Tuesday, 12 July 2011

54. "Naamah's Blessing" by Jacqueline Carey

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Page count: 624 pages
Date begun: July 7th, 2011
Date finished: July 10th, 2011

This is the third and final book in a trilogy (which is, in turn, the third trilogy set in the fictional world of Terre D'Ange, and this review will contain some spoilers for the first and second books in the series. If you want to avoid them, skip this review, and go read Jacqueline Carey's excellent Kushiel's Dart instead.

Moirin has been away from her father's homeland of Terre D'Ange for years. She has endured much, experienced numerous exotic countries and cultures, but returns with her beloved husband Bao. The land she returns to is much changed. King Daniel is grieving his dead wife to the point where he's no longer able to rule and has appointed an ambitious Regent to rule in his stead, three-year-old princess Desirée, a miniature version of Queen Jehanne, hardly ever sees her father and is being raised by nursemaids. The crown prince, Thierry, is on an expedition to Terra Nova, the recently discovered continent far across the sea to the West. Moirin and Bao do their best to make the princess feel loved and Moirin accepts the role as Desirée's oath-sworn protector, even though several people at court fear and avoid her, due to her half-pagan heritage. When disaster strikes the royal house, Moirin and her husband have to travel to Terra Nova, to prove that Prince Thierry is not dead, as rumour would have it, and bring him back to Terre D'Ange. It's a long and hazardous journey, and mistakes from her past come back to haunt her, making the task nearly impossible.

Naamah's Blessing is in reality the concluding volume of nine books in Jacqueline Carey's alternate history version of our world. Throughout the nine books (the preceeding two trilogies set several generations before this one), she has explored an alternate Renaissance Europe, the Middle East, parts of Africa, and in this trilogy, Asia, Central and South America. Her books are wonderfully researched, and there is a lot of historical knowledge to be gained from them, even though they are set in a fantasy universe. While travelling much greater distances than either Phédre or Imriel, the protagonists of Carey' other trilogies, Moirin's life, although eventful, contain a lot less political intrigue, and that, in some ways, makes this third trilogy less engaging and thrilling than the other two. While it is never boring to read one of these books, neither book in Moirin's trilogy excited me as much as Carey's first trilogy, or Kushiel's Mercy, the third book in the Imriel trilogy. Still, they are great comfort reading, and very well written, so if you enjoy Carey's other Terre D'Ange book, read these as well.

53. "Silk is for Seduction" by Loretta Chase

Publisher: Avon
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: July 1st, 2011
Date finished: July 3rd, 2011

Marcelline Noirot is the daughter of two notorious scoundrels and swindlers, but is determined to make an honest living as a dressmaker, aided by her two younger sisters. She runs a fashionable and fairly successful establishment, but most of the rich and noble ladies still stay loyal to her competitor. Maison Noirot could use a truly high profile client, and when rumour has it that the Duke of Clevedon is finally returning to London to propose to his best friend's sister, Marcelline decides that said high profile client will be Lady Clara, the future Duchess of Clevedon.

To secure this contract, she brings her most spectacular outfits and hunts down Clevedon in Paris. He, like every man who sees Marcelline, is instantly smitten, and is rather astonished when Marcelline doggedly pursues him not for his looks or status, but to fashion outfits for his intended bride. Having lived a life of leasure and frivolity on the Continent, Clevedon is determined not to disappoint his friends in England any longer, and having faithfully corresponded with Lady Clara throughout his European adventures, he knows that he must "come up to scratch" and propose. Once he meets Marcelline, however, he can't seem to get her out of his thoughts, and he finds that he has nothing to say in his letters to Clara.

Marcelline is charmed by the Duke, but knows that no dressmaker will get wealthy female clients if they think she steals their men. She wants a strictly professional relationship with Clevedon, and flees Paris when it is clear that he is attracted to more than the dresses she wears. When she meets Lady Clara, she likes the lady a great deal, and helps the young woman realize that she doesn't have to listen to her domineering mother in matters of fashion, or on how to live her life. Her plan to make the future Duchess the best dressed woman in London seems to be going swimmingly, until Maison Noirot burns to the ground, leaving Marcelline, her sisters and her daughter homeless.

In Silk is for Seduction Loretta Chase has the difficult task of convincing the reader that the hero and heroine getting together, possibly at the cost of a very nice third party's happiness. Lady Clara is a beautiful, smart and likable character, and it's only through very clever writing that Clevedon doesn't come across as a total cad. It's clear that Chase is also setting up Marcelline's two younger sisters (a blonde AND a redhead - Marcelline is a brunette) as heroine's in future novels. I hope Lady Clara gets her happy ending in one, as well.

52. "A Lady's Lesson in Scandal" by Meredith Duran


Publisher: PocketStar
Page count: 400 pages
Date begun: June 30th, 2011
Date finished: July 1st, 2011

Factory girl Nell Whitby's life changes dramatically when she sneaks into the Earl of Rushden's residence to get revenge for the death of her mother. Having been told that she is the Earl's daugther while said mother was ill, Nell wrote to the Earl for money to pay for a doctor, but heard nothing. She quickly discovers that this is because the old Earl is dead, and never got her letter.

Simon St. Maur, the new Earl, is nearly penniless, as all the former Earl's money was left to his two daughters, Katherine and Cornelia. Cornelia has been missing without a trace since she was six, and Simon is delighted to see that Nell, the angry young woman who's pointing a gun at his naked self (yup, the hero is buck naked when he meets the heroine for the first time) bears a striking resemblance, though thinner and grimier, to Lady Katherine. Realizing that Nell believes herself to be the bastard daughter of the late Earl, he in fact surmises that she is the missing Lady Cornelia, having been kidnapped by her "mother" many years ago. He can promise her a wonderful new life as a rich heiress, all she has to do is marry him.

Simon needs to prove to society and the courts that Nell is actually the missing heiress, and unless he marries her, he'll not see a penny of her fortune. At first, he convinces Nell to stay by threatening to call the police on her if she doesn't, she did after all, break into his house and threaten to shoot him. Later, the prospect of pretty dresses and any valuables she can filch and resell when she goes back to her old life in Bethnal Green makes her agree to the deal, as she still doubts Simon's word that he will actually marry her, and convince anyone that she is a noblewoman. As time goes on, though, Nell starts to remember things, and she begins to wonder if Simon could actually be correct in his conviction that she is Lady Cornelia.

Meredith Duran is now an author whose books I pre-order, and eagerly look forward to. Her characters are always something out of the ordinary, and their path to the happy ending is usually not an easy one. She has an excellent grasp of language, and I find myself almost wanting to read bits of her prose out loud, which doesn't happen that often in romance novels. Both Simon and Nell are wonderfully complex characters, Nell, especially. Refreshingly, she doesn't deny her near-instant attraction to Simon, but realizes that while he may be telling the truth, and she may have been born a noblewoman, they are from vastly different worlds, and he holds a terrifying amount of power and influence over her. Should he change his mind, she's the one withe the most to lose. Simon starts out as a bit of a cold opportunist, and probably grows and changes even more than Nell. At first, he clearly doesn't deserve her, but at the end, he has proven that he's her perfect match.

51. "The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid" by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Puffin
Page count: 544 pages
Date begun: June 25th, 2011
Date finished: June 29th, 2011

In the course of last year, I read the entirety of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, where young Percy Jackson finds out that he is a demi-god and son of the Greek god Poseidon. He and several of his friends, who are either demi-gods or other mythological beings, go on many adventures and quests, usually to save the world from destruction.

Rick Riordan has clearly found a winning formula, and if it ain't broke, he ain't gonna fix nothing. Having successfully sold millions in a series based on Greek mythology, he gleefully takes on Egyptian myth in his new series, this time with two new, young protagonists, siblings Carter and Sadie Kane. Carter has travelled the world with his father, famous archeologist Dr. Julius Kane, while after a very bitter custody hearing after Mrs. Kane's death, Sadie has been raised in London by her grandparents. She only sees her father and brother twice a year, for a day at a time. The kids are mixed race, with Sadie apparently taking after her blonde, English mother (i.e looking Caucasian), while Carter looks like his African American dad.

It's just before Christmas, Carter and his dad are in London to see Sadie, and Dr. Kane drags both his children to the British Museum, acting very shifty all the while. Once in there, he proceeds to blow up the Rosetta Stone with magic, releasing all sorts of trouble in the process. Suddenly everything Sadie and Carter thought they knew is turned on its head. They find out that both their parents are from ancient bloodlines with strong magical abilities, that in trying to right a great wrong, their father accidentally released five Egyptian gods, including Set, god of Chaos, and that they have approximately six days to set everything right, or the world might get destroyed.

So, new mythology, new protagonists, same old quest narrative. I read the Percy Jackson books over the course of a whole year, and didn't really feel that they became quite as repetetive as this book did. It was entertaining, and Riordan really does integrate some pretty complex mythological facts in his adventure books for teens. The Egyptian pantheon and mythology is, in my mind, quite a bit more complicated than the Greek, yet Riordan integrates it very well. The narration changes between Carter and Sadie, and over the course of the book we get to know both characters well. There's very few quiet moments, it jumps from dangerous situation to dangerous situation, in ever changing locations - London, New York, Cairo, Paris and so forth. There's a clear time limit, and the kids are under a lot of pressure. I would have liked some of the book to calm down from its breathless pace, but all in all, it wasn't bad, and I will look out for the next book in the series, especially to see if Sadie's crush on the hunky Anubis goes anywhere.