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1.06: In which it's time for another round of everyone's favourite dysfunctional Vulcan family saga. Luckily for me, since I eat this stuff up with a spoon.
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by Isabel Cooper
September 5, 2017 · Sourcebooks Casablanca
RomanceScience Fiction/FantasyParanormalHistorical: Other
This series was recommended by so many people on Twitter and in my inbox, I grabbed it immediately and skipped it to the top of my TBR spreadsheet. This was a good decision on my part.
Cathal MacAlasdair is running his family’s castle in remote Scotland, though he’s much better suited to running around doing soldiery things. He’s also a dragon shifter, something the people who live in his castle know about, but not a lot of people really discuss openly. Sophia Metzger is an alchemist who is traveling to the keep with a best friend and companion (and sequel bait) because she would really like to have, if Cathal doesn’t mind, some dragon scales for her experiments.
I really liked a number of things about this book, so I’ll start with those. I liked very much how Sophia is candid and honest about her purpose in making a very long, difficult, and very cold journey. She was much less hesitant about revealing her goal than she was about revealing that she’s Jewish. Said Jewishness could get her killed easily, and no one would care or protest much, so when she tells Cathal, she’s putting her life in his hands, and it takes him a second to remember that. He can’t immediately think of a reason why he should care, but that type of perspective is naturally born out of being a few hundred years old.
There are a number of minor ways in which Sophia’s faith and observance affect her residency at the keep, including one where Cathal kills a deer and asks if she’ll be able to eat it. It was touching because Cathal is trying to provide for everyone in his care, including Sophia, but he doesn’t expect her to compromise or change her practices to make his life easier.
Cathal and Sophia’s interactions in the first 3/4ths of the book were SO MUCH CATNIP. Cathal is not a natural at running a community, caring for people, and managing an estate and all the moving pieces (and people) within it. He misses his life as a soldier, and he’s got major concerns in his house – which he barters with Sophia to help solve (more on that in a minute). He’s also the youngest child in his family, and that role influences his worldview as well. He takes his responsibilities seriously, but he really, really doesn’t enjoy them or find them a natural fit to his personality or temperament.
Meanwhile, Sophia is really good at alchemy. She’s into research and experiments, lining up planetary and herbal influences to create potions to aid in the care and health of people around her. She’s like a non-magical, historical, proto-STEM heroine in a lot of ways. Her scientific rigor, research, curiosity, and brilliance with natural and alchemical puzzles was fascinating.
When she asks Cathal if she could maybe, you know, have some of his scales if he didn’t mind and all, he agrees – if she agrees to try to help his friend and fellow soldier, who was attacked by a sorcerer and is now visibly fading and dissolving before their eyes. There’s a mix of fantasy and magic in this story, and while some part of it worked brilliantly, other elements (hur hur) did not.
Cathal’s identity as a dragon, and as part of a magical family of extraordinary creatures was beautifully integrated into the world of the story, just as much as Sophia’s Jewishness – though the latter is not treated as some sort of mystical identity, so don’t worry. Cathal has rituals and spells that assist him in caring for the people in his castle and in the village beyond, and can switch between forms as needed without too much fanfare. But he’s also secretive about it, and is worried that seeing him change will cause Sophia to run in terror. To her credit, she is a little scared but way too curious intellectually to allow fear to limit her opportunity to study a dragon up close.
I loved the contrast between Cathal’s struggle with large-scale homemaking, and Sophia’s dedication to science and experiments, some of which are dangerous to her personally. I also really liked the way that languages were obstacles to communicating and understanding each other. Sophia and her friend speak Hebrew, French and English, and Cathal is constantly switching to French from Gaelic to make sure Sophia understands what’s being said. (There’s one scene where he has to translate between Sophia and another woman who have no language in common between them, and the degree to which he does not understand what they’re talking about, and his determination to get everything right, were adorable.)
Most of all, I really liked the historical competence porn of running a castle when you know there’s a blizzard coming, and managing travelers and guests, dealing with residents and nonresidents, caring for the villagers, and figuring out where to put this alchemist who might blow things up. The parts where Sophia is doing experiments and Cathal is still trying to figure out how to effectively manage his family’s castle were my favorite parts.
Then there were the very fantastical, dreamscape elements, and I was not as enamored of those. There is a Big Bad in this story, the sorcerer who harmed Cathal’s friend Fergus, the one who is dissolving. Said Sorcerer (who has taken on a pretentious name, which Sophia makes fun of when she learns about him, which was hilarious) has demanded Cathal join him, or Fergus will fully dissolve and die. Sophia is determined to cure Fergus, and maybe defeat this sorcerer or at least detach his hold on Fergus permanently. As the story progresses, the sorcerer attacks Sophia through her dreams, which leads to several extended scenes that were very, very weird.
The rules of the mortal world could easily accommodate Cathal’s dragon-ness, and Sophia’s alchemical skills and abilities. But the fantasy world or dreamscape world or whatever it was, felt so detached and nebulous, it bored the hell out of me. Sophia figured out how to navigate things way too quickly, and took actions that saved her own life over and over that didn’t seem possible. She was the Mary Sue of the sorcerer’s dreamscape world, which pissed off the pretentious sorcerer and bored me silly. Sophia figuring out how to develop potions, having them work partially or maybe explode? I totally buy that. Sophia navigating a world of demons, trees, and shoes that transform into bridges? Didn’t work for me. The fantasyland quest was the least interesting part of the story for me, and because the climax of a lot of the action happens in that fantasyland to resolve the issue of the Big Bad Pretentious Sorcerer, I was pretty unsatisfied.
What about the romance? It’s slowly built, which I liked, though there’s a long middle where Cathal has lusty thoughts which distract him from Running the Castle, which he doesn’t appreciate. Then he realizes that Sophia, her presence and his very brief conversations with her, are making the drudgery and insecurity of his inexperience with household management bearable. He looks forward to seeing her, and she grows from being a bright spot on the periphery of his day to being one of the key elements in his life. Sophia is overwhelmed by Cathal and is pretty sure there’s no way for them to be together given their widely different social and biological status (he’s a dragon, after all, and very long lived). The solutions to those issues were very quickly introduced and accepted, which made the resolution much less satisfying considering the duration and dimension of the build up.
The ending to the romance was also frustrating for me, and I am not sure how to explain without spoiling the details, so please pardon the spoiler:
All that aside, I had a really good time reading this book. I loved the detail, the integration of fantasy and chemistry and history and alchemy into the world of a Scottish castle in the 1300s, and I really liked Sophia and Cathal. While I wasn’t as enthused about the dreamscape journey or the ending, I’m definitely going to read the next book in this series, Highland Dragon Rebel. There’s mention of the “otherworld” in the cover copy (darn it) but the heroine is Cathal’s sister, and she’s also a dragon shifter. I’m totally here for that.
I receive a number of email messages each day asking for recommendations. Sometimes the request is based on having discovered a particular book, author, or trope (speaking of, have you seen our growing “Genres, Archetypes, and Themes” collection?). Other times, I’m asked for help identifying a book or two that might satisfy a particular mood or desire.
It’s probably not a surprise to anyone anywhere that my first suggestion for anyone looking for comfort and solace inside rage and vengeance is the Call of Crows series by Shelly Laurenston. As I wrote in my review of The Undoing:
The reason to read this series is not just the romances, which are terrific, but for the Crows themselves. They represent and embody coalesced female rage, and it’s incredible. Every slight against women, every crime against women throughout history is represented among the Crow membership (they have to die to be reborn through Skuld, after all) and the injustice and pain of having been victims fuels their power and their violent rage. They are unapologetically fierce and amazing to read about. If one looks at what happens to women throughout time, there’s a lot to be angry about. To me, the Crows represent the justifiable fury in response to all of it.
If you’re looking for literary representation of and an outlet for your possibly overflowing fury repository, a clan of women warriors whose mantra is Let Rage Be Your Guide might help you out.
But fear not – we have several other suggestions for “When You Want to Burn It All Down.”the most recent edition of Whatcha Reading? but I don’t think there’s a limit on how much one can discuss this book: Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan.
As Elyse said:
It’s an epic fantasy about a group of women with magical abilities working to overthrow a patriarchal, repressive society. Their magic is tied to the ability to read and use words of power.
This is a weird recommendation for me: as I mentioned in our Whatcha Reading post, I want to read this book, but after reading the first chapter, I knew it would overly-stimulate the part of my brain that likes to wake me up in the middle of the night with nightmares about violence. Based on that first chapter, I have a strong indication that this book is going to be incredible, and I’m so, so excited that Elyse found it and is enjoying it. (I can’t wait to ask her all about it, too.) (I’m a horrible person to correspond with for that reason.)
Amanda, I am betting, wants to recommend A Promise of Fire, and also has a key role in the development of this list. Amanda, which of the Kresley Cole Immortals After Dark series feature the most rage-filled, burn-it-all-down characters? Alas, the titles all blend together into a strange amalgam of Dark Needy Nights at the Edge of Wicked King Demon Darkness.
Amanda: Sarah knows me so well.
If I had to pick just one of the Immortals After Dark series, I’m partial to the latest one, Wicked Abyss ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). The heroine outsmarts so many people who are physically more powerful than she is. Plus, the climax of her revenge plot is a moment in my romance reading history that I’ll remember forever.
In other burn it down recommendations, I loved Burn Down the Night by Molly O’Keefe ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). The heroine kidnaps the hero (who is part of a motorcycle club) and keeps him handcuffed to a bed until he agrees to help rescue her sister from a cult. The heroine, Joan, is unapologetic and so tough!Dating You/Hating You puts a “down with the patriarchy” contemporary spin on “burning it all down.” She fights against workplace sexism and I love how she refuses to sacrifice her goals. She knows what her work experience is worth and she’s kickassingly (yes, this is a new word, trademark pending) uncompromising.
I’m sure I have a handful of other recommendations lurking in my brain that I’ll remember long after this post goes live, but I hope these will do!
Sarah: What about you? Do you have any recommendations you turn to when you have that “Why, I’m Terribly Sorry to Mention It, But I’d like to Burn It All Down with Ragefire” feeling? Please share!
Roar by Cora Carmack is $2.99! This is a YA fantasy with romance, royalty, and magic. This is also a Kindle Daily Deal that is being price-matched. Do check out the other deals today, as Poldark is also on sale, as well as subsequent books. I think there’s a bit of a cliffhanger, though I’m not 100% positive.
New York Times bestselling author Cora Carmack’s young adult debut: Roar.
In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.
Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.
To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.
Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.
She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.
Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley is $1.99! McKinley has been recommended several times at SBTB HQ. Some readers label this as young adult and, for the most part, I’d agree with that sentiment. According to reviews on Goodreads, there were complaints about the balance of narrative to action, but many loved this different take on the vampire story. I know many of you have read this one, so let us know in the comments whether you loved it or hated it!
“Her feet are already bleeding – if you like feet…”
There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it’s unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.
They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion – within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.
She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she’s to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day…
Keepsake by Sarina Bowen is 99c! This is the third book in the True North series, which comes highly recommended. Though be warned, this book does seem to have two characters who have experienced serious forms of trauma. Also, some reviews mention the hero a beta hero and a virgin. CATNIP! For those familiar with the series, what do you think?
There’s a first time for everything.
Lark Wainright used to be fearless. Her life was a series of adventures, each one more exhilarating than the last. But her recent overseas adventure was one too many. Now she’s home and in one piece. Mostly. But her nights are filled with terror.
When her best friend offers her a stay at the orchard in exchange for help at the farmers’ markets, Lark jumps at the chance to spend fall in Vermont. But her nightmares don’t stop. Desperate to keep her fragile state a secret, she relies on the most soft-spoken resident of the Shipley Farm to soothe her when her dreams prove too much.
Zachariah is a survivor, too. It’s been four years since he was tossed aside by the polygamist cult where he grew up. He’s found a peaceful existence on the Shipley’s farm, picking apples and fixing machinery. But getting thrown away by your own people at nineteen leaves a mark on a guy. He doesn’t always know what to make of a world where movie quotes are the primary means of communication. Before hitchhiking to Vermont, he’d never watched TV or spoken on the phone.
Actually, there are a lot of things he’s never done.
Zach and Lark slowly grow to trust one another. One night they become even closer than they’d planned. But Lark may still be too broken to trust anyone. When she pushes Zach away, he will have to prove to himself that he’s good for much more than farm labor.
Wild & Sweet by Rhenna Morgan is 99c! This is the second book in the Haven Brotherhood series and has a blue collar, mechanic heroine, which is something you don’t see too often! Readers said this was a great new-to-them author and that the main characters had great chemistry. However, some took issue with the doctor hero’s ambiguous behavior.
Live hard, f*ck harder and make their own rules. Those are the cornerstones the six Men of Haven bleed by: taking what they want, always watching each other’s backs, and loving the women they claim with unyielding tenderness and fierce passion.
Zeke Dugan is not a man who walks the straight and narrow. He may have sworn an oath as a trauma doc, but he has zero problem leveraging his medical skills outside a hospital if it means giving his family an advantage. Blood before business. All that changes when shy Gabrielle stumbles into his life.
Mechanic Gabrielle Parker prefers the complexities of an engine over men. Her life wasn’t always quiet and well-ordered, but now that it is, she finds peace in the solitude. When a robbery in her neighborhood forces her out of her safe bubble, she never fathoms that a dangerous, cocky trauma doctor will fix more than her injuries.
Zeke doesn’t play by the rules but is exactly what Gabrielle needs in her life. He’ll show her the fierce and uncompromising protection that comes from belonging to a man like him. No one will hurt his woman, even if it means putting the very men who saved his life at risk.
Oh dear, another blooper from David Mitchell in this week's Observer New Review.
Or, at least, a classic case of writing about something before reading it properly.
The first was that Cambridge University lecture timetables are being labelled with “trigger warnings” about the plots of various literary works, including The Bacchae and Titus Andronicus. So English literature undergraduates are being protected from the knowledge of, among other things, what one of Shakespeare’s plays is about, in case it upsets them.That is so not what the furore about this that I saw across my bits of social media was: what I saw was the push-back against the elitist assumption that eny fule already no that Titus Andronicus contains murder, rape, mutilation, and involuntary cannibalism (not to mention massive amount of racism).
And trigger-warnings aren't about protecting people from the knowledge that works of art contain disturbing material: they're precisely about letting people who haven't yet encountered them know that they contain material some people may find upsetting. Like the warnings you see at the beginning of a movie, just so you know what you're letting yourself in for.
And I'm really not sure that one can assume general cultural familiarity with one of the less-produced of Shakespeare's plays (the one that suggests that, had he been writing in the 1960s, he'd have been working for Hammer Horror - while some of the early comedies suggest also possibly moonlighting for the Carry On films, but I digress). Okay, there has been a movie version of the play itself, and Theatre of Blood alludes to it in one of the vengeances taken against the critics of the protag. But I doubt it's all that well-known to the individual on the Clapham omnibus.
I love this series because it’s got a breathless pace. I would categorize it as historical action/ adventure. It’s also got some of the best anti-heroes (Lazarus Huntington, anyone?) and tough-as-nails heroines I’ve ever read. Add masked vigilantes, some light bondage, a Beauty and the Beast novel, set to low for 8 hours, stir before serving, and you have a recipe for all of Elyse’s catnip.
After twelve books, the series is wrapping up, which is giving me all the bittersweet feels. Author Elizabeth Hoyt agreed to answer a few of my questions about the Maiden Lane world.
Elyse: First of all, thanks for being super cool at RT in Dallas when I showed up in the lobby in my pajamas to meet you. I’m pretty sure my PJs had cats in astronaut gear on them, I was holding a glass of champagne, and you didn’t bat an eyelash.
Elizabeth Hoyt: Ha! I think that was after another looong RITAs program…. PJs sounded like a good idea.
Elyse: One of the things I love so much about the Maiden Lane series is that it has such a strong action/ adventure element to it. We have masked vigilantes, river pirates, and dukes working to bring down cults. The characters are always moving, always doing, and often in danger. How do you incorporate all these different elements into your world? As a writer, is it difficult to maintain that kind of pace?
Elyse: This series has a very distinct sense of time and place. You write in the Georgian era around the 1730’s and 1740’s, well before the Regency. What made you want to write about this specific period in English history?
Elizabeth Hoyt: I think it’s more interesting. The time is slightly more earthy, the dresses are (in my opinion) more elegant, and the guys are wearing wigs and swords. Lots of things are happening socially and economically. London’s population is exploding, the Enlightenment is blooming, the agricultural revolution is beginning, and people are discovering real science. All the great action adventure romances in movies and books were set in this time period — Scaramouche, Captain Blood, The Scarlet Pimpernel—and my favorite as a very impressionable twelve year old—Poldark.
Elyse: My favorite Maiden Lane heroes are always the anti-heroes. When I recommend Wicked Intentions I tell people the hero was like Lucius Malfoy if he was a romance hero who was also into bondage. The Duke of Montgomery reminds me of Patrick Jane, one of my favorite TV characters. And then there’s Mickey O’Connor, an actual pirate. All of these heroes do some really dubious things, are clearly flawed, yet somehow totally work as heroes. How do you balance the anti-hero and hero out so they don’t alienate the reader? Are your heroes inspired by any historical or pop culture figures?
Elizabeth Hoyt: I think the writer has to reveal the anti-hero’s humanity to the reader to make them work. The reader has to sympathize with the character if not his actions. But I don’t worry about alienating the reader too much. I think a lot of romance writers don’t take enough risks with their villainy heroes—they’re too worried that readers won’t like the character. If a few readers don’t loathe a character, others won’t love him.
I don’t really base my characters on real or fictional figures, though I’ve certainly been inspired by them. Case in point, Lazarus’s look in Wicked Intentions was a direct result of seeing Jason Isaacs in a long, white-blond wig in the Harry Potter films, OMG.
Elyse: You also write really tough, resilient heroines. Lady Phoebe Batten from Dearest Rogue is blind, and determined to prove to her protector that it doesn’t hold her back at all. Temperance and her sister Silence are both faced with some really dire circumstances that they approach with remarkable grit. And Alf from Duke of Pleasure is basically Batman. Who is your favorite heroine? Who was the most fun to write?
Elizabeth Hoyt: I think Phoebe is my favorite heroine — she’s just so strong and cheerful — and it was a fun challenge to write her POV scenes without any visual descriptions. I really enjoyed writing Alf, not only because she’s a smartass but because swordfights! In a dress!
Elyse: As sad as I am to see this series end, I’m excited for what’s to come. Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
Elizabeth Hoyt: I’ve been dodging this question for the last several months—not because I didn’t have something I’ve been working on, but because I wasn’t ready to reveal anything about my new series.
But I think I’ve got enough of the first book to give you a tiny—exclusive!—peek:
Lady Freya de Moray has never had a season, never been courted. Due to the terrible scandal involving her brother, the Duke of Ayr, she’s been shunned. Now eight-and-twenty, she’s changed her name and found employment in London as a governess-cum-chaperone for two young girls. It’s unappreciated work, but she’s grown fond of her charges and made peace with her life.
Until, that is, she runs into Christopher “Kester” Renshaw, the Earl of Harlow, the man who helped ruin her brother and destroyed her life. Not only does the scoundrel not recognize Freya, he’s wearing the Ayr ring—a family heirloom taken off the finger of her brother the night he was disfigured. On the spot Freya decides to take back a little of what was snatched from her family…and steal that ring.
Elyse: Oh, like that’s going to be an easy book to wait for!
So if you’re thinking you’d like to try the Maiden Lane series, and you’re not sure where to start, Forever Publishing is making it very easy with a giveaway!
We have a complete set of all the paperback Maiden Lane novels, with signed bookplates, and a Forever romance tote bag for one lucky winner!
YES. The ENTIRE paperback series, including:
That’s a lot of books – and it’s perfect for binge reading. To enter, just leave a comment and tell us what essentials you’ll have with you for this binge-reading extravaganza!
Standard disclaimers apply: Open to US and Canadian readers. Fighting over your favorite Hoyt hero in the comments is definitely encouraged. Please acquire a chaperone for any Maiden Lane outings, and if you plan to binge read the series, make sure you have a significant amount of PTO or sick time at work! Comments will close Friday 27 October and a winner announced shortly afterward.
Good luck, and thank you to Elizabeth Hoyt and Grand Central/Forever!