Review: Honour by A.F. Henley

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

This is an historical romance set in a fictionalized England circa the late 17th century (at my best guess, owing to the clothing), but the speech is fairly modern with reference to the subconscious mind. If the author had called the country anything but England, I would have called it fantasy. There isn’t too much world-building, just enough to get a sense of place. First, the reader is thrown into the pivotal action sequence of the book without knowing what is happening. It then flashes back to four months earlier and the story unfolds to explain how things got to that point. Emmett is a merchant’s son who cares for people, yet he also seems to have been indulged and not learned the hard lessons of life. He is said to have a head for numbers in business, but obviously not the skill for diplomacy and trade negotiations that his father has. When his father’s ship lands in order to trade, he has a disastrous meeting with Prince Andrewe. This sets up an enemies to lovers scenario for most of the rest of the book. While Emmett’s duty to protecting Aleyn’s virtue and trying to help him establish a living is admirable, possibly honorable, Emmett’s honor comes into question soon enough when everything doesn’t go his way.

The misunderstanding…where Emmett thinks his father has sold him to be a companion to the Prince is rather interesting to me. Did Emmett’s father want to get rid of him because he doesn’t think his son is right to take over the business one day? Did he think this experience would teach Emmett a lesson? Yet Emmett is as enamored with the Prince, as Andrewe seems to be with him, thus he becomes First Gentleman. This is not necessarily dubious consent…but the power imbalance is inescapable and used to salacious effect. Since this is Emmett’s point of view, it’s unclear whether he is an unreliable narrator because: he doesn’t understand interpersonal communications well enough, he is naive in the ways of court politics and intrigue, he lacks the life experience to deal with a real intimate relationship, or he is too swayed by his emotions rather than logic. Emmett willingly made himself a servant to the Crown, not understanding he was essentially making himself a slave, and then chafes at his lack of freedom.

Andrewe is completely uneven throughout the book, at times sweet and loving, only to turn vicious, cold, or distant. Lust can only allow Emmett to overlook the Prince’s behavior for so long, but the Prince isn’t the only problem and Emmett never takes any responsibility for their discord. At one point I did wonder if Andrew was mentally ill. Is he just unsure about how to behave in this relationship? Is he taking it out on Emmett, so that his parents will make him marry and produce an heir? Is he being mean and cruel on purpose to create distance to protect himself? Andrewe’s use of Aleyn against Emmett to keep him in line is repulsive. It’s also when Emmett finally loses his way and the lack of real communication and respect between them, causes dangerous circumstances to arise. This is where the book starts to go off the rails for me with the introduction of Thomas.

His dalliance with Thomas is not lust, more the rush of being able to be himself again–someone’s equal where he can say what he wants and do as he pleases. However, Thomas is not three dimensional enough to pull this plot off and it all falls flat. I was really enjoying this, even with all the questions I have about the other characters’ motivations, until I felt the author wrote Emmett into a box he couldn’t get out of. The whole last 20 percent of the book was completely unbelievable to me, and that was mainly down to not having the characters be more present and rounded out. All that sex and time spent with just Emmett and Andrewe made the plot suffer. The reader only sees the royal couple a handful of times and what is there in the characterizations doesn’t match from scene to scene. Did the King and Queen think Emmett would somehow tame Andrewe or make him easier to control? At one point the Queen threatens to get rid of Emmett, yet when the perfect time comes to do so, she shows mercy that is not warranted. In the end, even Emmett is contrary: the overindulgence and opulence he previously found so distasteful is in full force at the end, yet Emmett no longer minds. Even though Emmett is the central figure, the only consistent character is Aleyn, who on the cusp between boyhood and manhood, has a good reason to be inconsistent, yet seems to be the only one to actually understand what is happening and why. I’m left feeling really torn because so much of this was well done, but I had too many issues with the way the author chose to resolve the plot.

The cover design is by Written Ink Designs (written-ink.com). I admit to having no clue what the cover is about, maybe I missed a pertinent passage.

Sales Links:  Amazon |  JMS Books LLC

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, Second Edition
Published October 23rd 2019 by JMS Books LLC (first published February 6th 2013)
Original Title: Honour
ASINB07Z7F3YHL

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Honour by A.F. Henley — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Master Of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale, Book One

GinnHale Restless Cover
Cover Illustration by Zaya Feli Cover Design by Dawn Kimberling

I would rate this 4 stars.

I thought this was a standalone, but apparently it would have been helpful to read the Lord of White Hell and the Champion of the Scarlet Wolf duologies first. The world-building is amazingly detailed, yet I still feel like I might have had a rounder view of this universe if I read those first, as there are several characters from those books included in this one and they are written in linear time. Things about the court intrigues, neighboring countries, power struggles between church and state, all the differnet types of religious beliefs, and the use of magic obviously all have more background than I was privy to here. While the plot is always easy to follow, the explanations about the magic are not–until the second half. All of the sudden the magic is explained, the emotional connection I wanted kicks in, and the book really comes alive, which saved this story for me. I am left wondering if maybe I would have felt more emotionally attached from the beginning if I had read the other four books? The writing style for the first half is removed, like an observer focused on the main plot and moving about chess pieces. While there is clever dialogue and witty banter, the author never lets them succumb to passion or deeper emotions that the reader can actually sit with and let breathe. Then again, maybe that is because of the constant explanations of past events, but recaps are entirely necessary for this to work.

The story is told from four points of view: Narsi, Atreau, Ariz, and Fedeles. Narsi is a great character, a genuinely kind, clever, brave and warmhearted physician. Atreau the charming rake and novelist, but that deflects from what he is really doing as a spymaster. Ariz is the tragic tale, living under compulsion and being made to do things he doesn’t want to do. Fedeles as the Duke of Rauma is treading a fine line of facing his fears and past traumas to become the hero everyone needs. Although these main leads are all male, there are many strong females characters in this book and the cast is large and diverse. Clara and Oasia are the most intriguing, rich, intelligence, three dimensional female roles I’ve read in secondary characters in a long time. Everyone has various shades of grey as many are not whom they seem on the surface, even Narsi takes to subterfuge with ease. The characters are what bring this to life–why I even cared about all the plots and subplots. Honestly though, more than rooting for them individually, I was rooting for good to win over evil and for anyone to have even a dash of happiness. Just like real life, there is racism, sexism, homophobia, religious zeal, and xenophobia. In the end, it’s about averting a war. The corruption, greed, torture, assassinations, servitude…they are what you would expect from the rich and powerful. There is nothing fast about this book; it’s all slowly built brick by brick. That’s not to say that no action happens, but the pacing is slowed by the world-building–even though this all takes place in a week, it feels much longer. Suddenly everything happens at once and it’s over.

If you are wanting an m/m romance, this may not hold your interest. If you want a complex, painstakingly detailed, queer renaissance type high fantasy novel with a tangle of multiple plots and slow burn, fairly chaste romantic pairings, then you might like to try this book. This is also going to be a duology, so be aware this doesn’t end here. Right now I am frustrated on many levels. While I acknowledge the first half was neccessary, I didn’t love it and was getting bored. After the second half, I am completely sucked in and want to read the next book right now this minute. I am also sad that reading this might have ruined the four previous books for me, because I will know what happens as I believe this duology is the end of the series.

Ginn Hale’s Website

Buy From Amazon

Buy From Smashwords

Buy From Kobo

Buy From Barnes and Noble

Buy From Book Depository

Review: The King’s Dragon (Fire and Valor #1) by W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns

[This was one difficult for me to rate. I think I may have rated The Amulet Stone by Mason Thomas too low. If I had rated that one higher, I would likely have rated this one higher too. I been reading a lot of fantasy this year, so it’s difficult not to compare them all even though they are all very different.]

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

When King Edmund dies, Reynold becomes king. After several decades of peace and prosperity, this starts a cascade of events that will see the kingdom of Llangard in a more precarious position, and many uncertain who is friend or foe. Reynold’s cousin Tris is well respected at the castle, but hides his nature, afraid it will endanger his life. Bet, the king’s assassin, has his own secrets, and is a huge part of shaping the events at court with well done action scenes. As political machinations, ethics, and morals drive them apart, their long held attraction also pulls Tris and Bet together. Theirs is the main romance, if you can call it that. While the sex scenes are explicit, they are not titillating, just used for character and plot development. I would say the relationship is part of the book, not the point of the book. Tris is such a likeable, character with more depth as the book goes on. It’s quite the feat to make me feel sympathy and empathy for an assasin. For all the characters, their complex loyalties are twisted and tested until they find there is a difference between what is right, and what is honorable.

Since this is the start of a series with a full cast of characters and multiple points of view, it will require some attention to detail. While the various points of view help layer the world-building throughout the story, they also make it more difficult to get very attached to any one character. The heading for each chapter tells where the point of view starts, but be prepared for a change in points of view between scenes. Other important points of view besides Tris, Bet, and Reynold include: Reynold’s sister Gillian, Rhiannon and Hafgan as visitors to the castle, Sidonie as the King’s guard, and Prince Roland. As the Prince is nine, I am glad not too much time is spent with his point of view, but I did find it age appropriate.

Without giving too much away, relations between the dragons of the Mawrcraig Mountains and Llangard are contentious from a war fought long ago. Still, the kingdom relies on the dragons to turn back invaders from the north, and the dragons expect to be left alone. They want to improve their situation so a dragon goes to meet the new king. They may have been a threat to humans once upon a time, but they have no greed for human lands. Yet, dragonkind won’t stay hidden in the mountains forever. People of Tornheim are encroaching in the mountains. Usually a nation of tribes that don’t work together, something may be changing as they are growing bolder. The Torndals may also be creating intrigue to move against Llangard. While there is an elf in this story, the reader doesn’t know anything about the elves at all at this point. Too much care has been taken to set up this world and its politics for it not to have a much larger story arc coming. Even though this story, as it is, has a satisfying ending, there are four plot points left dangling to build upon.

If there was a stumble, I would say it’s in the development of the relationship between Sidonie and Rhiannon. They barely spend any time together at all and attraction alone between strangers wasn’t enough for me to believe how their plot point develops, even though the end is so, so good. The scene between Tris and Hafgan also seemed forced and too soon in their acquaintance for that level of exchange. There are dragons that are introduced near the end, but there was not enough done to make me intrigued by them. I would expect the next book to feature more about them and their culture; I welcome this as I would love to have their points of view too. I’m just saying dragons are written into relationships where time wasn’t taken to build them, or introduced briefly to position them for the future, rather than to add to the story already in play. This is an ambitious, action packed fantasy adventure that carries the reader merrily along. There is magic, elves, dragons, and plenty of historical lore, which may or may not be fact–every side has their own view of war, after all. My only concern is the next book will need a lot of world-building also and I hope there are more intimate scenes (like with Bet and Roland, or Tris and his mother) between the characters so I can check in with them more emotionally, rather than those getting lost in all the politics and plot twists that I intellectually enjoy. I look forward to the next book to see where everything goes, especially because the authors have made me a bit bloodthirsty and have proven they’re not afraid to surprise and delight.

Cover art © 2019 by Natasha Snow Designs. The cover is so striking with Tristram front and center, which is as it should be since he is the rallying point and glue that holds things together.

Order here:

Universal: http://mybook.to/thekingsdragon

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XC67S95 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47945724-the-king-s-dragon

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 295 pages
Published September 26th 2019
ASINB07XC67S95
Edition Language: English
Series: Fire and Valor

 

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The King’s Dragon (Fire and Valor #1) by W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Drawing The Prince by Kim Fielding, Stars From Peril 3

 

DrawingThePrince
© 2019 Alexandria Corza http://www.seeingstatic.com/

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

This is the third book in the Stars From Peril series. Although there is mention of Jaxon Powers and Landry Bishop from book one and two, this works well as a standalone. Cal Walters is a 23 year old artist who knows the right people. His insecurities about whether people buy his art because he’s talented or because he’s trendy due to his friends, has given him a little chip on his shoulder. Due to a bet with his friend Merc, he has to go on three blind dates. Third time’s a charm when he meets 28 year old Teofilo Vabriga-Kastav, playboy prince of the tiny nation of Porvunia and passionate art lover. Teo has insecurities of his own, never knowing if people like him for himself, or just want to be with him because of his family. He just doesn’t tell Cal he’s a prince…

The meet cute is actually, cute. I wasn’t sure about either character at first–Cal is standoffish and Teo is a bit too smooth–but their facades crumble fairly quickly. Seeing most of the book from Cal’s POV, at first he’s attracted to Teo, but not quit sure he likes him. Teo’s POV is used more sparingly to great affect. Seeing how Teo describes Cal and how Cal makes him feel hooked me into the story. He may be privileged and a bit spoiled, but he is actually a nice person and has a sincerity about him that’s surprising. Cal’s starting to develop that cynicism of living in California and being in the wealthy art scene, but he’s just a kid from Nebraska trying to protect himself. When Teo creates a painting competition in Porvunia in part to lure Cal there, they give in to their passions. Their intimate time is sexy, fun, and filled with laughter. Cal kids himself this is a one night stand, but they are already too taken with each other and he knows it’s more. Lying to yourself is difficult if you’re an honest person by nature. The dynamics here are fascinating as Cal’s in charge, even though he’s the commoner and younger. When his anxiety or fear gets the better of him in various circumstances, it’s Teo who steps in to help him relax or sort things out. They fit.

Teo’s family, his bodyguards, Cal’s friend Merc, Cal’s Gram, and other characters from the small town of Peril help move this along, but no one does more than Anita, his guide in the capital city of Velenik. She makes Porvunia feel more real with tours filled with fun historical stories. She is also loyal and proves herself to be truly caring of the prince and her royal family. This book is full of charming little details, whether of a foreign country, or of the Nebraska landscape, a thriving city or a small rural town. Still, it’s Nebraska that burns more brightly here when Con shares his home and all the people he grew up with, who have their own stories.

This really works through the opposites of being working class vs wealthy, an only child vs large family and having no father and absentee mother vs hundreds of years of extended family. Yet, their love of the arts united them. They have both had the benefit of fortunate fate and grew up having very little privacy albeit in very different fish bowls. When an emergency tears them apart, it would be easy to let life get in the way, to let it move them in different directions, but Teo is not having it. This is the point where, as farfetched as the story seems, it gets even more farfetched. For instance, Teo getting rid of his bodyguards when he should be worried about being kidnapped for ransom, or his rushing in and thinking he knows what a small town needs to “save” it. There is plenty of foreshadowing here to show the reader the way through. It’s sweet, and no matter how unlikely, I wanted it to happen just like that even if I didn’t know it at the time.

Buy From Kobo

Buy From Dreamspinner

Buy From Amazon

Buy From Barnes and Noble

Buy From The Book Depository

Kim Fielding’s Website

Review: The Exile Prince (The Castaway Prince #2) by Isabelle Adler

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This is a short novella starting six months after the previous story, The Castaway Prince. You could read this as a standalone with no issues, but it would be more enjoyable read in order. Prince Stephan of Seveihar is living in the southern kingdom of Segor with his lover and former servant, Warren. They’ve sold Stephan’s jewels to set up a Mercantile business. Revelling in the openness and acceptance of Stephan in Segor, they have not been discreet. The previous story made clear Stephan is a crossdresser. He identified as male. This book is a bit murkier in the gender bending. Stephan’s brother Robert has ascended the throne and declared war between Seveihar and their rival Esnia. He sees Stephan as a threat, even in exile.

The annoying part of this is, once again, Stephan dismisses Warren’s concerns for his safety. Warren also has concerns about Stephan being too young and that the peril may be the reason they are together. This story solidifies their relationship, moving beyond friendship and lust, to a deeper love where they choose one another above all else. Their choices become their life, as they flee from Robert’s wrath. This doesn’t have a lot of detailed world-building, just enough to understand the surroundings in term of a seaside town with an Indian or Middle Eastern feel. In the epilogue, the reader gets a view of King Robert that signals this story is not over. I couldn’t help but think people get the ruler they deserve when they let hate and intolerance reign. I fully expect at least one more story to wrap up this story arc. Would people rather have an unstable tyrant or a caring cross-dresser as their king? Time will tell.

The cover art by Natasha Snow matches the first book in the series, but echos the colors of their more sunny, southern location.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details: ebook
Published July 22nd 2019 by NineStar Press
Original Title: The Exile Prince
ISBN 139781951057077
Edition Language: English

Series: The Castaway Prince

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The Exile Prince (The Castaway Prince #2) by Isabelle Adler — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Possibilities by Nicole Field, A King’s Council 1

possibilities400

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

This is a new to me author and I bought this based on the blurb. I would say this takes about 90 minutes to read. The writing syle is crisp and focused. It’s the story of a king who doesn’t want to be, was never intended to be, actually king. Hiring his jester is one of his many new duties, but it’s the one that ends up being his most personal. I love the idea of the King’s Jester being a trusted friend and confident. This author is great at building tension: court politics, longing for someone, establishing trust, and navigating power dynamics (not BDSM). Fairy tales can get away with many things that other books can’t. For instance, yes I did find it shocking they were left alone so soon. What if they were an assassin? What if they were a spy? But in this world, the jester school is well respected and trusted. This is meant to be a sweet fairy tale, so there is no room for that here. It’s a personal tale between two people based on mutual respect, a peek into their bubble. I am torn about whether I want another book, because this is perfect as it is in my opinion.

Buy from Less Than Three Press (on sale for Pride)

Buy from Google Play

Buy from Barnes and Noble

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Kobo

Buy from Smashwords

Nicole Field’s Website