Review – Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

Oath of Fealty CoverOath of Fealty
by Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey – March 11, 2011
ebook – 5.99 (purchased) – also available in paperback

I purchased this book quite a while ago, made an unsuccessful attempt to read it, and then set it aside. For quite a while now, I have been in the mood for a warrior woman story , but have been unable to find one that suited. So I restarted this book from the beginning, and this time, I had none of the problems I had the first time around.

This book picks up after the ending of one of my all-time favorite fantasy series, The Deed of Paksenarrion. I reread the Deed before starting this book, so everything was fresh. I recommend reading it before reading this one–it is well worth the read. At the end of the Deed, Paks is a paladin who helped her former mercenary commander, Kieri Phelan, ascend to the throne of Lyonya, one of the kingdoms of the North. One of Keiri’s captains, Dorrin, also helped. Another captain, Arcolin, manned Phelan’s stronghold in the kingdom of Tsaia.

This book follows Dorrin, Kieri, Arcolin, and occasionally Paks as the story continues. For Kieri’s story, he is mainly setting up his administration and determining how best to protect his vulnerable new kingdom. Arcolin has been granted Kieri’s former lands and possessions, and he takes control of the mercenary company.

Dorrin has the most intriguing story of all, and her story is the main plot. She is an estranged member of the Verrakai family, who were behind a plot to prevent Kieri’s ascension to the Lyonyan throne. The Crown Prince asks her to take control of her mostly-evil family, sending all that she finds to stand judgement–including her own mother and father.

Her estranged family are all under an Order of Attainder, which means everyone in the family is wanted by the law. Dorrin is given the duchy of Verrakai and is sent to round up her family members. She is directly aided in this by Falk, her patron deity, which, at times, seems to give her paladin-like powers.

Arcolin appears to be in a plotline that will take longer to become clear. He has taken one cohort to Aerenis, the war-torn southern half of the continent, where he has a contract to solve a bandit problem in the area surrounding Cortes Vonja. His plotline merges with Dorrin’s as it becomes clear that some of the Verrakai are tangled up in the plot.

Paks makes an occasional appearance, as her job seems to be to support Dorrin.

I wish Ms. Moon would state the ages of her characters; all I really know is that Kieri is in his fifties, but as a half elf, he is biologically equivalent to 35 or so. Dorrin and Arcolin are acknowledged to be somewhat younger in years. I am assuming Dorrin is in her mid-to-late 40s. I get the impression that Arcolin is a little younger than Dorrin–maybe 40 or so. But I could be wrong.

Most of the action in the story takes place when Dorrin and Arcolin are on the page. Dorrin’s actions are mostly magical in nature, whereas all Arcolin has is his trusty sword. I find Dorrin compelling, but by the end of the book I stilled needed a reason to find Arcolin equally so. He is trusty and dependable and fights to the death for his people, and that should be enough. But so far, he seems to be more of a secondary character than the others, even if his story takes up as many pages as the primary characters. T

The same goes for Kieri. Reading about him setting up his administration was just not compelling, and during my first attempt to read the book, it was during his part that I set it aside. And he is a primary character.

Oath of Fealty appealed to me on a deeper level than I expected. It was entertaining and thought-provoking, and I will be moving on to the next book to see what other twists Ms. Moon has planned.

Four stars

The Deed Reread – Umpteenth First Impression

20130725-211203.jpgI am up to Chapter Seven of my The Deed of Paksenarrion reread. I was unable to read as quickly as I hoped, mostly due to a typically busy weekend. The next few weeks should be calmer.

After reading these seven chapters, I was suffering some serious eyestrain. The omnibus edition that I had (my second, purchased and read a few years ago) squeezes every square millimeter it can out of each page, so the font is maybe 9 point. Guys, these eyes ain’t young anymore. Presbyopia is probably the worst thing about middle age. Wrinkles? Aches and pains? No problem. Old eyes that don’t focus on small fonts anymore? Suckage. When I first read this book, way back in the misty past when the omnibus first became available, I didn’t even notice the font size. Not anymore.

Therefore, I checked out Amazon to see if Deed was available for Kindle. Lots of older books aren’t. Happily, it was–the entire omnibus was 8.99. I had 22 dollars left on a gift card so it was a no-brainer.

This is my third copy of this book.

So anyway, if you’ve read the book, I have a few questions and observations.

What is your opinion of Moon’s writing strengths with this, her first novel?

I think her strength was definitely point of view. In the first pages of the first chapter, we are behind the eyes of Paks’s father, Dorthan. Then, when Paks takes up a sword to defy him, we get a glimpse of her stubborn spirit. In the next instant, she runs out the door and from that moment, we are with her. Later, when Paks first puts on her recruit tunic, she is acutely aware of her bare legs in front of the entire platoon. And even later, when she must strip in front of the entire company, you can feel her humiliation.

What about her weaknesses?

As for her weaknesses, for me, it was scene transitions. I had trouble with this throughout the series, especially when she is switching from Paks’s point of view, which does not happen very often. The beginning of Chapter 3, when Paks goes from being a top recruit to being locked up in the dungeon, is bewildering. It is probably meant to be that way, but I ended up paging back through the book to see if I missed anything. This is a pattern that kept up throughout the entire series.

What is your opinion of the secondary characters?

Secondary characters are very much in second place in this series. The book is about Paks, and even though she makes friends readily, none of them feel fully fleshed out. Vic is my favorite, the son of minstrels, yet he cannot sing. However, he is never more than a tertiary character. The true secondary characters — Stammel, Saben, Barra and later, Canna and the Duke — get more depth, but still, I wished I could have known these characters better–especially the one who later becomes a villain.

And what did you think of Paks?

To be honest, the first time I read this story, I struggled through the first book, mostly because of the sheer quantity of the battles. But it was my reader connection to Paks that kept me going. In the second book, all struggles disappeared because it then truly becomes The Adventures of Paks. Nowadays, when I reread these books, I don’t have the same trouble that I had the first time around, mostly because I know what is coming, and because it is just so fun to relive the story again.

Now hopefully there are a few of you out there who are ready to discuss this …

Monday Review – The Gate to Kandrith

GateToKandrith

Gate to Kandrith
by Nicole Luiken
Carina Press – 5.99

Epic Fantasy

I thought this novel was great.

It starts with a bang as Sara is prepared to assassinate the priest of the God of War if he –as she expects–withholds the blessing that her father needs as the new Primus of the Republic of Temboria. Withholding his blessing would be a death sentence, and Sara would do anything to protect her small family.

During a narrow escape from a undesirable suitor who drugged her with an aphrodisiac, Sara meets Lance, who she at first mistakes for a slave. She could not have been more wrong. Since she is under the effect of the aphrodisiac, she behaves somewhat (cough) inappropriately, but Lance is the gentleman, and he saves the day and disappears.

How can she help falling in love with him?

Turns out, he’s a Child of Peace. And the next day, her father asks her to become a Child of Peace herself as the Ambassador to Slaveland, aka Kandrith. She also has a secret mission–to learn the secret of Slave Magic, which her father is very afraid of. What follows is an adventurous journey with Lance, at the end of which she learns just what it means to be a Child of Peace, at which time she has to grow up in a hurry.

Nothing goes as you would expect. People you think are loyal turn out to not be so, and people you expect to betray Sara turn out to be steadfast. People you think are pitiless monsters turn out to be good guys, and good guys turn out to be pitiless monsters.

I was worried by the early aphrodisiac scene that this novel would be way more erotic than I expected or desired, but it surprised me. There are sex several scenes, but only after a very long romance building, and they certainly were not excessive. I will call out one rather crude groping; you are warned.

The amazing thing about this book is it is 134,000 words, and yet I read it in just a few days. The character development is amazing, and even a secondary character gets to have a major turnaround. There are surprises in this novel that will keep you guessing until the  very last scenes.

And dang–I have not even said anything about the magic system. Suffice it to say that you have never seen anything like this before. It is the most poignant magic system I have ever read. And what about that fabulous escape! It was the best one I’ve read in a great while.

If you like epic fantasy, you will probably like this novel despite the naughty scenes. They are brief. If you like fantasy romance, this is something you will like. I highly recommend it. Five stars!

Two Novella Reviews

I often buy other Carina Press books just to see what else they are buying. Here are two that I’ve read in the last month. I read a third one as well that I liked even better than these, a long epic fantasy that I’ll post about next time.

YesterdaysHeroesYesterday’s Heroes
by Heather Long
Genre: Superhero

Ebook

This episodic novella is the start of a new series from Heather Long. I enjoyed it but whew! I was not prepared by the cover or blurb for how very hawt it is. I should have been: when they say passionate, they mean it.

Michael is the leader of a super team sent back in time to stop an event that makes the world the nightmare it has turned into. Rory is a super-something who specializes in calculating probabilities–sounds lame but she can manipulate those probabilities as well, resulting in super fighting abilities. The chemistry between Michael and Rory is so intense that his team suspects emotional manipulation–except Rory is affected as well.

This is a time travel story that has fun with the usual time travel paradoxes. I enjoyed it and will buy the next book in the series to see what the author is going to do with it. The move toward episodic stories intrigues me, so I’ll stay with this one for another book or two.

Recommended if you enjoy science fiction romance or fantasy romance.

Heart of the Dragon's RealmHeart of the Dragon’s Realmby Karalynn Lee
Genre: Fantasy

Ebook

Heart of the Dragon’s Realm is a poignant tale of a young woman named Kimri who is traded into marriage by her brother, the king of their land. When she thinks to never forgive him, yet looks back to wave one last time, I knew I would like this character.

On the way to the land of her husband-to-be, her party is attacked by soldiers from an enemy kingdom. However, Kimri manages to take their leader hostage, and he turns out to be Prince Herrol, the younger and  disposable son of the enemy king.

You might think this develops into a love triangle, but once you meet the king of the Dragon Realm, King Tathan, you know Herrol is no threat to him. Tathan tells Kimri that he will court her for a year, and if she does not want to marry him at the end of that time, she is free to return to her kingdom with no penalty to her brother.

This is a long novella/short novel. It has a lot of twists, and characters do a lot of things you don’t expect, and they will probably do some things you won’t approve of, but never in an amoral way (except one villain). The writing is just beautiful, and the romance between Kimri and Tathan slow and mostly sweet. Tathan’s kingdom is idyllic and almost crime free–and you find out why in the end. It is a standalone story, and I enjoyed it very much.

~*~

One final word: the awesome covers for both of these stories did a great job selling these books for me.

Monday Review – Nightingale by Jennifer Estep

Nightingale
Nightingale
by Jennifer Estep
Ebook
Superhero Romance

Wow, I’ve been waiting for years to read this book. When I saw that Ms. Estep was re-releasing her other Bigtime books, I wondered if she would release Nightingale, which had been planned but never released.

Sure enough, here it is!

Nightingale was a fun return to the land of Bigtime, New York. Bigtime is Estep’s  version of New York City with a large cast of superheroes, ubervillians, and regular folk.

Abby Appleby is an event planner in Bigtime. Her events are the biggest, the best and the most lavish. She can meet any insane deadline, and can make real the most outlandish concept.

Except when ubervillians crash her parties. Which seemed to happen a lot in previous books.

By the time this book comes around, Abby has a bit of a complex, striving for the perfect event each time. After just pulling off an event that simultaneously announced an engagement and launched a new line of cosmetics, Abby is on the way home when she stumbles on a superhero battle that amazingly seemed to miss her event this time. She quickly discerns that the lone superhero is Talon, a gadget master who is fending off the Bandit and his band of thugs.

Bandit shoots Talon and sprays him with his blinding gas. Abby, a bit of a gadget master herself, whips out her cellphone and scares the bad guys off by playing her police siren ringtone. After they leave, Talon remains conscious long enough to refuse to be hospitalized, and then he passes out. Abby heaves the superhero home via an improvised sled made of a plastic bag and gumption, and nurses him back to health.

It’s the perfect scenario to fall in love.

The complications in this romance are mostly internal. Abby, determined to be as anonymous as Talon (he has a helm that shocks whoever tries to take it off), calls herself Wren, which reflects her own internal image of herself. He turns that around by calling her Nightingale, because of her beautiful singing voice and his own internal image of her that he has built up in his mind. Since she knows she is no beauty, this sobriquet does not entirely please her.

As they each try to get over their hang-ups, they naturally have to contend with the villains behind the Bandit attack. Which makes a perfect circle to the original makup-launch event from the start of the book. This time, Estep has improved her story by making her villains more difficult to guess. Everyone has alliterative names now, which means anyone can be a superhero or an ubervillain. I even suspected poor Piper Perez for a while, a beleaguered secretary who I think  could be the subject of an upcoming book. But in the end, the ubervillain made perfect sense, which is just as it should be.

If you enjoyed the previous books in this series, Nightingale should be a great return to the world of Bigtime. If you have not read Karma Girl, Hot Mama or Jynx, it is not necessary to read them before reading this one, but you may want to read them afterward just for the sheer fun of it.

Review – Mind Games by Carolyn Crane

Mind Games
by Carolyn Crane
Disillusionists, volume 1

Random House – MM Paperback

Blurb:

JUSTINE KNOWS SHE’S GOING TO DIE. ANY SECOND NOW.

Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she’s convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine’s soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. With a little of Packard’s hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity’s worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from fear she’s always craved. End of problem.

Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing police chief is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine’s first missions, including one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into a world of wizardry, eroticism, and cosmic secrets. With Packard’s help, Justine has freed herself from her madness—only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone’s worst fears.

I wanted to read this when it came out, but I was drowning in a sea of review copies, and books that weren’t sent to me, sadly, often were neglected. But I never forgot it, and when I got my Kindle last month, this was the very first book I purchased.

It did not disappoint. I loved it. It was one of those novels that you just want to keep reading on and on, yet you know it has to end sometime. I honestly did not know what would happen next.

It begins with Justine and her boyfriend, Cubby, going out to dinner at a restaurant called Mongolian Delites. Justine sees a man who swindled her father out of some money, and she feels compelled to confront him. When she does so, the guy doesn’t know who she is, and the handsome restauranteur intervenes, apparently taking the man’s side while looking at Justine like she is a walking miracle. When Justine sneaks up to the bar to pay the bill for her boyfriend, the con man approaches her and laughs about his con on her father. She is about to indignantly confront him again when the restauranteur again intervenes, schmoozes the con man, but this time, the restauranteur tells Justine that he knows what the con man is about.

The next day, the restauranteur reveals that he heads up a crime-fighting team, and that the con man is their current target for “disillusionment”.

Justine is the last person anyone would expect to become a crime fighter, or even a minor miracle. She is obsessed by vein star syndrome, a kind of (fictional) brain aneurism that killed her mother, and she is convinced that she is a walking time bomb. Her boyfriend is starting to despise her, and she despises herself for her weaknesses. Packard offers her a unique way to cope, but unfortunately, it has a price.

In the meantime, she’s got this major fangirl crush on the dashing chief of police.

It’s fun. It’s gripping. And I could not put it down. I’ll be getting the next two book in the series for some cruise reading next month.

Review: TRANCE by Kelly Meding

Trance
by Kelly Meding
Pocket Books
Mass Market Paperback
Urban Fantasy/Superhero

One of the last my last review copies to arrive in the mail was Kelly Meding’s Trance. I was glad to see it because I always thought her Three Days to Dead looks good but I never got a chance to read it. (Part of the reason I stopped accepting review copies was because it seemed that other people were always making reading decisions for me.)

So when Trance arrived, I cracked it open right away and finished it in just a few  days.

Fifteen years, Teresa was a trainee in the Ranger Corps, a group of superhero crime fighters. But during a war with superhero criminals, all their powers mysteriously vanished. The story opens when Trance’s power returns, more potent than ever before, and this time, it’s dangerous.

Now she’s on a mission to find her old teammates, figure out who took their powers, and why they now have them back.

And why her powers are so different.

I liked this novel a lot and I would read the next book in the series. Not only must Trance track down her teammates, but she also picks up a new person who never knew they had powers to begin with. The novel is typical of the superhero genre, with lots of angst, larger-than-life situations and unexpected campy humor. I do have a few nits–one is that the heroes were able to figure out very little by the end, thus necessitating a lengthy villain confession. Another is in an effort to make the villain a surprise, some of the earlier scenarios are a bit implausible. Even within a superhero novel.

(A complaint that has nothing to do with the author: the ebook is priced the same as the physical book. This makes me cranky. In such situations I buy the physical book even though I’d rather get the ebook.)

But I definitely want to read the next book, which comes out this summer.