Review: Ether & Elephants by Cindy Spencer Pape

ether and elephants by cindy spencer papeFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: steampunk romance
Series: Gaslight Chronicles #8
Length: 180 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: July 20, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Sir Thomas Devere and Eleanor Hadrian have loved each other most of their lives—but sometimes love doesn’t conquer all.

Their chance at happiness was ruined by Tom’s hasty marriage to someone else. Heartbroken, Nell left home, finding a new life as a teacher at a school for the blind. But when one of her supernaturally gifted students, Charlie, is kidnapped, Tom reappears and her worlds collide.

Tom claims he hasn’t seen his wife since the day of their marriage…yet he fears the missing student could be his son.

The deeper they dig, the more Tom and Nell discover: a deadly alchemist, more missing gifted children and long-suppressed feelings neither of them is ready for. A race on airship across England and India may lead them to answers—including a second chance at love—but only if all of British Society isn’t destroyed first.

My Review:

Ether & Elephants is the last book in Cindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles. I’ve enjoyed the series very much, from my first night binge-reading Steam & Sorcery (reviewed here) and Photographs & Phantoms in one lovely gulp.

moonlight and mechanicalsMy favorite in the series is still Moonlight & Mechanicals (see review). It even made my Best Ebook Romances of 2012 list for Library Journal.

But Ether & Elephants brings the series to a very lovely conclusion – all the more so because it brings things full circle. The series both starts and ends with the adoption of a bunch of slightly misfit, seriously talented and definitely precocious children into a family that is expressly made to nurture all their varied talents.

A family headed by two adults who finally figure out that they love each other to pieces, and that nothing can, or should, stand in their way.

The journey for Sir Thomas Devere and Eleanor Hadrian is even rockier than the one in the first book – because Tom and Nell are two of the children who were adopted back then. They are all grown up now, and have loved each other forever.

And they’ve both given up hope.

Tom made a horrible mistake while he was at university. It’s not really that he gave in to temptation and fell into someone’s bed. While he may have known that he loved Eleanor, and may have guessed that she loved him, he was five or so years older and Eleanor was not yet an adult. There were no promises, no commitments – they hadn’t even talked about a possible future.

The problem was that the adventuress who seduced him claimed to be pregnant with his child, so he married her. She disappeared the morning after their wedding with the contents of his wallet and anything else in his room that seemed salable. He never saw her again, but he still feels bound to the marriage.

He also doesn’t seem to have done anything like a thorough job in investigating his runaway wife or her circumstances after the fact. A young nobleman with all the power of the Order of the Knights of the Round Table behind him should have done a much better job of tracking down the thief – or at least discovered that there was something fishy about that wedding, as there so obviously was.

Tom seems to have been too ashamed to take care of his own business, and now it may be too late. Not just because Eleanor has made a life for herself away from the family, or even that she may be engaged to another man. The problem at the root of everything is that she feels she can’t trust him.

But she needs his help. Well, she needs the Order’s help, and Tom is what she gets.

Nell has become a teacher, specifically a teacher of blind students. And one of her students has been kidnapped. This isn’t a simple rescue, because young Christopher appears to be “talented” in the way that the Knights are. He’s also not the only child, or more especially the only “talented” child, to be kidnapped in recent months. There’s also the ghost of a chance that Christopher might be Tom’s son. It’s certain that Christopher’s mother is, or was, Tom’s erstwhile wife.

In the investigation and chase to determine Christopher’s whereabouts, a number of long-buried truths come to light. They discover that Tom’s missing “wife” has been practicing the pregnant and disappearing bride scam at Oxford and Cambridge for at least ten years, meaning at least 5 years before she pulled the stunt on Tom. The inevitable conclusion is that Tom can’t possibly be married to her because she “married” so many other men first.

She’s also aimed her sights very high. All of the students she conned were rich and noble, including one well-heeled rake from Buckingham Palace. The Queen is worried there’s a little bastard princeling somewhere in the country.

And the Order’s old enemy, the Alchemist, seems to be taking these talented children to fuel a dastardly plot of his own.

Meanwhile, the chase moves to India, where Eleanor, with the Order’s help, is able to find the formerly young sailor who fathered her on a trip to England long ago. Only to find out that Nell is much better connected, at least in the Raj, than any of the Hadrians are back home.

But with all of their lives on the line, and with the certainty that Tom is now free, Nell can’t resist indulging in the passion that she has always felt for him. The question is whether passion is enough to overcome years of mistrust.

And whether they all come out of this mess alive.

Escape Rating B+: Ether & Elephants is a very nice wrap-up to the series as a whole. We first met Tom and Nell in Steam & Sorcery, when Sir Merrick Hadrian discovers Tom in the stews of London and realizes that Tom must be the son of one of his fellow Knights. That Tom will not leave behind the family that he has made and protected for years is just one more sign of his nobility, considering that Tom is all of 14 at the time.

But children grow up. Nell has always loved the young man who saved the lives of herself and her half-brother Piers, and hoped that Tom felt the same. Discovering that he did, but that he had pissed away their chance at happiness nearly broke her.

Eleanor Hadrian, like all of the family she has built, is made of stern stuff. She doesn’t just soldier on, but she finds a career that fulfills her, and makes a new life. When her new life intersects with the old one, she is the first person to volunteer to find her lost student, even knowing that she will have to deal with Tom and the ashes of their old relationship.

One of the ongoing themes of the story is that Nell doesn’t need anyone’s protection, not from the bad guys, and not from her own past. So many people have tried to be delicate about her feelings for Tom, and while she isn’t 100% sure those feelings are completely dead, she is utterly certain that she is tired of being treated like a delicate flower, because she so isn’t.

Bringing the story to India was a very nice touch. It allows Eleanor to discover and embrace the other half of her nature, and also answers the question that she has always wondered about – where do her supernatural talents come from? While I loved Eleanor’s ability to embrace her Indian family and heritage, it felt just a bit over-the-top that her father was effectively a prince. Eleanor has all the nobility she needs without inheriting it from her father along with her talent for seeing ghosts.

I liked her Indian family, and their participation in the final chase and capture is crucial, but her “Baba” didn’t have to be the social or political equal of Sir Merrick Hadrian to be effective, or to accept her as his daughter.

It gave the story an aftertaste of Eleanor’s needing to be a princess to be accepted as Lady Devere, when Tom, the Hadrians and especially Eleanor herself had all the nobility required.

I will miss the Hadrians and their magically steampunk world, but Ether & Elephants makes a fitting end to this lovely series.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Firewall by Sonya Clark

firewall by sonya clarkFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Magic Born, #3
Length: 207 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: December 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

She was the only Magic Born to ever escape the Rangers. Now there’s a ten-million-dollar bounty for her return.

Trancehacker Tuyet Caron could have left New Corinth for good, but instead uses her magic and risks her life on a daily basis to help the Magic Born. She’s been careful to avoid capture, but a careless glance at a video camera brings her face to face with the Ranger who let her go.

Captain Dale Hayes let Tuyet walk away once, but he won’t make that mistake again. When faced with the ultimate choice, however, he chooses her with barely a thought. But that also means siding with the Magic Born and becoming a fugitive in the eyes of the law.

Tuyet and Dale plan to flee, but are caught in a deadly riot that kills innocent people. Outraged, the pair vows to bring an end to the Magic Laws, regardless of what that means for their own safety.

My Review:

trancehack by sonya clarkI have to say that I have loved every book in Sonya Clark’s Magic Born series so far (start with Trancehack, reviewed here), and Firewall is no exception. The worldbuilding in this series is chilling, scary and consistently awesome.

I read Firewall just as the deliberations from the grand jury in Ferguson were being announced, and the parallels between the society in the book and the actions of the elected officials in Ferguson was frighteningly close.

When the powers that be are unhappy that news of their abuses has gotten out of their tight cordon of control, they blame social media. This was true in the speech, and is also true in the book.

It gave me goosebumps, and it made me think. And shiver.

witchlight by sonya clarkFirewall is the final book in Sonya Clark’s Magic Born series. This is a near-futuristic dystopian world where the U.S. has made itself into a dysfunctioning, economically depressed dystopia by locking all of those born with magic into ghettos and taking away their citizenship and rights. Because anyone can have a magic born child whether they themselves are magic born or not, children are taken away from their parents in infancy, as soon as the DNA test is administered.

Needless to say, the birthrate is dropping like a rock, because no one who wants a child wants to face the possibility that the child will be taken away.

By the time of Firewall, things have reached a tipping point. The restrictions on the magic born are increasing, and the total lockdown of magic born ghettos has plunged nearby neighborhoods into economic depression. Since no one initially wanted to live near a Freaktown, those nearby neighborhoods weren’t in good shape to begin with.

Lots of people are more and more sympathetic to magic born. The younger generation is much more tolerant than their elders. And the elders want to hang onto power at all costs.

Forces collide with violence. The government wants to bring in one of the few magic users they trained who escaped their clutches. After her, they send her former partner, the agent who probably let her escape. The agent who certainly has continued to love her in the three years since she left.

Tuyet Caron feels responsible for the new repressive laws against the magic born. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, she facilitated the escape of a woman and her magic born lover. Unfortunately for everyone, that woman was the wife of a prominent anti-magic politician, who is more than willing to use his professional clout to avenge a person wrong.

As the crackdown deepens, the violence escalates, and encompasses more people, including non-magic born. Into this volatile mix, Tuyets old partner Lee Hayes comes to either take her in, or help her escape again.

Their old enemy is right behind him.

But the climax of the story concerns the effects of the total information blackout on everything wrong in the flashpoint city of New Corinth. All info, including social media, is blocked by a firewall of tech and magic, maintained by a news corporation that wants to continue its monopoly on secret magic use.

Breaking that firewall, no matter what the cost, is crucial to bringing down the magic laws. Everybody pays dearly to make things right.

Escape Rating A+: While the love story between Hayes and Caron is sweetly done (three years of repression makes for a lot of sparkage!) I felt like the real depth in this story was the way that people came together to make sure the word got out.

Everyone in New Corinth knows that things are bad there, but because all true information from the ghettos is instantly repressed, no one on the outside knows about the police atrocities. And yes, there are definitely atrocities, including shooting unarmed civilians as they flee the violence, and otherwise deliberately sabotaging escape routes so that innocents are trapped in the kill zone, if not killed outright.

It’s brutality on a massive scale, but too many people who would be righteously opposed are kept completely in the dark and fed propaganda. It’s obscene in its way, and all too easy to believe.

They can’t beat the police – it’s not possible and it isn’t what they need. What they need, what the whole country needs, is for the truth to get out so that the situation can be repaired. Not just that the magic born can become citizens again, but that the U.S. can recover economically. The cost for disenfranchising and entire population is frighteningly clear.

It is possible to substitute the current treatment of any repressed group and come to the same sad conclusion about the potential future. That’s what made this book, and this series, so incredible for me. It was awesomely entertaining, and it made me think seriously at the same time.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Joint Rant: Til Dragons Do Us Part by Lorenda Christensen

til dragons do us part by lorenda christensenFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Never Deal With Dragons, #3
Length: 179 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: October 27, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Savannah Cavenaugh became a top art thief thanks to a secret ability—a dragonmorph, she can literally fly away from the scene of the crime. Next up: stealing a priceless painting out from under the snout of Lord Relobu, North America’s fearsome dragon ruler. True, she’s never had to work in the midst of Earth’s most polarizing nuptials before. Keeping her identity hidden will demand she get creative, to say the least.

Cameron Shaw has one last chance to prove himself. As Lord Relobu’s interim security head, he’ll ensure the world’s first interspecies wedding happens without a hitch. That means keeping an extra close eye on the wedding planner’s pretty young assistant. She’s adorable, but something’s not quite right.

Fumbling her way through bouquets and linens turns out to be the least of Savannah’s problems. Crushing on Relobu’s hottest human henchman was not part of the plan, and neither was revealing her—ahem—ferocious side. But when her archrival shows up to nab the very same painting she’s after, all bets are off…

Our Review:

never deal with dragons by lorenda christensenCass: First things first, I (quite unexpectedly) adored Never Deal With Dragons. Myrna was a far cry from the usual UF/PNR heroine. She wasn’t The One, didn’t specialize in Snapping Necks and Breaking Balls, and wasn’t burdened by a Tragic Past.

Instead, Myrna was just a brilliant, accomplished, career woman who loved her work (if not her boss). She kicked ass negotiating with dragons – without actually kicking dragon asses.

Despite this love, the blurb did not fill me with confidence. Pro: More time with Myrna and Trian. Con: everything else.

Marlene: I read Never Deal with Dragons because Cass made me do it. I figured that any romance that she actually liked must be good. And she was right. It was good, fun, and often funny. I loved the idea of a heroine who kicked butt with her mind instead of her brawn. However, the second book Dancing with Dragons (ranted at, ahem, reviewed here) did not live up to the first one. I made Cass read Til Dragons Do Us Part in the hope that Dancing with Dragons represented a sophomore slump. Admittedly, once I read the blurb, I didn’t have much hope. I figured that we would at least get a good rant out of it. And here we are. RANTING!

dancing with dragons by lorenda christensenCass: Liar! You wanted to bask in my disgust and outrage. Also, I completely and utterly forgot how much I hated Carol in the second book. So utterly useless.

Let us start with Savannah and her Family Of Thieves. Namely her sister-in-law, a renowned chef, at the top of her game who decided to turn to a life of crime. Why? Because this one time a dragon was totally mean, and insulted how she cooked steak! (Side note: did it not occur to her that a dragon might prefer his meat seared rather than medium-well?)

Why use your expertise and fame to do what you love? Much more logical to become the operations manager behind a small-time theft ring. God knows all women base their career trajectories on one run-in with a douchebag client.

Of course we ultimately can’t have a Law Breaker for a heroine (only dude-bro romantic bad-boy leads are allowed to break laws), so Savannah & Co must See The Light and Renounce Their Criminal Pasts. Perhaps they realize that a michelin starred chef can bring in mountains of legitimate money. Or there could be a “Tragic” Medical Issue for Baby Thief which will awaken them to the inherent evil they are bringing into a child’s life. Dragging a kid willy-nilly all over the country is completely within the best interests of said child. Taking a child to a medical facility to receive basic care on a consistent basis, however, results in a huge existential crisis. WHAT HAVE WE BEEN DOING WITH OUR LIVES?!?!

Marlene: People have been known to base their career trajectories on experiencing a series of douchebag clients or bosses. But generally not on just one. I digress.

It seems like sister-in-law the chef gave up her fantastic career for “true love”, another trope that Cass hates with a vengeance. I can understand helping one particularly hot (and charming) thief do something nasty but ultimately harmless to get back at said douchebag client, but not giving up an entire career. Unless we’re missing an explanation here, which we generally are in this book.

That this version of the universes has no insurance to speak about, and that procedures need to be paid in cash, was a nice bit of worldbuilding, which there aren’t nearly enough of. However, the existential crisis that ensues is over-the-top. Their only options are presented as “go straight” and cash in the retirement fund, or steal the painting and use the proceeds to pay for the medical crisis. While the crisis proceeds semi-logically from its introduction as the baby needs constant medical supervision, which is awkward when mom and dad are perpetually on the lam and lying about their identities, said medical crisis was not the only way to deal with all the adults deciding to go straight.

Cass: Setting aside the paper-thin motivations for thieving in general, let’s focus on the caper at issue. Savannah, a dragon-morph, grew up utterly isolated and thinking she was a lone freak in a hostile world. Then, lo-and-behold, she learns of Trian, dragon morph extraordinaire from Never Deal with Dragons.

Expected response: Holy shit, I am not alone in the universe! I must meet this guy and see if there are any social, psychological, or emotional benefits to having a friend who is of my species. He might also be excited to learn about my existence. We could share our First Transformation stories, talk logistics of controlling the shift, and maybe make arrangements for proper medical care. This could change my life!

Savannah’s response: Guess I’ll just rob him, during his wedding, for which he and his fiance are receiving multiple terroristic death threats.

Marlene: The caper that was, wasn’t, was, wasn’t. Well it wasn’t much of a caper, it seemed like its purpose in the story was to give Savannah an additional reason for giving up her life of crime and introducing us to the Boss From Hell. Working in that bridal agency would be enough motivation to never work anywhere in the industry again, just to avoid any possibility of running into the self-centered bitch who owned the place. She came off as a caricature of driven career-women everywhere, and I hated every moment she was onscreen. Meeting her should have driven Savannah right back to a life of crime, but instead it helped her “bond” with the other women she worked with. Which actually might happen, but in Savannah’s shoes I’d be counting the days until I was out of Tulsa and away from the wedding planner bitch and any legitimate work for a long time.

Cass: Marlene, I know you want to talk “romance.” But seriously, who the fuck is this guy? Why do I care about him? Hell, why does she even care about him? He’s about as interesting as a glass of milk. On that note, why is Mr. Whole Milk interested in her? There was no spark. No chemistry. No nothing. In fact, I can’t even remember his name. Did they have sex? Hell if I know. If they did, it was damn boring and I fell asleep reading it.

Marlene: I do not want to talk romance in this book, because there isn’t much to talk about, except to wonder where the chemistry went. The married couple have more chemistry than Savannah and what’s his name. (which is actually Cameron Shaw, and yes, they do manage to have sex, and it was a complete yawn, as well as a fade to black.) His whole purpose in this story seems to be to motivate Savannah to go straight. He’s not just Mr. Whole Milk, but he’s Mr. Whole Milk who has a record of being on the wrong end of Savannah’s art thievery. Otherwise he has no distinguishing features.

Cass: I saved the worst offense for last. WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?! For a book set in a world that has humans and dragons co-existing in a never-endingly complicated political and social quagmire (basically the highlight of the first two books), we spend almost no time focused on any actual dragon issue. Are there any people in the world at all curious as to how dragon morphs are created? Is it viral? Environmental exposure in utero? A recessive genetic trait? Anyone? Bueller?

Escape Rating: D for denying me sufficient dragons. Never Deal with Dragons was amazing. I am going to re-read it to get the taste of this out of my mouth. The DRACIM world has so many amazing stories in it, I just hope the author gets around to telling us some of them.

Marlene: Galen described Cass’ part of this review as a “Cass Rant ™” and I have to agree with his assessment. I also have to agree with Cass’ rant in general. Never Deal with Dragons was awesome. I read Til Dragons Do Us Part and couldn’t wait to be parted from it. I found it to be completely and utterly “meh”. This is not a good thing.

Escape Rating C-: which is totally in keeping with that ‘meh’. It’s not horrible, there just isn’t much there there. Or there here. Whatever. To give either a higher or lower rating, I’d need to have more reaction than this. Myrna was awesome in the first book. Carol was too stupid to live in the second book. Savannah is perfectly named; she’s a boring grassland with no distinguishing features.

Cass: Note to Galen: “Cass Rant ™” was spurred by Marlene’s insistence I read this. Which I had every intention of ignoring. So maybe we should call it Cass Rant On Demand ™”

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Author Jeffe Kennedy on Ebooks and Libraries + Giveaway

My featured guest for today is Jeffe Kennedy, the author of the marvelous fantasy romance series, Covenant of Thorns. The series concludes with today’s featured review book, Rogue’s Paradise, which answers so many of the questions that series fans have been waiting for.

In her guest post, Jeffe talks about one of the subjects near and dear to my heart, getting ebooks into libraries.

Rogues Paradise Button 300 x 225

I love that Reading Reality focuses on ebooks and ebook integration into libraries. This is partly because libraries and librarians have always been such a huge part of my life as a reader. As a writer, too, which is less visible to me. But more and more, librarians come up to me at events and tell me how my ebooks are in their collections and I should know how often they’re checked out and how their patrons just love, love, love them! I’m glad they tell me, because otherwise I have no way of knowing that.

I also appreciate that Marlene is dedicated to bringing ebooks into libraries, especially genre books, because I strongly feel that, without Carina and their willingness to take a chance on my digital series, A Covenant of Thorns, then these books might never have seen the light of day. That’s the terrific thing about ebook publishers—they’ve allowed books that don’t neatly fit into genre categories to have a chance.

rogues pawn goodreadsWhen I started Rogue’s Pawn,, I had no idea that I was writing a story that would “fall into the cracks between genres.” My tale of a modern woman, a professor of neuroscience who passes through a magical gate at Devils Tower and ends up in Faerie—exactly as in the tales of old—would maybe be an urban fantasy. Only with more romance. And sexier.

Okay, like many newbie writers, I had no idea what I was doing. I understood my story, but not how the marketplace worked.

Since I first started shopping that book—to praise for the writing and imagination, followed by rejection for marketability—the market has changed. Carina called it Fantasy Romance and now there’s lots more of those books out there. The Covenant of Thorns trilogy doesn’t sit squarely in Fantasy Romance, but it gets to be in the club still. More, the books have found readers and I’ve gotten to write others.

All because people embraced ebooks and the windows they open.

I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Jeffe KennedyJeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook. Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera, which released beginning January 2, 2014. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and a fifth, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, will release starting in July.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website:, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook, and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Foreword Literary.

To learn about Jeffe, visit her website or blog or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.


Because I enjoyed the Covenant of Thorns series so much, I want to give some lucky reader the chance to enjoy it too. So, the prize is the winner’s choice of Rogue’s Pawn, Rogue’s Possession or Rogue’s Paradise. These are all ebook only, so anyone can win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Rogue’s Paradise by Jeffe Kennedy

rogues paradise by jeffe kennedyFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance, fantasy romance
Series: Covenant of Thorns #3
Length: 280 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: September 8, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

Pregnant, possessed, and in love with a man I don’t dare to trust—those are the consequences of the risks I took to save my life. But Faerie, the land of blood and magic, is filled with bitter ironies, and the bargains I made now threaten me and my unborn child.

The darkly sensual fae noble Rogue still tempts me to danger and desire. As we await the birth of our child, I’ve been forced to question whether our offspring is part of a bargain Rogue once made to save himself. He can’t tell me the truth due to a spell the vicious Queen Titania has him under. Would he betray our family against his will? Could I ever forgive him if he does?

Rogue insists on an eternal commitment from me, even as Titania’s forces close in on us. I don’t know if Rogue and I can withstand her onslaught, or that of the beast within me. But I will not stop looking for answers—even if it brings the walls of Faerie crashing down.

My Review:

The fae world in the Covenant of Thorns is built on the concept that powerful mages need to be careful what they wish for, because they might get it.

In other words, if someone says “don’t make me call my flying monkeys” you can bet that they really have flying monkeys on call. (This happens and it’s awesome).

But magic is the power to essentially wish things into being. Including “True Love”, because that seems to be the only power on Earth or in Faerie capable of stopping the Queen Bitch Titania. Who also happens to be mad as a hatter, along with being nearly all powerful.

But not quite. The sorcerer Rogue has the idea that the one thing she can’t win against is two equally powerful mages who willingly share power equally. And the only thing that would make that possible is complete trust. In other words, true love on both sides.

rogues pawn goodreadsThere’s two problems. Rogue wished for a woman who might be capable of being that equally powerful sorceress and might be able to love him. What he got was a woman from our non-magical world with great potential, and he spends a good chunk of Rogue’s Pawn (see review) manipulating her and the situation so that she can come to control her power.

Manipulation does not make for a good path to trust and eventual love, so Rogue makes as many problems for himself as he does solutions. Neither he nor any of the fae know much about love, if anything. His learning curve on that subject is incredibly high, and the cost is one that is paid not only by himself, but also by that woman he brought to faerie, Gwynn.

rogues possession by jeffe kennedyWhile the story in Rogue’s Possession (see review) may seem by the title that Gwynn is “owned” by Rogue, it isn’t strictly true. It also isn’t strictly not, as she spends much of the series having her agency taken away, and then fighting to get it back. Rogue is trying to seduce her rather than own her, but his ability to understand her true nature comes in fits and starts. Two steps forward, one step back.

Meanwhile, Gwynn has promised, because she had no other choice at the time, to give Rogue her first-born child. She did not stipulate a time, but Titania drugged them both and made sure Gwynn got pregnant. Titania wants to steal the child for her own really disgusting purposes. She needs to be stopped.

Rogue finally finds the way to Gwynn’s heart. Or, in the face of the overwhelming threat, Gwynn decides that since she’s already pregnant, she might as well reap all the benefits of her status. The worst has already happened, so giving in to Rogue’s seduction seems like a reward in comparison.

Together, they have the power to beat Titania back from her campaign to control both Faerie and Earth. But in order to do that, Gwynn has to trust Rogue utterly. Which is something that he has not exactly earned. But still desperately needs.

His wish for “True Love” has bitten him, too. And it’s the best thing that ever happened to him and to Faerie. But only if they all survive.

Escape Rating A-: This entire story, from the beginning in Rogue’s Pawn, works because of Gwynn’s voice. The entire story is in her first-person perspective, so we see this entire strange new world through the eyes of someone who has our sensibilities. As she tries to make sense of things to herself, she also makes sense of them for us.

There’s a thread through the entire series about Gwynn’s agency or lack thereof. At the very beginning, she loses control of her immediate future because someone has to train her in using her incredibly powerful magic. Otherwise, her every thought transforms the world around her beyond bearing.

But that training is both emotionally and physically painful; everything she learns leaves her with a bad case of PTSD and an unwillingness to trust anyone who has been responsible for anything that’s happened to her.

Especially Rogue.

She learns painfully that every thing in Faerie is limited by promises and vows; no words are casual. It is only in this final installment that she knows enough about what is happening around her to understand why Rogue has done the things that he has, and how much he is bound by events that occurred before he wished her into Faerie.

The revelations about the true nature of the Fae, and the true insanity of Titania, make Gwynn (and the reader) understand how high the stakes have been from the very beginning.

The world, as a great writer once said, is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine. That may be true, but Gwynn’s world is marvelous strange, and there are fantastic and wonderful stories told there.

Rogues Paradise Button 300 x 225

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Ménage with the Muse by Nico Rosso

menage with the muse by nico rossoFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Demon Rock, #3
Length: 180 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: August 4, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

What happens when two very different satyr rock stars find their Muse…and discover it’s the same woman?

Musician Mia Dillon’s having the week of her life. Sharing the stage with the world’s biggest acts at a hedonistic festival is a rush, but she discovers new thrills as she frees her sensual side. A brief flirtation with sexy drummer Wolfgang quickly escalates as they lose themselves in wild music and the desert heat.

And then there’s Ethan. Silent, almost samurai-like, he’s the best guitarist she’s ever seen. He’s broken out of his quiet reserve just for her.

But Wolfgang and Ethan share two secrets. One: they’re demons. Two: they’re starving. The ancient rules of demons have shifted and if they don’t feed soon, the lights will go out for good. Mia’s energy has marked her as The One…for both of them.

Mia’s never had two men—let alone two demons—at once. Nobody’s heard of demons sharing a Muse, either. But the three of them make a sexual melody unlike anything else. Mia’s never felt so alive, but with the enemy growing closer by the minute, it will take everything Wolfgang and Ethan have to keep her that way.

My Review:

Read this one with a fan. Or be sure to have the air conditioning on, and yes, I know its supposed to be Fall.

Heavy Metal Heart by Nico RossoFor that matter, read this whole series with a fan for coolth, starting with Heavy Metal Heart (reviewed here), and then straight into Slam Dance with the Devil (review).

Every time I read a book in this series, I can’t help but hear Bob Seger singing “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” both for the beat and for the sentiment, even though, in the case of these rock and roll demons, its they who can’t forget the music.

They try to make sure that the music forgets them, because they’ve been playing forever–since music really was rock; rocks beating against sticks, skins, or even just other rocks.

These musicians are the demons that were created when humankind sang and danced around the first fires, when both the demons and humankind and even the world itself were young.

These rockers are the best in the world, because they’ve had thousands of years of practice. But the party might finally be over.

In this alternate (or perhaps just under the radar) rock opera, there’s a legend of the Muse. The one woman for each demon who can become part of their world, and who can absorb the energy of the crowd just like they can. Or even better.

But there’s a catch (there’s always a catch). Once a demon finds his muse, he can only feed off the energy of the crowd if she’s on stage with him. Once he finds her, he’ll die without her.

Muses were only legends, even myths among these mythological beings, until one demon found his muse. Then another. Their world is changing, and their enemies are trying to prevent that change.

Into the middle of the legend, one woman with a heart of rock and roll comes to a music festival to make her own legend–and steps into the middle of a myth that is older than time. Mia Dillon arrives at the Ocatillo festival intending to share the stage with rock and roll’s finest.

And it so happens. But Mia also finds herself pulled into the arms of two legends; Wolfgang and Ethan. Wolfgang is the drummer for one of the biggest bands in the world, and Ethan is a wanderer who never stays with any group, either of musicians or people. Until Mia binds the three of them together.

But once they’ve found each other, can they work out what they are, together? And can Ethan finally come in from the wandering cold?

slam dance with the devil by nico rossoEscape Rating B-: In my review of Slam Dance with the Devil, I said that the Demon Rock series was every bit as hot as Olivia Cunning’s Sinners on Tour series, but without the threesomes. I should have said something about just waiting for the threesomes, because here Menage with the Muse delivers an intense one.

The story in this installment of the Demon Rock series is primarily about Wolfgang, Ethan and Mia finding a way that they fit together. There isn’t anything in the muse legend about one woman being the muse for two demons simultaneously. Both Wolfgang and Ethan spend the first part of the book thinking that she must be the other one’s muse, because things don’t quite fit right (and I don’t mean that in the “tab A into slot B” sense, either). They can’t figure out how the relationship works, how one muse can feed two demons..

I’m not saying they fight over her, or that she doesn’t have a choice. It’s ALL Mia’s choice. The two guys keep trying to get out of each other’s way, and it’s up to Mia to knock their heads together and take them both on. What makes it more difficult is that Ethan has always been a wanderer. Not just that he travels, but that he can’t stand to be with people. If there was ever an extremely introverted rock and roller, it’s Ethan.

His adjustment, not so much to being a member of a ménage but of having to reintegrate back into society is almost as difficult as Mia’s adjustment to becoming part of the demon world.

Although Mia has one battle with the evil Philosophers and their minions (mostly the minions) the three of them put the forces of joyless order into flight pretty fast.

Read this one to see a really kick-ass rocker take charge of her life and her men, with lots of hot sex and a “you are there” feeling of a rock festival in a ghost town. And remember what I said about the fan!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Witchlight by Sonya Clark

witchlight by sonya clarkFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: Magic Born, #2
Length: 213 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: June 30, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

In 2066, the Magic Born are segregated in urban reservations. The laws do not protect them, or their allies.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Marsden is a powerful player in New Corinth politics, but a closely guarded secret could destroy her life—she’s a hidden Magic Born. Her family has gone to great lengths to erase all her magic-related records, until a trancehacking outlaw discovers the last remaining one…

Vadim Bazarov smuggles Magic Borns through the underground railroad and threatens to reveal Elizabeth’s secret unless she helps him access blank ID cards. Elizabeth wants to hate him for having a stranglehold on her life, but can’t help being attracted to someone so sure of who and what he is.

Vadim initially sees her as a political ice queen, but is intrigued by her suppressed magical abilities. He trains Elizabeth to use her magic, and before long finds himself falling for her. But their newfound love may be shortlived; an anti-magic ordinance forces one of them to make a choice that will change both their lives for good.

My Review:

The best news I had all day was when the author of Witchlight told me she’s finishing the next book in this series. Absolutely the best!

trancehack by sonya clarkWitchlight is the second book in Sonya Clark’s totally awesome Magic Born series, after the marvelous Trancehack (grade A review here). The Magic Born series is science fiction romance gold of the dystopian variety, with an extra dose of awesome because the dystopia is completely human-created and utterly avoidable.

It’s all created by stupid people doing stupid things. If any of the socio-political-economic threads read like a commentary on current practices in the U.S., I would be willing to bet it’s intended. It follows too closely on some trends not to be deliberate.

In this world, it’s been 50 years since the Magic Laws went into effect in the U.S. and the consequences have been devastating; for the magic born, for the general population, and for the U.S. economy.

Anyone born with magic in their DNA is taken from their parents and shoved into a magic-users’ ghetto. Magic-born are licensed and restricted and face extreme prejudice in every aspect of their lives.

Magic-born children of normals are taken away from their parents in infancy and dumped into orphanages in the zone. Anyone can have a magic-born child, so many prospective parents have refused to have children to keep from facing the prospect of losing them.

But the rich are always different; there’s a black market for fake test results. Councilwoman Elizabeth Marsden is the grown-up proof of the use of those tests. Her parents paid for her results to be faked, because she is definitely a magic-user, something that magic-born are not supposed to be.

Then again, magic-born aren’t citizens. They aren’t even treated as people by the government that locks them up at birth.

The times, however, are changing. The number of magic-born is increasing in the general population. That makes the non-magic-born in power very nervous, because they know that their days are numbered. Especially as more and more so-called normals are sympathetic to the magic born, or even worse, are entranced by their magic.

Elizabeth is caught in the cross-fire when the repressive old guard begins fighting their long rearguard campaign of more suppression and more anti-magic-born propaganda.

First, her secret is discovered by the unofficial leader of the Magic-Born underground in her town. Vadim Bazaroz hunts down Elizabeth with the intent of blackmailing her for her cooperation in stealing fake papers for magic users traveling the Underground Railroad to Canada and Mexico.

He finds himself teaching her the magic that her parents made her suppress. Even worse for Vadim, as the smuggler and borderline addict who keeps the magic zone half livable between bribes and escapes, he finds himself drawn to this strong and fragile woman who hurts herself rather than acknowledge what she is.

When the evil powers-that-be attempt to blackmail her into backing their continued suppression, he helps her fight back in every way possible. Not just because she asks, not even because it’s the right thing to do, but because he’s become more addicted to having her in his life than any drug he ever tried.

Escape Rating A+: Witchlight is the middle book in a trilogy. Conditions for the magic-born get very dark at the end, which means that there will hopefully be light at the end of the next tunnel.

There is both a happy and an unhappy ending at the same time. The romance comes to a heartbreaking HEA, but the world it happens in is going to hell in a handcart on the fast track. It made complete sense that things worked this way, but I want book 3 (currently titled Firewall) NOW.

Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Vadim are a fascinating couple to feature in a romance, because neither of them is terribly sympathetic at the beginning. Lizzie is an upper-crust ice princess, and Vadim fully admits that he is a very bad man.

Except that he’s the bad man running the Underground Railroad. The more of him that is revealed, the more we see that he does very bad things for very good reasons. But he’s definitely of the “ends justify the means” school of thought and action.

His initial plan is to blackmail Lizzie to get her on board with saving their people. It’s the wrong thing to do for some very right reasons. Also, she gets the upper hand and subverts the blackmail into a business deal. She has things that she wants, too. The things that Lizzie wants include Vadim, but not just him. In order to make some peace with herself she has to deal with her magic, and not just suppress it.

I find the social, political, economic underpinnings of this world utterly fascinating. It’s not just that the author does a terrific job of portraying “Freaktown” and how it works internally, but that we are also able to see the terrible consequences of the magic-born suppression. The political actions all make a certain kind of bad sense. Those in power want to keep their power, and their power is based on fear of the magic-born. As that fear reduces, the old guard lashes out and tries to maintain their hold through fear-mongering and complete separation of the magic born from the general populace. They want to turn the magic-born into “the other” and then demonize them. The powers that be have also created a police state that suppresses non-magic born as well. They are ugly and brutal and just plain wrong. They are also fighting a rearguard action against the tide of history.

They didn’t have to be anywhere near that stupid, but then, the ones afraid of losing their unjust power often are.

As I said, I want Firewall NOW. The overall story arc is building towards an explosive (probably including actual explosions) climax. I can’t wait!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: At Star’s End by Anna Hackett

at stars end by anna hackettFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: The Phoenix Adventures, #1
Length: 137 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: March 31, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Dr. Eos Rai has spent a lifetime dedicated to her mother’s dream of finding the long-lost Mona Lisa. When Eos uncovers tantalizing evidence of Star’s End—the last known location of the masterpiece—she’s shocked when her employer, the Galactic Institute of Historic Preservation, refuses to back her expedition. Left with no choice, Eos must trust the most notorious treasure hunter in the galaxy, a man she finds infuriating, annoying and far too tempting.

Dathan Phoenix can sniff out relics at a stellar mile. With his brothers by his side, he takes the adventures that suit him and refuses to become a lazy, bitter failure like their father. When the gorgeous Eos Rai comes looking to hire him, he knows she’s trouble, but he’s lured into a hunt that turns into a wild and dangerous adventure. As Eos and Dathan are pushed to their limits, they discover treasure isn’t the only thing they’re drawn to…but how will their desire survive when Dathan demands the Mona Lisa as his payment?

My Review:

Space pirates and the Mona Lisa. Now there’s a combination that doesn’t turn up everyday!

At Star’s End is a rollicking space piracy adventure wrapped around a hot romance between an archeologist and the pirate captain. Although the emphasis in the story is on the action/adventure and the romance, the science fiction aspects provide just the right sauce, along with a touch of pathos.

Star’s End is a place. A mythical place where the first Earth colony ships, loaded with the most beautiful art and artifacts of our dying planet, ended up. By the time period of this story, Star’s End is a lost legend.  It appears in history books, it’s treasures are mostly known through surviving computer files, but no one has ever found the actual place. It seems to be literally at the stars’ end.

Archeologists’ careers have come to unhappy ends in the fruitless search for the lost Terran treasure, including the career and life of Dr. Eos Rai’s mother. Eos has devoted herself to proving her mother’s theories correct. And at last she has a lead on the trove–but her bosses at the Galactic Institute of Historic Preservation refuse to back an expedition.

That’s where the Phoenix brothers come in. Dathan Phoenix, along with his brothers Niklas and Zayn are pretty legendary themselves. Legendary treasure hunters, that is. The Phoenix brothers search for treasure and historic artifacts for purely mercenary motives; they’re in it for the money.

Eos is in it for the thrill of the hunt, and for the glory of getting her latest finds into the museum. But without museum backing, the Phoenix brothers are her only choice for this personal mission. A mission that becomes even more personal when she and Dathan can’t seem to stop the spark of attraction that flares up between them.

They’ve always been on opposite sides of the fence, but opposites definitely do attract.

Treasure hunts also attract poachers, including a hunter who is as much after brother Niklas as any treasure they might discover. (I hope this story turns up in a later book).

As they get further away from civilized space, the chase gets more and more dangerous. Too many rivals try to kidnap Eos for the secret she holds. But no matter how difficult the hunt, Eos never gives up or gives in.

Except to what she feels for Dathan.

Escape Rating A-: Another review called At Star’s End the love child of Indiana Jones and Firefly, and that’s a pretty good description. The universe by the time of the story has gotten kind of dark and gritty, much like the background of Firefly. But the adventure part of the story is pure Indiana Jones’ treasure chasing, non-stop action and danger, with a heroine who gets herself into, and out of, every kind of trap and trouble imaginable.

This is Eos’ story. Her information, her find, and often her danger. It’s about what she wants, and what she thinks she wants. Does she just want to find Star’s End, or is she trying to validate her mother’s career? Does she want to go back to the Museum, or does she want a more interesting, and more dangerous, future with Dathan? If he’s looking for a long-term relationship, and not just a fling, that is.

If you love the action/adventure type of science fiction romance, let these space pirates steal you away, and steal your heart.

SFRQ-button-150x100*This review originally appeared in the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Take Me Home by Inez Kelley

Take Me Home by Inez KelleyFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Country Roads, #1
Length: 165 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: November 25, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Logging manager Matt Shaw is wary when Kayla Edwards, the owner of Mountain Specialty Spices, hires his firm to harvest timber on her Appalachian property. It’s a place he knows better than the back of his calloused hand—it’s his family’s old homestead, lost years ago in a painful foreclosure. He’s hauled himself up from dirt-floor poor since then, and resolves to stay professional…but Kayla’s vivacious beauty makes it hard to focus on his job.

Home. That’s how army-brat-turned-foodie Kayla feels about her new mountain hideaway. What’s more, the hottest lumberjack ever to swing an axe has agreed to manage her timber crop and get the old maple syrup operations back on tap. Matt’s ruggedly sexy ways and passion for the land have her falling hard.

The heat between them grows wild…until Kayla discovers that Matt hasn’t been up front with her. She feels devastated and, worst of all, used. How can Matt prove it’s her he wants and not her land?

My Review:

The title of the book is “Take Me Home”, the series is “Country Roads” and it takes place in West Virginia.

I dare you not to think of the song. I double-dog dare you.

The story is all about figuring out what is meant by that marvellously evocative word, “home”. They say that “home is where the heart is”, but this story asks the question about how the heart determines exactly where home is.

Is it the place where your spirit finds itself at home? Is it the place where you grew up and where your memories are? Or is it where the person you love is, no matter what?

Both the conflict and the romance in this story is between Kayla and Matt. After a lifetime as an Army brat, growing up in bases all over the world, Kayla has purchased acreage in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia, because it’s the place that calls to her spirit.

She purchases the land that Matt grew up on, and that his family lost to misfortune. Also the land that Matt was trying to buy. Kayla outbid him. It stings.

It stings even more when Kayla hires the timber company that Matt works for to thin out the trees on her land. She needs the money for the business she’s starting. He needs to be anywhere else but touring the land he used to call home.

Because the loss of the land that had been in his family for generations was so traumatic, followed so quickly by his father’s death in a car accident, Matt doesn’t want the job. Unfortunately, because he hasn’t told anyone about his past, he has to either confess what feels like a ton of old humiliation, or get the job done.

He decides to keep his secrets and do the job. What he doesn’t count on is falling for Kayla. As they become more deeply involved, Matt’s secret turns into a bomb waiting to explode in his face.

When Kayla finds out, she can’t let herself be certain whether its herself that Matt really loves, or if she is just his means to get his home back. Matt says that she has everything he wants. What Kayla needs to know is what part of that “everything” Matt is truly after.

turn it upEscape Rating B: Inez Kelley’s Turn It Up is one of my favorite contemporary romances of the last few years. I adored the wit and banter in that story, and found both characters not just sympathetic, but also tremendous fun. I wanted Take Me Home to sparkle just as much.

Take Me Home isn’t a sparkly kind of story. In Kayla and Matt we have two people who are both hurting, and whose wounds unfortunately make them vulnerable to exactly the kind of pain that the other inflicts.

Kayla has spent a lifetime wondering if her friends liked her for her, or for access to her high-ranking father. When she finally finds out Matt’s secret, his lie of omission creates a gaping wound. She isn’t certain of his motives for getting into a serious relationship with her, and it is hard to blame her.

When Matt finally tells his full story, it’s still a bit difficult to understand why he kept the secret for so long. Not that it doesn’t hurt in the telling, not that he hasn’t kept it to himself for years, but whether or not one thinks that he should have put things in perspective by now, the fact is that it’s a small town and too many people remember him and his family. The whole thing was bound to backfire sooner or later, with catastrophic results.

I enjoyed the slow-building of their relationship, the way they started with sex and it changed into love. But everyone can see the blow-up coming, and I would have liked the story more if they’d gotten there a bit sooner. (The Grand Misunderstandammit is not my favorite trope)

place i belong by inez kelleyWhich doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the town or the people, because I did. I even liked the explanations of how the timber industry and maple sugaring work. I’m looking forward to reading the next chapter in the series, The Place I Belong.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Court of Conspiracy by April Taylor

court of conspiracy by april taylorFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Historical fantasy
Series: The Tudor Enigma, #1
Length: 254 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: May 26, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

England is the prize. The death of a young king is the price.

King Henry IX, son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, holds the very balance of European power in his Protestant hands. His numerous Catholic enemies have cast greedy eyes upon his crown and will stop at nothing to usurp the throne.

An unassuming apothecary in the Outer Green of Hampton Court Palace is the Queen’s last hope.Luke Ballard treats the poor with balms and salves but is careful to protect his greater gifts. For Luke is also an elemancer, one of the blessed few able to harness elemental powers for good. His quiet life ends when Queen Anne commands him to hunt down the traitors, a mission he cannot refuse.

Beset on all sides, Luke mobilizes his arsenal of magic and ingenuity to conquer the enemy. But as the stakes are raised in the uneven battle of good vs. evil, he knows this is only the first skirmish of a lifelong war. The welfare of the Tudors—and England—depends on him alone.

My Review:

boleyn kingAre the Tudors a thing now? I’m only asking because this is the second series to use the conceit that Anne Boleyn did not miscarry her son, and that Henry IX is now on the throne. (For the other take, see Laura Andersen’s Boleyn King, which I absolutely have to read).

In Court of Conspiracy, we have a 17-year-old Henry IX on the throne of England, with his very much living mother Anne Boleyn as one of his advisers. (If she had provided Henry VIII with a son, her head probably would have stayed on, instead of making her part of the old rhyme, “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”)

The other difference between true history and April Taylor’s fascinating alternate version is that this particular alternative has magic. Or rather, there are people who practice elemental magic, both for good and for evil.

Historically, this was a time when people still burned witches, so anyone capable of practicing magic has to keep their talents hidden. Even Dowager Queen Anne Boleyn.

But just as occurred in our history, there are forces swirling around the throne who want to bring the young king down in order to gain or regain power, for themselves and for their particular religious beliefs.

Henry is Protestant, his older sister Mary is a staunch Catholic, and the younger Elizabeth follows the same teachings as her brother. There are plots and counter-plots boiling in every direction.

And into this mess the Queen coerces a young apothecary with elemental magic to investigate the plots against the King. She is all too afraid that the center of the plot is close to the Royal Household.

Luke Ballard is rightfully afraid that this investigation, not to mention merely meddling in the Royal Household, is going to get him killed. He’s very nearly right, on multiple occasions. There are too many people invested in murdering the King, and quite a few more simply greedy of their place and unwilling to let a relatively lowborn man move in their circles.

As his investigation continues, Luke discovers both allies and enemies in unlikely places; and that he is capable of much greater magic than his relative laziness has ever led him to contemplate.

He also uncovers an evil force that has been plotting against him for longer than he was aware, and that is willing to cut down his friends and companions in order to forward its evil intentions.

Escape Rating B+: I’ll say this up front, the Tudor period is one of my absolute favorites. In my teens, I read absolutely oodles of both historical fiction and history about this period. (Jean Plaidy of the many pseudonyms wrote awesome historical fiction in her day) So I was all for anything set in this time.

And this is the Tudors with magic! I’m all in.

Luke is a great point-of-view character. He’s young enough that he’s still making mistakes, but old enough to be an independent actor. And because he’s mostly on the outside of the Royal Court looking in, the author is able to give the reader lots of explanations.

Also, he’s just a likable human being who is stuck with a huge task.

The period details feel real, and well grounded in the history. It’s easy to get swept along the story, because you can almost smell the herbs as you follow Luke in his investigation and his daily tasks. The terrible realities of life as a small-time merchant, and how much the lower classes lived (and died) by the whim of the upper is not glossed over. In fact, it’s crucial to the plot.

It helps that the magic is mostly small and practical, not big and showy. It’s a matter of brain and will, but not so much firepower. Which makes this alternate 16th century easier to accept. It is possible that people had talent and concealed it.

This is also a good vs. evil story, for certain select values of good. (Evil is definitely evil). The evil powers want to upset the natural balance, and create chaos, by killing the King. This doesn’t mean that the King, the Queen or any of those currently in power are good by our definition, but they are the natural order.

While I’m glad that there was no romance between Luke and either of the women in the story, I’m not sure about the way that possible romance was used to introduce the all-too-obvious villain. The character of Luke’s would-be apprentice was too easily influenced.

Still, I enjoyed this conspiracy/investigation/magical history a lot. It reminded me of Candace Robb’s Apothecary Rose and Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest series, both favorites.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.