The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, the descriptions are lovely. Like OH MY GOSH HOW DID SHE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT FAIRYLAND LOOKS AND TASTES AND SMELLS LIKE lovely. Very real, very vivid, very clear.

Not only that, but she captures the feel of folktales even while adapting them to the viewpoint of two mortal girls who were born and spent their childhood in our modern world, but have spent who knows how long among fairies in their own land. Little things, like turning your clothes inside out, and wearing rowan berries, are not only mentioned but the weaknesses of those protections are clearly stated. And the effect it has on the main character, Jude, is not lost in the lush descriptions.

Because, you see, Jude is a little bit crazy.

It’s not clear at first, but there are hints. Bits and pieces that something’s not quite right in her head. The biggest being that she is both attracted to and intensely hates Cardan, a spoiled fairy prince.

The second is that she does the stupidest things, and trusts at the worst moments, and is so desperate for power over her own life that she’s willing to hurt anyone and anything that gets in her way, even as her regrets pile up. And yet, in spite of her stupid choices and inability to see what’s right in front of her, I still loved her strong voice. I loved how she was willing to save others at the cost of her own life, and how she really does love her family. All of them.

Cardan also pleasantly surprised me. He’s a drunk, and a jerk, and an idiot sometimes, but he knows the game of fairy politics and plays it very well. And I had to admire what turns out to be his greatest wish. Not the noblest of wishes, but it wasn’t nearly as awful as I expected it to be. Let’s just say he and Jude are true opposites and leave it at that. And that they work surprisingly well together, when they do work together.

Madoc was also a true favorite as I read, and that didn’t change, no matter what he did. He is what he is, and yet he’s surprisingly vulnerable. I can see why Jude’s mother loved him so much and also why she ran away.

For those who want to know about the romance, this is not a lovey-dovey, warm and fuzzy kind of romance. Like everything in fairy, it has hidden tricks and an edge. Nothing ever seems to go right for Jude. Nothing. Not in love, not in life, not in the modern world. She fits nowhere, and yet she manages to not only accept this but overcome all the disadvantages a mortal has among fairies. For a price. There’s always a price.

But if I had to put a label to the romance aspect of this book, I would call it “sweet,” as in there’s kissing, but not much else.

As for the ending, this book doesn’t really end. It feels very much like one part of a very long book. In a good way.

Can’t wait to read the next book in the series, The Wicked King, and see just where Jude’s madness leads her next.

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All My Titles on Gumroad Are Free Until March 31st

Just a very quick announcement. Because I know a lot of readers out there might need something to read during this pandemic, I’m making all my titles on my Gumroad store free until March 31st if you use the following code:

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I hope this helps, and I hope all of you are staying healthy and safe. Take care!

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A Noble’s Path by I.L. Cruz

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to my review of A Noble’s Path by I.L. Cruz, my contribution to the blog tour. I hope you’re having fun so far and that my review turns out to be useful.

Let’s start with what this book is about. And to do that, I’ll insert the book blurb right…here.

About A Noble’s Path

Divided loyalties test Inez Garza.

The infamous incident at the Academy of Natural Studies has forced her to work for the King’s Men while continuing to serve the hidden market.

Supporting Birthright furthers the cause of Magical Return, but the cost may be the fall of the royal house and losing Zavier forever.

And the strongest pull of all is her growing and erratic magic, which demands everything and offers only destruction in return.

Inez must decide where her loyalties lie—saving Canto or saving herself.

My review

First off, I need to state that I was given a free copy of this book for review purposes. However, my thoughts are my own.

This second book in the series moves along faster than the first book. And I enjoyed seeing the fallout from the “incident” that ended a lot of the mysteries in A Smuggler’s Path.

Inez managed to hold my interest and frustrate me all at once. She struck me as childish in thinking no one else needs to be hurt, but refusing to see just how many people she’s not only already hurting, but will hurt in the future. Her final choice in the end made me want to bang my head against a wall, though I understood her reasons for choosing it.

Talking of which…Zavier. I loved him in this book! True to the end, he is a lot braver than Inez, taking risks that made Inez’s indirect methods look pathetic in comparison. Zavier is the biggest reason to read this book, in my opinion. He’s thoughtful, honest, courageous, and willing to follow his heart, even if it means Mythos (the kingdom that makes sure the others don’t have any true magical power) may come in and replace the whole royal family. Stupidly wonderful and wonderfully stupid but somehow I loved every second I spent reading his involvement in the story, probably because he’s so incredibly lovestruck.

Toman and Meiri play a bigger part in this story, and it improves every event as a result. I especially loved Toman’s obsession with Inez’s love life. It smoothed over what could have been a book-throwing bit of irritation on my part during one particular event.

Oh, and there’s developments in the Jacque/Meiri pairing, developments I adored! I love how Meiri starts coming into her own in this book, and I love how completely Jacque loves her, to the point where he’s thinking more of her future than his own.

Arch is a new character. Even though he’s a bit too smooth, I liked the glimmers of depth he got and hope he shows up more in book three.

I loved the sheep! In fact, I really like how Cruz writes magical animals, making their natures blend seamlessly with their sentience. Rowley makes more of an appearance as well, and we get to learn a little more about Birthright, the resistance movement he leads.

We also get to see some depth in the characters that make up the King’s Men, which I deeply appreciated. Cleph’s situation was especially moving.

Though there were still moments of confusion (an issue I had with the first book), they were less and the book reads fast. The one sticking point I had trouble swallowing in the previous book is at least questioned in this one.

I did not appreciate one particular loose end that was brought up in the next-to-last scene and then ignored in the final scene. If that last scene hadn’t been there, I could have forgiven the loose thread as a cliffhanger. But with that final scene—which does, I admit, bring the plot full-circle both event- and image-wise with a hint at the difficulties to come—I ended up wondering if Inez had already learned the truth or if she was still waiting.

Still, it was an enjoyable read. Well worth the time. I look forward to book three!

About the Author

I.L. Cruz decided to make writing her full-time career during the economic downturn in 2008. Since then she’s used her BA in International Relations to sow political intrigue in her fantasy worlds and her MA in history to strive for the perfect prologue. When she’s not engaged in this mad profession she indulges her wanderlust as often as possible, watches too much sci-fi and reads until her eyes cross. She lives in Maryland with her husband, daughter and a sun-seeking supermutt named Dipper.

Her Twitter: @ILCruzWrites 

Her blog: Fairytale Feminista at https://fairytalefeminista.wordpress.com

Her website: www.booksbyilcruz.com

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A Smuggler’s Path by I.L. Cruz

A Smuggler's PathA Smuggler’s Path by I.L. Cruz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publicist of the author because I’m participating in I.L. Cruz’s blog tour this week for the second book in this series, and I don’t like reading book 2 before book 1. So, I asked, and was very graciously given this free copy. No review was required, and the thoughts that follow are my honest opinions.)

Summary: Inez Garza, daughter of the prominent Garza family, smuggles magic in a kingdom where, long ago, everyone’s magic was taken from them. Part of the joy of being on the losing side. But while out gathering magic one day, she sees the body of a man who was clearly killed by magic. Powerful magic. And because magic was taken from this kingdom, meaning no one should be able to cast at that level, it raises a number of questions. Questions that put Inez on a path that will either lead her to glory (and her people to themselves) or madness.

This book starts out slow and can be very confusing at times to follow, with one particular plot point becoming more difficult to believe as the story goes on. However, the descriptions are lovely and the pacing is good. Inez is always doing something, and she’s very determined to help not only discover who killed her mother’s former fiance but all those who need her help…when she can give it. Zavier seems like a good guy and I’m curious to see how things work out with the two of them. Jacques was a lot of fun. Always loved seeing him. And Meiri and Toman added some nice grounding to the story.

Inez’s mother was absolutely frustrating with her lack of communication, but her actions made sense in context.

About midway through, the story picks up speed and the climatic moment is well worth the time spent getting there.

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Blog posts may be sporadic; focusing on Puck’s Call

I know this isn’t ideal right now, but I’ve decided to put this blog on a non-schedule (i.e. I write whenever I can) while I work on Puck’s Call. I’m 45% done with the rough draft and the story is coming along nicely. However, I was hoping I’d be nearly done with the draft by now.

If I focus on that draft, I think I can have it done by the end of March. If I focus.

So, please forgive the erratic posts. Once I’m done, I’ll go back to a weekly schedule. Thank you for your patience.

path through grassy field to misty mountains

2020 Goal Progress (includes brief update on Puck’s Call)

path through grassy field to misty mountains
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

It’s February, and since I posted on my goals at the beginning of the year, I thought I’d update you on my progress.

(Click here if you want to see the original post where I list my goals.)

  • I’m 34% of the way to hitting my 80,000 word goal for Puck’s Call. Though the word count is good, I’m also glad that this is turning out to be a fun novel to write. I’m thinking about posting scenes on Wattpad to see if others think it’s fun to read. Thoughts?
  • Didn’t do very well keeping up with friends this past month. I’ve been just a little too focused on writing. Will try to change that in February.
  • I’m waiting on finishing The Lord’s Tale until after I’ve finished Puck’s Call, but it’s still on my To Do list.
  • I’ve used my timer more frequently this past January, especially for writing time. So, yay!
  • No additions to the reviewer list. Too focused on writing and life.
  • Which means that I’ve been living. Which is good.

That’s my progress so far. How has your year been so far? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

Kissed by Fire by Katharina Gerlach: a review

Kissed by Fire (High School Dragons Book 1)Kissed by Fire by Katharina Gerlach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

A terrible accident leaves Lydia with no memories of her past. Thrown into a system that frightens her at every turn, she begins to realize, slowly, that she isn’t like the humans around her. In fact, she might not even be human at all. Through the love of a young man and his sister, and the questionable help of a new student who seems very intent on being more than friends, Lydia finds out not only what she once was but who she’s meant to be.

I liked this story. It has a love triangle and a lot of fantasy YA tropes but I like how it played with them instead of letting them take over the story.

Lydia, for example, starts out weak and frightened, but becomes strong without becoming snarky or annoying. Those who want a spunky, smart-mouthed heroine need to look elsewhere.

Colin is the sweet young man who assigned to help Lydia through her first day of school. He was a joy to watch through the whole book and I very quickly began cheering for him and Lydia to get together.

Harm, a typical bad boy hottie trying to get Lydia’s attention, turns out to be far more than his role in the story suggested, and I have to admit I loved his arc and his relationship with Lydia the further I got into the story.

There were a number of other fantastic characters in this. The women, I think, were especially portrayed well. And there was a nice little twist with a human girl who might be able to wield magic.

There were, however, a few issues that made the book difficult to read.

First, and most importantly, though it’s supposedly set in America, everyone speaks as if they were British. This is actually a symptom of a larger issue: though the main characters are solid, the setting is not. I mean, there’s a Council and relationships between the various members of the story, but it isn’t clear where they are inside this world or how that plays into their culture and individual choices.

This weakness also led to some confusion regarding the role Native Americans play in the story. They are the only minority represented in this world in this book, and I have to admit those characters confused me more than once They were, in my opinion, the only characters that were not as well developed as they could have been.

One final, minor quibble. At times, the writing felt more middle-grade than YA.

Other than that, the romance is very sweet and, I think, worth the time. Which says something given the enormity of the issues I’ve mentioned. I’ll be reading the next book in the series.

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magical open book with fantasy background

5 Fantasy Romance/Romantic Fantasy Book Blogs/Sites

magical open book with fantasy background
Image by pixel2013 from Pixabay

It can be hard to find books that have both fantasy and romance in them, no matter which is the main focus. So, I thought it might be nice to share some sites that have either lists of books on them, reviews of fantasy romance/romantic fantasy books on them, or some combination of the two.

(Note: Please be aware that, because there aren’t a whole lot of blogs dedicated to these subgenres [at least, based on my searches] most, if not all, of these blogs are run by those who write in this genre. Inclusion does not imply endorsement of their books. Also, I get nothing from mentioning them.)

Hope you enjoy.

Here Be Magic – This is the first one I found when I started searching for fantasy books with romance in them. Created by a group of authors, the blog covers fantasy, sf, and paranormal romance, as well as more general posts related to the aforementioned subgenres and posts about writing. They also have a page with links to free reads, written by said authors and meant as a way of sampling their work, for those who might be interested.

Epic Fantasy | Epic Romance – A blog by author Jayne Castel. Covers reviews of other books in the genre as well as updates on her own. And for writers, she has posts dedicated to combining fantasy and romance.

Epic Fantasy Romance – Like Here Be Magic, this blog is maintained by a group of authors. Also has lists dedicated to epic fantasy romance books and epic fantasy books with romance in them.

ensworldofwords – a book reviewer whose preference leans toward fantasy romance.

Heroes and Heartbreakers – Combines fantasy romance with paranormal. They don’t have a lot of the former, but it’s well organized and also contains urban fantasy, for those who are looking for that as well.

Do you know of any others? I’d be glad to add them. Just let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

 

 

Is there a difference between fantasy romance and romantic fantasy?

vintage romantic fantasy lake with swan and magical fairy dust
Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

My latest project, Puck’s Call, is (near as I can tell) a fantasy romance. I’m basing this on the fact that the plot is really fitting nicely into a typical romance plot, and I can even identify the tropes inside it.

In honor of actually, kind of, sort of, knowing what genre my book fits within—which, as you can see from this post, hasn’t always been the case—I’m going to take a little bit of time comparing fantasy romance with romantic fantasy.

Why? Because I like definitions, especially when it comes to finding new things to read.

So here we go.

First off, genres change all the time. A genre will be happily minding its own business and then, bam! A book grabs the imagination of the wider public and soon everyone is talking about this book, especially publishers, who want to repeat that success. Writers come in who either already had books like the one that took off, but couldn’t sell them because “no one reads those kind of books.” Other writers dash off a manuscript that’s a lot like the Big Hit and start shopping it around, thus leading to books that readers kind of enjoy but that, ultimately, make them shrug. And before you know it, bookstores and libraries add a new physical or digital shelf to the marketplace and voila! A genre is born.

Same with subgenres. Originally, there was only fantasy. Then what’s commonly known as “sword and sorcery.” And things kind of blossomed from there.

One of the beauties of writing fantasy is that, as long as there’s magic as a key component, you can do just about anything. And that even means including romance. And now there’s been enough fantasy novels with strong enough elements of romance for it to get its own subgenres.

But this leads me back to my question. Is there a difference between fantasy romance and romantic fantasy?

Given my experiences search? Kind of, but not really. For readers who are looking for more romance in their fantasy, either search term should get you where you want to go, eventually.

From a literary standpoint, I say yes, there is a subtle difference. Here are my definitions, based on what I’ve read so far.

Fantasy romance is romance with a fantasy setting and some fantasy tropes. Romantic fantasy is fantasy with an emphasis on relationships, especially romantic ones.

Sometimes those lines are blurred. The Fire Lord’s Lover by Kathryne Kennedy, though clearly fantasy romance, has such a strong fantasy plot within it that I think it straddles the two genres perfectly.

So, the next question to ask is, what makes a romance. After all I’ve read, both romance novels and books on how to write a romance novel, I say romance is variations on a single theme: Romantic Love Conquers All. If the book in your hands has that as its overarching theme, then it’s a romance.

By that definition, The Fire Lord’s Lover is definitely fantasy romance, because love does truly conquer all, both in the book and in the books that come after it in that series.

Other books to look at, if that’s what you’re looking for, are Master of Crows by Grace Draven, Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell, and just about anything written by Kristine Grayson.

Romantic fantasy, on the other hand, has fantasy’s themes as its main focus. And since fantasy is all about power, it’s about a character, typically female, coming to grips with her own power, both personally and as a member of the wider community. Romance is definitely part of that, and can be a very strong part of it, but unlike fantasy romance, it’s not the main focus.

An example is Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series. The first half of each book I’ve read in that series has nothing to do with romance. Instead, it’s about a woman finding her feet and coming to terms with who she is and what she wants to be. Once she’s done that, then romance enters her life. The first book in the series, The Fairy Godmother, was especially good at that. Other examples include Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals series (Middle Grade, but still good), Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, and I would even include, if you’re into something darker, Anne Bisop’s Black Jewels series. (Hesitant to add that because I’ve only read the first two books in the series. But it seems to fit the definitions I’ve given for romantic fantasy, so far.)

What about you? Does this sound right, or are my definitions off? What other books would you add to these lists? Let me know in the comments!

*An exception appears to be Selene Quarterly, a magazine devoted to spec fic romance. (WARNING: as of my linking today, the cover art on the page is NSFW [Not Safe For Work]. Click at your own risk!)

Woman gothic dark fantasy

Dark fantasy vs. epic fantasy

Woman gothic dark fantasy
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When The Dark Crystal’s spin-off series came out, someone described the initial movie as “dark fantasy.” I’d seen this term on Ralan.com (a great site for those who want to submit short stories to spec fic markets) but hadn’t thought much of it. It’s like horror with fantasy elements, right? I’d think and move on to the more mainstream subgenres.

But I love The Dark Crystal. I loved it as a kid and got irritated when the grown-ups around me talked during any portion of it. I love it so much now that I got a copy and have, whenever I get the chance,  played it for my kids who now tell me they were freaked out by the Skeksies and other creatures and that my love of that movie convinced them that their mom definitely loved dark things.

But to me, that movie is anything but dark.

However, now that I’m aware of my darkish tendencies, I’ve decided to look deeper into this subject.

The verdict? No one really seems to have a firm grip on what it is. But even though it seems to be a personal judgment call, there also seem to be some basic principles. Maybe.

(Please be aware that some of what’s written below is based on what I found and some of it is based on my own analysis.)

1. Dark fantasy is dark. As in, it has a dark atmosphere. Brooding protagonists. Evil all around. Maybe evil within. One person on the SFFWorld forum put The Dark Elf trilogy in that category and another put Moorcock’s Elric in there, too. Given that definition, Tanith Lee’s The Lords of Darkness would also count as dark fantasy, as would The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop. I would also put George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire in that as well.

Epic fantasy and heroic fantasy, on the other hand, tends to be lighter in tone.

2. Dark fantasy has a quest, just not, perhaps, an external one. For example, The Lords of Darkness starts out with a love story between a young man and the Lord of Darkness himself, and it appears, on the surface, that the quest is external. But over the course of the many stories, all of which read like short stories or novellas but are all tied together into one overarching plot, it become clear that the Lord of Darkness is the main protagonist and that’s he’s trying to find a way to keep humanity and their worship of him alive.

The Last Unicorn, which I’m starting to think is dark fantasy, starts out as an external quest (to find the other unicorns) but turns into a deeper quest of what it means to be ageless and magical and what it means to be mortal and not-so-magical and how to reconcile the two when both seem at odds and yet both can be strong.

Epic fantasy, on the other hand, has a clear quest that’s external to the main character. The evil guy must be defeated by doing x which will lead to y result. There may be introspection, but it isn’t necessary to the story itself and may, at times, get in the way. (Wonderful as it is, and I really do love it, how much introspection does Aragorn or Frodo go through in Tolkien’s series?)

3. There isn’t necessarily a happy ending. I take issue with this somewhat. Horror is, at the core, a morality tale. Have sex instead of watching the kid, and you might get slaughtered by a monster or end up in some kind of supernatural hell, damned forever. Think you’re innocent? Oh, no, not really. Horror tends to show people as they “really” are and, at the same time, make the innocents prove that they really are better than most of humanity. As a result, there are definite tragedies in the horror genre. (I still haven’t gotten over the ending of The Shining, which really broke my heart.)

But the dark fantasy I’ve read and enjoyed, like The Dark Elf trilogy, does have a happy ending. It may not be the ending you thought was coming. It may not be the kind where all the good people get everything they ever wanted (that includes staying alive). But it’s satisfying and leaves me happy with where the characters are.

In that sense, I would say dark fantasy has a realistic element to it, even in a fantastical setting.

And, by the way, this doesn’t mean there needs to be a lot of profanity or sex. Realism means not everything turns out the way you thought it would. Not everything broken in the course of the story gets fixed.

Contrast this to epic or heroic fantasy, where good always vanquishes evil and there’s a sense that the world has been set to rights. Lord of the Rings is a great example of that, though I’ll admit Frodo’s end makes my point debatable.

4. Dark fantasy either subverts or at least questions what’s good and what’s evil. In The Dark Elf trilogy, it’s very clear to Drizzt what’s good and what’s evil and nothing really varies from that. However, The Lords of Darkness most certainly plays with notions of good and evil, and Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series has people worshiping The Darkness which isn’t actually dark in the typical sense. As mentioned in my review of the first book, Daughter of the Blood, it’s more like a primal beginning. Those who reject the Darkness are the ones who are horrifying in their evil. And, as a side note, Anne Bishops’ book Sebastian, has as one of its primary settings The Den of Iniquity, which turns out to be different than what it initially appears.

Epic fantasy, however, tends to make it clear from the beginning what’s good and what’s evil. The Sword of Shannara is a good example of that, as is The Eye of the World. And, of course, Lord of the Rings. A person can be tempted by evil, but the evil guy is clearly evil and someone to be defeated.

This would put The Dark Crystal more into the dark fantasy subgenre, since the Skeksies, evil as they are, are actually the evil side of another set of creatures, split off as part of their battle amongst themselves. Once they’re joined with the good Mystics, they become whole. And the lesson is that we carry dark and light within us. We cannot truly be split.

5. Dark fantasy doesn’t hold back when it comes to pain. Here’s where I definitely agree with putting The Dark Crystal in the dark fantasy camp. Dark fantasy has pain galore within its pages. Like, horrifying, I don’t know if I can watch this, make have nightmares pain. The use of the dark crystal to drain life, the casual way living creatures are eaten while still alive, the slavery of the podlings, the genocide, the abandonment of a child, and the death of one of the main characters, all of it was pain.

Pan’s Labyrinth was the same. Truly horrifying stuff and the pain so many characters go through made the ending only somewhat worth it. I really wish there had been a stronger joy to that ending because holy crap was there a lot of agony in that movie.

I think I’ve covered most of it. I’ve linked a few sites below if you want to take a closer look, but really, this is a subgenre that’s not clearly defined.

However, in looking at it, I can see that yes, it is a genre I’ve already loved. I just didn’t have a name for it until now.

What about you? Do you think I’m right or wrong? And do you love this subgenre, too? Let me know in the comments!

More About Dark Fantasy:

TV Tropes: Dark Fantasy

Discussion on Reddit of Dark Fantasy and Other Subgenres

Wikipedia: Dark Fantasy

14 Dark Fantasy Books to Read and Explore on Long, Cold Nights