Lord of the Abyss

Lord of the Abyss by Nalini Singh is the much-anticipated conclusion to the Royal House of Shadows series. While I was glad to see the House of Elden restored, it seemed like the final battle was almost anti-climactic. On the other hand, the reverse “Beauty and the Beast” love story of Micah and Liliana was very well done.

The daughter of the Blood Sorcerer practically sacrificed herself to transport her broken body through the barrier at the edge of the known realms. Why? Because the Lord of the Black Castle was the last of the children of Elden, and his presence was required in order to defeat her father. More than anything else, Liliana wanted to make sure that her father did not maintain his hold on Elden, even if his death also guaranteed her own.

But first she had to make Prince Micah remember who he truly was, and that was going to take something other than sorcery. Sorcery had cost him his memory, a combination of his mother’s dying spell that flung him to safety, and her father’s foul magic ensuring that he never recalled how he came to Black Castle.

The Lord of the Black Castle was the Guardian of the Abyss, the one who scoured the lands for the souls of those who are evil, whose souls must be cast into the Abyss. His body is encased in a carapace of armor, and he does not remember a time before he was the Guardian. But then, he was only five years old when he was the youngest Prince of Elden. He was just a child.

Now Micah is a man who does not even remember his own name. Liliana must make him remember himself and his own magic, and she only has a few weeks. She cannot use her own sorcery, or her father will find her. Even though she is ugly and broken, she is his possession, and he does not like it when his possessions escape.

So Liliana uses a different kind of magic. She appeals to the child within the man, cooking the treats he loved when he was a boy. And she tells him stories of Elden, stories that remind him of the time before. And she is kind to him, and she is not afraid. Her father beat her, tortured her, and murdered anyone or anything she cared for. Micah does not scare her.

But Micah reacts to her in ways she did not expect. She is the first woman he has ever met who is not afraid of him, and he is only a man. He does not care that she is not beautiful, he only knows that she is good to him, that she challenges him, and that she cares for him. He falls in love with her, not her looks.

And he remembers who he really is. Unfortunately, he also discovers who she really is. And that she concealed the facts from him. Deceit is the one thing that he is not sure he can forgive.

But as they race to the last battle, Micah learns that a love that is willing to sacrifice everything, even life itself, is the most important thing of all.

Escape Rating B: I think I would have liked this better if Micah and Liliana’s story had stood on it’s own. Their love story, her sacrifice to get to Black Castle, her temptation of Micah with childhood recipes and childhood stories, as well as their tentative exploration of love when neither of them had a clue, was heartwarming and touching, as well as deeply sensual.

All of the Royal House of Shadows books have been re-interpretations of fairy tales, and this one definitely re-worked “Beauty and the Beast” in some interesting ways. Both Micah and Liliana could be interpreted as Beauty and Beast, depending on which way you looked at things. Not just Liliana’s actual looks, but Micah’s armor and Guardian’s mannerism were also beast-like. They both change for the better. Black Castle even has invisible inhabitants!

But the re-telling of the Fall of Elden needed to end. I’m glad that’s over, and but it may have gone on one book too long. I’m glad the Blood Sorcerer is gone, too. Did he even have a name? Maybe it’s fitting that he didn’t.

The power in book recommendations

There’s been a lot of talk recently about just how hard it is for ebook sellers to duplicate the experience of book recommendations that independent bookshops and libraries provide. Earlier this week, I experienced again for myself just how powerful a personal recommendation can be.

The latest entry in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series was released on May 31. Kiss of Snow was her first hardcover release after 9 paperbacks. I pre-ordered the book from B&N, and, joy of joys, it automatically downloaded to my iPad a little after midnight on 5/31. There’s convenience for you! But I first started reading the series after the third book because a friend recommended it to me. She knew I read paranormal romance, and was pretty sure I would like the series. So, even though I had looked at the first book, Slave to Sensation, in the bookstore more than once, based on her personal recommendation I bought the book. And my friend was absolutely correct. I did love the book, and every single one since including the latest, which I devoured in between unpacking boxes earlier this week.

I am a subscriber to the Yahoo Group “Letters of Mary”, which is a list devoted to the works that Laurie R. King has written about Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes. The first book in the series is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. (If this sounds interesting, read this post for more details about the series) Among the discussion in the Group, one of the more prolific authors uses a quote from Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache as her sig, “He…told him the four sentences that lead to wisdom. *I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need help. I don’t know.* He’d never forgotten them and when he took over as Chief Inspector, Gamache passed them on to each and every one of his agents. Some took them to heart, some forgot them immediately. That was their choice.” The quote is from the latest book in the series, Bury Your Dead, which recently won the Agatha Award for Best Novel of 2010. But at the time I kept seeing the quote, the book hadn’t won the award yet, it just caught my interest. Even though I had never met the person who used it as her sig, I respected her work in the group enough to take it as a recommendation of the series of books. The series, starting with Still Life, is really, really good. It is one of those mysteries where you start to wonder about the body count in the small town, but the character of Chief Inspector Gamache is definitely worth getting to know. I’m just sorry I have to wait until the end of August for A Trick of the Light, which is the next and seventh book in the series.

L.E. Modesitt’s Imager is a book that I practically shoved at people. A lot of fantasy series are coming-of-age stories. In this particular case, although the hero does come into his power, it is specifically not a coming-of-age story–the protagonist is already an adult, although just barely. It was one of the things about the book I liked quite a bit. So, I recommended it, over and over. A friend in the next office at my LPOW read fantasy, I knew he liked Ray Feist’s Magician series, so I convinced him to read this. We ended up practically fighting over the library’s copies of books 2 and 3 of the series, Imager’s Challenge and Imager’s Portfolio, and had endless conversations about how we thought the story ought to go. He also started reading the rest of Modesitt’s books (there are LOTS) which I haven’t gotten around to yet. I will definitely read Scholar, the next Imager book, in November.

My point is that a significant number of book purchases came from three recommendations. My friend told me to read one Nalini Singh book. I ended up buying 10 so far since the series is still ongoing. One person on the “Letters of Mary” group effectively recommends the Louise Penny books in her sig file, and because of that, Galen and I have both read all 6 books in the series so far, and have continued to recommend them to others. I read Imager, recommended it to at least two other people, and I know one has read all of the Imager series, and the other has started reading all of Modesitt’s work, which consists of 56 books and rising according to Wikipedia.

Book recommending is a virtuous circle, the trick is in figuring out how to start it.