Tag Archives: romance

Kristin Landon – “The Hidden Worlds”

3 Jun

GENRE: Science fiction
PUBLISHED: Ace Books, 2007

SERIES: “Hidden Worlds” series, #1

WHY THIS NOVEL: I’m not completely sure but I think I read a comment on The Galaxy express a few weeks ago that sounded intriguing so I took a closer look at this series.

The back blurb:
“After the Earth was destroyed by ruthless machine intelligences known as the Cold Minds, the remnants of the human race sought refuge on far-flung planets. Humanity was saved by a hereditary guild of jump pilots who now control all travel and communication among the Hidden Worlds…

Nineteen-year-old Linnea Kiaho lives on a backwater hostile planet, one of the poorest of the Hidden Worlds. To save her family, Linnea does the unspeakable: She accepts an indenture on the godless, decadent home world of the Pilot Masters, hoping that she will be able to barter an old family secret into a future for her loved ones–and perhaps for her planet as well.

Linnea’s unwilling master, the pilot Iain sen Paolo, knows nothing about her secret. But to spite his father, he joins her in uncovering a truth that could throw the Pilot Masters into chaos at a time when they can least afford weakness. For after six centuries, the Cold Minds have discovered the Hidden Worlds…”

The Hidden Worlds is a science fiction novel. There is a romantic thread in the story but this novel is definitely science fiction and not romance. It’s there in the setting, it’s there in the world building, it’s there in the main concern of the story. I would also say that the pacing is different than in most romances and that there’s less dialog.

The novel begins with the people of a small village on one of the nearly forgotten planets of the Hidden Worlds awaiting the return of their only source of livelihood: the ship on which nearly all the men of the village work. But instead of the return, they see prove that the ship is no more and that the men won’t come back.

Linnea is one of those people. She isn’t married so she didn’t lose her husband as nearly every other women in the village did. But married or not, the loss of the ship means doom to her as to all the other villagers if they don’t move to the town. And so they all do, even knowing that life in town won’t be much better with all the people seeking work there and fewer and fewer jumpships docking on their planet with supplies.

It’s there Linnea first really realizes the power of the Pilot Masters when she is told:

“The Pilot Masters, the men of the Line–they decide, and the decision is final. They control all the communications, all the cargo, all the passengers that come in and out of every world. No one else can do what they do, run their damned ships–excuse me. That gives them total power.” (15)

The power of the Pilot Masters is one of the most important elements in this novel.

When Linnea learns of a secret concerning the family of one Pilot Master, she concocts a dangerous plan to save her sister and her sister’s children and – if she can – to save her home planet from being abandoned by the Pilot Masters. She doesn’t know the exact nature of the secret but nevertheless, sets off to the world of the Pilot Masters. She’s fulfilling a contract her family was offered long ago to become a servant in the household of the Pilot Master who keeps the secret (at the end, this part still seems a bit too convenient).

Linnea’s home planet Santandru is a backward planet with barely any technology. It’s a planet of hard manual labor and no amenities. The society is traditional and women who were not at least once married (which would probably be “all unmarried women” if there weren’t all those losses at sea) are regarded as an oddity. Sexually open relationships between men and women are strongly disapproved of.

The home planet of the Pilot Masters, Nexus, is totally different. It’s an all-men, decadent, sexually depraved world where hard manual labor is not existent, at least for the families of Pilot Masters, and women are shipped in for breeding or pleasure (though male lovers are quite common, too). Houses are intelligent and capable of taking care of everything so having servants is not a necessity.

Given all that, it’s really no wonder that going there means becoming an outcast in Linnea’s world. Even Linnea’s sister won’t speak with Linnea again after she knows of Linnea’s plan, no matter that Linnea does it to save her sister and her sister’s children from starvation.

And so the story begins. And the bleak beginning sets the tone of the novel.

The Hidden Worlds tells a dark and gritty story, a story where the action is driven by the villains, where the main characters can only react rather than act and are at a disadvantage (nearly) all the time, where the power of a few is set against the welfare of all, and where an inhuman threat is on the rise. It’s a story of lies, pain, loss, vicious cruelty and torture and rape. And that’s just what the humans are capable of; it leaves out what the cold minds do and are. That is even more chilling (though there are similar concepts in some horror movies).

But it’s also a story of hope and truth, rare as it is, and it’s Linnea who isn’t willing to accept fate, to lie down and die. And secondary as it is, it’s a story where love overcomes all differences between a Pilot Master and an ordinary human and this is possible:

She blinked hard, as if to keep back tears. “And what if I can never let you touch me–what if it never happens again?”
His heart ached for her. “Then it never happens,” he said. “Eat. It’s best if we think only about today. Tomorrow will keep.” (343)

And what began as a story to save Linnea’s family, and her planet, turns into a story to save the whole galaxy from a lie and from the cold minds. The ending of The Hidden Worlds is just the beginning – a few people taking up the fight against inhumanity in all its forms.

Verdict: I wavered between 4/5 and 4,5/. In the end, I decided on going with 4,5/5 because I thought the look at power and corruption in this novel interesting. The Hidden Worlds is a dark and gritty novel around complex moral and political questions. If I had the second book here with me right now, I would be reading and not writing.


C. L. Wilson – "Lord Of The Fading Lands"

16 Nov

GENRE: Fantasy (Paranormal Romance)
PUBLISHED: Leisure Books, 2007

The back blurb:
“Once he had scorched the world.
Once he had driven back overwhelming darkness.
Once he had loved with passion, his name was legend … Tairen Soul.
Now a thousand years later, a new threat calls him from the Fading Lands, back into the world that had cost him so dearly. Now an ancient, familiar evil is regaining its strength, and a new voice beckons him – more compelling, more seductive, more maddening than any before.
As the power of his most bitter enemy grows and ancient alliances crumble, the wildness in his blood will not be denied. The tairen must claim his truemate and embrace the destiny woven for him in the mists of time.”

Many, many readers like this novel very much. I saw only one not-so-enthusiastic opinion about it (after I ordered it). Overall, the consensus is that LotFL is epic fantasy with a strong romance which is something I like to read. And that it is very good. I was so sold.

But I’m afraid, for me the promise didn’t live up to the delivery. I don’t say it’s bad, I just say it’s not that good. Let me start with the characters.

Ellie is the heroine of this story and the truemate to the tairen soul (Rain). And she’s a respectable Mary-Sue character for sure. Not particular attractive, maybe even ugly? Check. Teased and something of an outsider? Check. Kind, caring, and soooo nice (despite that)? Check. Adopted with unknown parentage? Check. A dark secret? Check. Incredible powerful and doesn’t even know about it? Check. Able to enthrall the males of her truemate’s race just because she does something, e.g. moaning in pleasure after drinking? Check. Mere mortal and truemate to an incredible powerful being (there’s more)? Check. Truemate to an incredible powerful being who once scorched the world and went mad for a couple of hundred years after his heartmate (a “lesser” connection than a truemate connection) died (there’s still more)? Check. The only truemate to a Tairen Soul in history evah? Check.

Now the hero, Rain Tairen Soul, is a wish come true for every respectable Mary-Sue character. Beautiful beyond belief? Check. King of his race? Check. More powerful than any other of his race? Check. The last with a special ability of his race? Check. In short, if there is a superlative to match, Rain does match it.

There are many characters introduced in the story but overall, they are either good or evil. There is (nearly) nothing in between (except my hope that in the next volume something goes down for our sweeeet heroine, Ellie).

As for the story, there is not much happening. The enemy is stirring – well, of course! – and in pursuit of Ellie. Who is – who would have thought! – somehow connected to it. There are inklings that Ellie is super-powerful – well, yes! – and the romance has shades of Cinderella and courtship scenes which are sometimes a bit too much. I get it that they’re supposed to show that being truemates doesn’t equal love (more on that later) but what we get to see is more like the obligatory sequence of scenes from the script of a romantic movie. You know the one I mean: the couple does all kind of things together which are shown in a whirlwind of pictures and with music playing in the background (I’m sure there’s a name for this). This extensive show of courtship rituals, while necessary for the truemate thing, didn’t much advance the story or characters. They were well-known scenes and as that I didn’t find them written compellingly enough to make them look interesting or fresh. For example, of course Ellie enjoys flying with Rain in his tairen form. In short, there’s a feeling that the courtship scenes (and other scenes) could have been written more economically. The way they are now, I think they are an important factor why the story slowed down after the beginning. I had no trouble putting the book down after the first few chapters. Thankfully, near the end the story starts to pick up speed again.

Some things about the fantasy aspect:
– good vs evil with well-known world-building aspects and plot elements (nothing surprising so far, but I “see” some possibilities)
– apostrophe language and fancy names (I had especially fun with “Shei’tan” and “Shei’tani” – there’s a real life meaning of these “made up” words that’s at odds with their made up meaning in a very hilarious way)
– the magic system: Let’s just say that compared to Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris, the magic system in LotFL seems to be the equivalent of snipping your fingers and pulling the rabbit out of the hat. I can’t remember if there’s some kind of drawback for the 8heavy) use of magic (and what does this say?). Some questions: why can’t nobody detect the “dark” magic? And since they obviously can’t, why didn’t they develop other means to guard or or at least think of it as a possibility?

And a last, nit-picking thing: Ellie knows so much about the fey and truemates and so on. But she doesn’t recognize the claiming words for truemates and believes Rand will leave her even though he recognizes her as his truemate?

Now, what did I like?

I quite enjoy the truemate / heartmate distinction Wilson makes. Too often, when a mate-thing is thrown in a story it goes like: “You’re my mate. You’re mine. We love each other:” Wilson shows that there is a difference between having a connection because it is your fate (variations of the mate thing) and having a connection because it is your choice (falling in love with each other). Ellie realizes this and she’s not happy about it. She might be the sun (truemate) to the moon (heartmate) – which I think is quite a lovely line – and so in fact offered much more than the moon. But she isn’t chosen of free will. Much time (also not in a completely convincing way, see above) is given to show that a truemate bond doesn’t equal (instant) love.

I liked that LotFL is a story with a tight connection between two genres: romance and fantasy. You don’t find that often.

I think the story has some potential and I think that some time in the future, I will pick up the second volume. It won’t be right away. And it won’t be for the main characters or the main story. (Well, there is Ellie and the “darkness” which is kind of interesting.) But when I get the second part, it will be for little but interesting things in LotFL which I want to see how they turn out, if they’re important, if I’m right about them and so on.

Would I recommend this novel? Probably yes.

Would I read this novel again? Maybe.

Grade: 3- / 5

Sharon Shinn – “Mystic And Rider”

19 Dec

GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Ace Books, 2006

The back blurb:
“Gillengaria seethes with unrest. In the south, hostility toward magic and its users has risen to a dangerous level, though King Baryn has ordered that such mystics are to be tolerated. It is whispered that he issued the decree because his new wife used her magic powers to ensnare him …
The King knows there are those in the noble Twelve Houses who could use this growing dissent to overthrow him. So he dispatches the mystic Senneth to assess the threat throughout the realm. Accompanying her is a motley band of magic users and warriors including Tayse, first among the King’s Riders – who holds a hard view of mystics in general, and Senneth in particular.
But as the unlikely allies venture farther into the south, they will face death in a land under the sway of a fanatical cult that would purge Gillengaria of all magic users. And they will come to realize that their only hope of survival lies in standing together …”

Mystic and Rider is the first instalment of a new fantasy series by Sharon Shinn. As such, it is nearly the prototype of a introductory novel: a group of six adventurers (mystics and Riders) are investigating the rumours of unrest in southern Gillengaria at the request of the King. And this is more or less the whole plot of this road adventure novel.

It’s episodic instead of following the pattern of rising action, climax and resolution. The group travels from one place to another and (nearly) at each spop something happens. What does change is, that it gets more perilous the farther south the group goes. Wandering around is a classic device to let the reader know about the world of the novel without too much info-dump. The reader learns about the Twelve Houses, their alliances and history, and where they would possibly stand if there is a rebellion against the King; and about a religious cult that is shaping up to play an important part in the next books.

The problem is, it’s soon clear that trouble is brewing but the six go on. Why? Answer: so the reader gets to see all of the kingdom (well, okay, some parts are still missing). He/She ends the novel with more or less the same things that started it: there is trouble in the south. And not the least of it is because of religious differences. Small consolation, at least it seems Mystic and Rider ends with all the players in place and set up for “action” in the next volume.

What made Mystic and Rider an interesting read nonetheless is Shinn’s description of the characters’ relations with each other. The small group of six mirrors the conflict between mystics and non-mystics in Gillengaria’s society where non-mystic people are wary or distrustful of mystics. This conflict is even more pronounced in the developing relationship between Senneth and Tayse. But whereas the novel ends with some kind of trust between the group’s riders and mystics (and Senneth’s and Tayse’s love), society at large is heading for big trouble here with the emergence of the religious cult. Aside from questions about how to deal with differences (or minorities), Shinn also addresses questions about power and the struggle for power, and about loyalty and how far loyalty should go. Interesting stuff, and it’s what kept me reading.

One thing I found a little annoying: some of the mystics’ skills seemed a bit too convenient; as is the raelynx (some kind of cat) sometimes; Senneth is the often encountered over-powered chick in fantasy series – especially in comparison with other mystics and their abilities here.

Would I recommend this novel? Probably yes.

Would I read this novel again? Maybe; depends on the next one.

Grade: 3,5 / 5

Laura Resnick – “Disappearing Nightly”

11 Dec

GENRE: Urban Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Luna Books, 2006

The back blurb:
“I’m not a heroine – I just play one. Along with psychotics, vamps, housewives and hookers. As my agent is fond of pointing out, there are more actors in New York than there are people in most other cities. Translation: beggars can’t be choosers.
This explains how I wound up prancing around stage half naked the night Golly Gee – the female lead in the off-Broadway show ‘Sorcerer!’ – disappeared into thin air. Literally.
Now other performers are also vanishing, and a mysterious stranger is warning me:
There is evil among us. But the producers want me to take over Golly’s part.
Looks as if I’m going to need a little magical help if I want to keep my starring role …”

I liked other novels by Laura Resnick, so I was interested in reading this one.

Disappearing Nightly tells the story of Esther Diamond’s search for persons gone missing in vanishing acts on stage in New York. It’s told in first person and is often written in a humorous way that worked for me:

“I despise movies where the heroine is threatened and simply ignores it, acting as if there’s nothing to worry about. I mean, if you got a mysterious note telling you not to go into the attic, and you knew the last person who’d gone into the attic had gotten into a whole lot of trouble – well, would you really just shrug, toss the note aside, and head for the attic without another thought?
If you would, then frankly, you’re the kind of person who deserves what’s going to happen to you up there.
So naturally, when I received my mysterious threatening note, I gave it my full attention.” (p. 15)

I liked that Resnick tried to bring humour and fun into urban fantasy, and I found the mix of screwball comedy and this setting interesting and refreshing. The heroine often finds herself in quite hilarious situations and I had fun reading this novel.

Naturally, what worked best for me was Esther’s interaction with the detective assigned to the missing-performers case. His name is Connor Lopez, and – as one of the other characters always says – “he’s hot.” Sadly, Esther and Connor don’t have as much screen time together as I would’ve liked. But this is a paranormal, not a romance so I can’t really complain. The goal of the scenes between Esther and Connor is to show their attraction to each other. And that is something which Resnick did very well.

There are parts I found a bit slow in reading. This happened after Esther found “magical help” and often when Esther, and all the other secondary characters, worked on solving the case. These other characters involved in I thought just a bit too contrived and colourful in their design to be funny. So here the screwball-like interaction fell a bit flat. But that is a matter of taste and overall I really appreciate what Laura Resnick tried to do here.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 3,5 / 5