Friday, 26 July 2019
#CBR11 Book 53: "Sweep of the Blade" by Ilona Andrews
Rating: 4 stars
This book, which was originally intended as a novella, is book 4 in the Innkeeper Chronicles. While it's not necessary to have read the entire series to fully appreciate this book, it might be helpful to at least have read book three, One Fell Sweep, where Maud and Arland meet for the first time.
Official book description:
Maud Demille is a daughter of Innkeepers—a special group who provide ‘lodging’ to other-planetary visitors—so she knows that a simple life isn't in the cards. But even Maud could never have anticipated what Fate would throw at her.
Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her young daughter, Helen, were exiled with him for his treachery to the desolate, savage planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud—completely abandoned by his family—has spent over a year avenging his debts. Rescued by her sister Dina, she's sworn off all things vampire.
Except... In helping Dina save the world, she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr, one of the most powerful vampire houses. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Arland is not used to hearing the word ‘no;’ and try as she might, Maud can't just walk away from Arland. It doesn't help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.
To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is extremely influential and Maud knows that a woman—a human, with a very questionable past—who's turned down a proposal from its most beloved son won't get a warm reception. Maybe she’s not sure about marrying Arland, but House Krahr isn’t going to decide for her. Maud Demille has never run from a fight, and House Krahr will soon discover that there's a lot more to Maud than they’re expecting.
As with all the other Innkeeper Chronicles books, this started as a free online serial on Ilona Andrews' website. The authors had intended it to be a bonus novella, but it clearly took on a life of its own and by the time they had finished it, it had become a short novel. With the published book, they have added a prologue showing the readers some of Maud's time on Karhari, and also how she reacted to the potentially world-ending threat that Arland risked his life to twart in the conclusion to One Fell Sweep. To some, it may feel like an unneccessary retread, as it repeats scenes from the previous book - but all of those were told from Dina, Maud's sister's POV, and as someone who doesn't exactly have photographic recall of all the books I read, it was nice to have my memory refreshed (with some pretty kick-ass action sequences, as well).
I feel like with every new Ilona Andrews review I write, I gush and go on about what amazing writers they are and how I am literally willing to hand them my money for absolutely everything they write (sometimes in multiple formats). Yet it's so incredibly comforting to know that with each new release, I'm going to get something that makes me laugh, makes my heart race, makes me excited and sometimes genuinely touched. I love their dialogue and the family dynamics they always manage to create, even though the families they portray in their various books and series often are wildly different. The children in their stories feel real, never like annoying plot moppets. Helen, Maud's precocious half-vampire daughter, is a delight.
Maud has had a very difficult time of it, and to say that she's been burned in her previous relationship is an understatement. Her husband royally f*cked up, and Maud and her daughter paid the price for that. The space vampire clans in these books value strength and martial prowess, and while Maud may be human, she became extremely adept at killing and defending herself and her child while exiled on Karhari. She swore off all things vampire, yet can't help but fall for Arland, who is everything her first husband could only dream of becoming. Maud and Helen were abandoned entirely by her first husband's family, and left to die in an uncivilised back water of the universe. The things Maud had to do to keep them alive haunts her. She cannot risk that happening again. So she knows it would be better if she outright rejected Arland, but he also makes her feel good and safe for the first time in years, and is clearly a much better man than the weasel she used to be married to.
With the exception of Arland's uncle, who has met Maud and seen how perfect she is for him, most of Arland's family are extremely hostile to the idea that he's bringing a human girlfriend home for a big wedding celebration, a woman who had the temerity to say no to his proposal. They're convinced she's some sort of scheming gold digger, and also, because she's human, that she must be weak and/or very stupid. Arland is convinced that if his family just gets to meet Maud and Helen, they'll be as crazy about them as he is. He loves and wants Maud, he understands her reluctance and the reasons for her misgivings, but he wants to be with her any way he can, and will therefore patiently wait until she is ready to accept him. While he is the military leader for his entire vampire clan and the beloved son and heir to an ancient and prestigious family, he's also found the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, and any ultimatums issued by his mother or other member of his family will not go in their favour.
House Krahr is having to host a wedding between two formerly feuding families. There's clearly something fishy going on, but it's difficult to find out exactly what without offering mortal offence to one or both parties. Arland knows that pretty much all the vampires will be underestimating Maud, yet eager to prove themselves better than her and constantly trying to provoke her. So she is his best weapon to finding out what is going on in a timely manner.
I love that Arland is a big, strong alpha hero who can take on a horde of armed combatants single-handedly, and who is also entirely devoted to Maud, loving her perseverance, intelligence, strength and love for her family, on top of the physical attraction he clearly feels for her. He respects and defers to her wishes, but is also willing to completely sever ties with his own family if they don't welcome Maud and Helen properly. He understands that Maud will have to prove herself, both in a fight and by showing just how intelligent she is, but he never doubts for a second that she will succeed in this.
It sounds like Ilona Andrews will be busy with other writing commitments in the next year, so I'm not sure when the next instalment of The Innkeeper Chronicles will see the light of day. Since they tantalisingly hinted that Dina and Maud's previously missing brother Klaus has just turned up, I really hope they get round to writing more eventually, but as these bonus stories are already a generous gift, I will be happy if these four books end up being what we get, as well.
Judging a book by its cover: See, as Ilona Andrews covers go, this isn't a complete eyesore, probably because they self-publish these books and therefore commission the cover art themselves. Maud looks pretty bad-ass, but I don't think the armour looks tough or durable enough (especially compared to the way it's described in the book) enough, she just looks like she's wearing a weirdly patterned body suit. Also not sure why there appears to be flaming meteorites raining down around her, that is not something that happens at any point in Maud's story.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.