Saturday, 8 January 2011

CBR3 Book 2: "Stranger" by Zoë Archer

Publisher: Zebra
Page count: 463 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: January 1st, 2011
Date finished: January 8th, 2011

Stranger is the fourth and concluding book in Zoë Archer's Blades of the Rose series, and as such, is not the best book in the series to start with. The other three books, Warrior, Scoundrel and Rebel can all be read independently of each other and in every which order, but to fully get the story in this one, one should at least have read Rebel first.

Catullus Graves is the genius inventor of gadgets (think Q in Bond) for the Blades of the Rose, a group of adventurers from all over the world dedicated to keeping the magic in the world from the knowledge of people in general, and safe from the ruthless Heirs of Albion, an organization of men determined to claim as much of the world's magic for themselves, so they can further the greatness and dominance of Britain, conquering and oppressing. Catullus has reached the age of forty-one without meeting any woman who can distract him from his calling of science and inventions, living a solitary existence, happy to provide his fellow Blades with inventions to help them on their quests and adventures around the world. Until he meets Gemma Murphy, a determined and ambitious female reporter from Chicago, who having heard Catullus and his two companions (also Blades) talk about mysterious and exciting dangers at a trading post in Canada, follow them to London, sensing a story that could ensure her journalistic career.

Catullus and his companions, Nathan and Astrid (the main couple of Rebel) can't allow Gemma to write about the struggle between the Blades and the Heirs, but as they arrive in England, and quickly have to flee for their lives from the murderous Heirs, they have no choice but to take her along with them either. The attraction between Catullus and Gemma is quickly very obvious, but Catullus is unsure of whether she's just using her ample feminine charms to get a story, or if she actually likes him. In his experience, women find his distracted nature and complete inability to say the right thing off putting. Gemma, on the other hand, finds it intriguing that Catullus never objects to her being a driven female journalist, just to her writing the truth about his friends and their quest to keep magic safe. Her former fiancee tried to get her to give up her calling, and change her to conform more to a traditional female ideal.

Nathan, Astrid, Catullus and Gemma have to try to make it to the Blades' headquarters in Southampton to warn them that the Heirs, now in control of the Primal Source, the most powerful magical artifact in the world are about to activate it, and when they do, can achieve all their dreams and wishes for world domination. When the first sign of their dreams of dominance magically manifest as a famous figure of British mythology, they have to find the means to stop him, before magic tears up the countryside, and the Heirs fully control the source and take over the world. The Blades from all over the world will have to battle the Heirs once and for all.

Several of the review sites I follow have raved about Zoë Archer and her novels that combine romance and adventure. The three previous books got a little bit samey, following pretty much the same template - a couple of different, but both strong-willed characters meet and fall madly in love while on the quest for magical artifact, while escaping the obstacles put in their path by the dastardly Heirs. Artifact recovered, big battle against the Heirs at the end. This book follows the same template, but as it's on a bigger scale, and the quest isn't really to find one magical artifact, but more the means to stop the entire world being taken over, and it's obvious that the battle at the end will be the big, decisive one, I didn't mind so much.

Quite a few reviewers complained that the book was a let down for them because Catullus, who appears as a supporting character in the other books and whose marvelous inventions frequently help save the day, doesn't actually do that much actual inventing in the book. Since I was forewarned not to expect this, I didn't mind, and he and Gemma make a good couple. Also, the battle at the end features a huge dragon rampaging in London, what's not to like about that?

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