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: 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: 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
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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 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
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Uncharted Realms #2, Twelve Kingdoms #5
Pages: 400
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The 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
Formats available: paperback, ebook
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.