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
Formats available: ebook
Series: Sorcerous Moons #4
Pages: 180
on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

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!