Book Review: Queen of Swords

Book: Queen of Swords

Author: Katee Roberts

Recommendation: Worth a Read

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Not sure I’m any more qualified than the next person to leave a review, but I’ll try to give it a shot with a book I recently finished.

No-Spoilers

All in, this sci-fi romance was a decent read.

World-Building

The world-building is spectacular. Seriously, this is by far the best part of the book. The world, the religions, the people. The aliens are truly alien. For example, I love how you can tell one alien’s feelings from how his fur shifts. These are not humans with pointed ears.

The author uses a Tarot deck throughout, and she seems to have really studied up on it. I also love how the force acting through the cars is simply the Lady. You decide if she’s a goddess or Lady Luck.

Sanctify makes a fabulous villain, and the torture techniques they use to “purify” are truly gruesome. Seriously bad villain.

 

Hero and Heroine

The hero and heroine have chemistry. The steamy scenes aren’t memorable, but they’re pretty good.

He’s been through hell and back, though he’s still clearly your protective alpha male. I liked him much more than I thought I would.

The heroine is not a damsel in distress. She is strong, competent, and feisty. Hellcat is used to describe her. More than this, I like the fact she’s comfortable with her sexuality, knows what she wants, and takes it.

 

Story

The plot intrigued me once we got over some plot holes large enough to drive car through trying to get the characters in a situation where they’re stuck together, but I was ready for the author to get on with it around the three-quarter mark. I felt like some of the middle was go-nowhere-filler as we ramped up for the climactic showdown between the hero and his half-brother.

The writing is a bit clumsy at points, particularly in the beginning as the author sets up the entire story line and gets the hero and heroine stuck being together. Sadly, this extends to the smack-upside-the-head way that the author introduces that the heroine is pregnant. Other parts, such as the heroine being able to hack a com terminal, should have been discussed before she actually hacks it.

This is all the more strange as other times the author makes a big deal out of things like sharp sticks being used in the heroine’s hair that never have any purpose.

I was disappointed with the end. I was expecting so much more. The big climactic ending. The heroine and hero standing up and defeating impossible odds together. While we got a happily-ever-after, I didn’t feel that fist pump moment when the hero and heroine win.

As a matter-of-fact, I was really disappointed with how easy the whole ending was and how little the heroine figured into it. I still don’t understand why the hero didn’t do what he did years ago and end the threat his brother posed back then.

The ending also left certain things unresolved. Either the author didn’t tie up loose ends, or she left them loose for the next book in the series. That seriously irritates me. Still, this is a romance, so the hero and heroine do get together.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Crux

Title: Crux

Author: Moira Rogers

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review. Mostly because I haven’t been able to get all the way through any. I’ve been unbelievably picky and critical of late, and I fear that’s going to show through in this review. See, I can’t just turn my brain off and accept. I need things to make sense, to form a picture, and to follow some basic rules. Both of human nature and of fiction writing.

I will preface this by saying I’m not sure I’d have finished this book if not for my little one being sick and wanting me to snuggle with her. I needed something to do, so I read.

I’m not going to rate this as I’m still not sure how I feel about rating books, but I will give you my honest thoughts.

 

Genre

Southern Arcana is not my usual fare, but it was billed as romance novel with these elements, so I went for it. Interestingly enough, the paranormal aspects were mostly fine. I don’t mind werewolves, wizards, or shifters in my stories.  The author did seem to have a thorough understanding of this genre, and I could see her building a world with it.

 

Setting

The main back-drop of the story is New Orleans, but I’m not sure the author has ever been there. After living there myself for five years, I can tell you a northerner would not survive August in New Orleans wearing a sweatshirt. Most southerners couldn’t.

I also never felt like the author transported me back to the city. No mention of the oppressive heat, humidity or smell. Places like Café Du Monde and things like beignets were used to add flavor, but that’s about it. I get that not every writer can afford to visit, and it is the ideal setting for anything mystic. I know. I lived there.

There were the beginning overtures of politics in the supernatural society, and perhaps that will be fleshed out in later novels. It didn’t matter for this one, and I appreciate the author not spending a lot of time on it.

 

Characters

This was a mixed bag

There was a huge cast of characters. Not entirely sure why there were so many, but I’m assuming it’s a set-up for more books. Rather annoying, but okay. I get it.

The characters were all beautiful and sexy, standard fare for a romance novel.

Heroine – I liked the heroine. She was strong, but believable. Her fear, her disbelief. I got it. Only part that made me raise my brows was that she was in love with the hero in less than a week. In less than two days, actually.

Hero – He was pretty flat. Attractive, a bit of southern ladies’ man, a good cook, and a first rate wizard. Yup, that sums up his whole character.

Beyond this, things go downhill pretty fast. No one else really stands out, except for the “reformed” bad guy, Marcus, but his redemption was simply not believable.

Marcus  – He’s been raised by Big Bad Guy who’s a fanatic trying to save Marcus’s race of shifters. Marcus has believed in Big Bad’s cause his whole life. Calls Big Bad dad. Yet, a conversation or two with the heroine, not even all that deep or meaningful, and suddenly he’s ready to leave his father, abandon the cause he’s spent his whole life fighting for, and help her escape.

Um, no.

Not buying it for a minute. There was no soul-searching on Marcus’s part. No moment of truth. No pivotal event that inspired a change. Just a five minute conversation. This needed so much more. It’s not like Darth Vadar turned against the Emperor because Luke mentioned what a bad guy the Emperor is.

 

Plot

The plot was thin, and I felt the execution was lacking. Not quite Dues ex Machina, but pretty close. (Spoilers Ahead)

Act Three  – First Surprise – Nothing new should be introduced in Act Three, much less the end of Act Three. The author has established that not all supernatural phenomena are real (such as vampires not being real in this world). Suddenly, in Act Three, not only do we learn psychics are real, but we learn this as one is calling the hero to warn him about Big Bad.

Um, yeah.

To make this believable, the fact that there is a psychic and he’s real should’ve been introduced in Act One as part of the investigation the hero and his partner are working on before the heroine flies into their lives.

Act Three  – Second Surprise – Also, in Act Three, it’s revealed that the way the hero and heroine are going to defeat Big Bad is by merging their (souls?) and thus merging her shifting with his magic to make something as powerful as Big Bad.

Yeah, no.

Introducing this at the end is cheap. Also, not believable. Because, really, if you could combine a magic user and shapeshifter to create a being with off-the-charts power, people are going to be doing this left and right. It’s human nature.  It’s not like there was some epic quest to discover this information. Or they had to meet some unattainable criteria to do it. It was more of an “oh, by the way” moment standing in the kitchen. I wish I was kidding.

There is “risk” to them for doing the “merge”. Should something bad happen to either the mage or the shifter while they’re linked, bad things can happen to the other. Um, yeah, not nearly a big enough risk for magical types to not be doing this joining left and right.

Big Bad Lacks Consistency – For me, consistency is a must. Super powerful Big Bad can wipe the heroine’s personality and replace it with one that she goes along with him. So why didn’t he just do it? Why wait to wipe her after she’s made her hatred clear? Why didn’t he wipe her parents’ or Marcus’s parents’ personalities rather than kill them and exacerbate the issue of saving this race of shifters? Marcus and the heroine’s parents could’ve had more children that would become shifters had he let them live and simply made them docile. Doesn’t make sense, and this personality wipe was a key motive for her and Marcus.

Poor Character Motivation – I felt like character motivation was seriously lacking for the plethora of side characters. They need to be doing what they’re doing for their own ends not just because the plot requires it.

I mean, why would someone risk their life for a woman they’ve known a week? Or their twin sister’s life? Why, exactly, would the Werewolf Consortium care that some super powerful non-werewolf shifter killed a couple of people and is trying to kidnap a girl? I mean, if they really cared about those kinds of things, think of all the non-shifters they should be hunting down. They have no reason to join the fight, much less bring out their “big guns” which was required to take down Big Bad.

Hero and Heroine Feel Secondary – Yeah, they were the love interests. And at the very end they finally did things, but I prefer a story where the hero and heroine are doing more of the heavy lifting.  Helping figure stuff out. There was a whole cast doing most of the hard work and problem solving for them.

Ending Felt Taped On – After the heroine was captured (which I always dislike), I expected the story to come to a climactic ending. A big fight. Good guys win. Everyone goes home. Nope. They get her back, we have the Act Three surprises, and then there’s a much less climactic battle where the hero and heroine combine their powers and take out Big Bad. I almost felt like the author was stretching the ending for word count.

 

All in, it might have been a good read if I could’ve turned my brain off and just enjoyed. I couldn’t. One of my enduring problems. This is the first book of a series, but I won’t be buying the second. Your mileage may vary. Depends on what you’re looking for in a story.

 

Plot Analysis: The Romance

I realized my last post was about the plot outside the romance in a romance novel. All the things happening around the characters so they can’t just focus on what they feel for each other. We don’t want to make it too easy on them, now do we? Of course we don’t!

And while no one falls in love in a vacuum, I also thought I’d take a moment to discuss the plot of the actual romance.

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You gotta earn it, buddy.

Yes, I think there should be a plot, a progression to the romance. Even for the soul mates trope. Even for the love-at-first-sight trope.

Think about this for a moment. You see a handsome guy at Starbucks. You are instantly attracted. He comes over to you and you start talking. What’s your first reaction? Whoohoo, let’s jump in bed together? I’ve never known anyone like that, but okay, maybe it is. But are you then instantly in love with him? Ready to spend your life together? Ready to give up everything for him?

How does your heroine know she just pledged the rest of her life to Sir Lancelot and not Charles Manson?

Is this the kind of heroine a reader is going to care about? Or is she the kind of heroine a reader hopes you’re going to kill off by the end?

Yet, I have read this over and over again. One night and the hero/heroine is in love, ready to do anything, give up anything for that love. And it is completely unbelievable.

The romance is an integral part of the plot. It should grow throughout the book. Perhaps the characters even say they love each other midway through the story. That’s fine, especially if there’s going to be things that test that commitment, and through the challenge, strengthen it.

In really good romance novels, the non-romance plot helps drive the romance. It keeps the characters working together when they wouldn’t otherwise. It provides time and opportunity for the characters to fall in love. Perhaps even a few challenges and pitfalls.

This brings me to another point. In a really good romance, the heroine also won’t settle for a jerk.

If you don’t believe me, think back to Pride and Prejudice. I remember my first read through being shocked when Elizabeth told Darcy off after he professed his love for her. And then I was ecstatic. Yes. He deserved being told off. He was being a jerk. Why would she want to marry that? Spend the rest of her life with his condescension and derision?

Why, indeed.

Yet, in books written 200 years later, I’ve regularly been reading heroines settling for worse than Darcy. Heroes who’ve let them down when they needed them most. Heroes who used them and cast aside their feelings like McDonald’s wrappers. Heroes mentally or physically abusive. Really? Why do authors end their story with their heroine stuck with one of these guys? Jane Austin knew better 200 years ago.

Am I saying characters can’t start out as jerks and then learn and grow through the story?

No.

Can an author convince me a truly selfish jerk suddenly becomes Mr. Perfect?

Maybe.

Depends on the crucible of the plot that author just put him through. The nastier the character starts, the more he has to go through to make his change believable. That makes the author’s job harder, but when done right, it also makes the reward for the reader that much sweeter. Best of all?  The reader doesn’t get yanked from the world the author built when they roll their eyes.

Heroes Analysis: My Current Work-in-Progress

Continuing on the vein of applying my likes and dislikes to my own work, I’ll take a look at the hero in the story I’m working on.

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In Crowned Prince, the calculatingly practical hero fall in love with a slave girl and has to choose between his elaborate plans to take the throne or happiness with the woman he loves.

1. Does he brood? – Very little. He is cold, ruthless and practical. Brooding does nothing to forward his plans, so he doesn’t indulge in it.

2. No arrogant jerks- He can be a touch arrogant. He is a prince used to getting his way. But, he listens to the heroine’s advice, and he will do everything in his power to protect her and make her happy.

3. Indecisive – He has a moment of indecision when he realizes he’s in love, but he doesn’t lie to himself and he knows he’s not a man to deny himself. Once the decision is reached, he never looks back and all of his actions forward are to take what he wants with as little political fallout as possible.

I think I succeeded pretty well on these counts. The hero in this story is a more traditional alpha male, so it was easier to fly past brooding and indecisive. I also worked hard as I was writing not to let him be too much of a jerk. He’s cold and calculating, but for very good reasons, but not too over-the-top.

So, do I give him the characteristics needed to like him?

 

1. Competence – the hero is competent. He can carry his own in a fight, and he’s good at machinating and reading people. A bit Machiavellian, but goes with the strong alpha male.

2. Protector – he may not have been much a protector before the start of the story, but we see what lengths he’ll go to in an effort to protect the heroine.

3. Honorable Leader – the hero is already a leader of men, and the head of a plot to put himself on the thrown. He is not chivalrous or terribly honorable at the beginning of the story, but that changes by the end as he’s come to see why it’s important.

Interestingly, this hero started out as a villain in a different story but was too interesting to “throw away”. He got a story of his own, and I found him surprisingly easy to fit into the alpha male role. A thought to ponder in another post.

Analysis: Heroes Book 1

Now to apply what I’ve learned from other people’s work to my own. While other people may disagree with me about what makes a hero likable, I at least want to write a hero that I would like if I were reading him in someone else’s work.

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In Knight of Valor, the hero has recently destroyed a powerful lich and returned home a hero. He’s having trouble settling in and agrees to escort the heroine out of danger and to the safety of his homeland.

1. Does he brood? – perhaps a little. He has been through hell and back and is trying to find his place. People view him as a hero, but that’s not how he views himself. The one scene he does start to brood, the heroine calls him on it. Still, worth another look to keep him from being whiny.

2. No arrogant jerks- I actually went back through the story and had to inject a bit more alpha into the hero. He is more of the “white knight” trope, so I don’t feel like this is an area for work.

3. Indecisive – it takes the hero awhile to come to terms with what he’s feeling, but once he does, he moves quickly and decisively. The hero is far more prone to action than anything else, and he makes sure the heroine is well protected.

 

Okay, I need to make sure the hero isn’t too broody. Now, does he possess what he needs to make him likable?

1. Competence – the hero is an extremely competent fighter and protector. He is strategic, and even under pressure, proves himself. He’s so competent, in fact, I had to make sure he was appropriately challenged so he didn’t just walk over his enemies.

2. Protector – he has dedicated his life to protecting his homeland and its people. He protects the heroine from the beginning even if he didn’t like her. This is an integral part of his personality and never waivers.

3. Honorable Leader – the hero is honorable and behaves in that way, up to and including worrying that people see him as more than he is. He doesn’t lie, and he refuses to take advantage of his position as the heroine’s protector even when they both have feelings for the other.

Overall,  I think the hero is pretty likable. I need to make sure he isn’t too broody, but he never lets that interfere with doing his job to protect the heroine. No running away from feelings, no abandoning her, and no being a jerk because he has feelings.

 

Hero Analysis: Flaws

Mariah Avix again posed a great question. What hero flaws are generally “okay” and don’t turn me off as a reader.

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Hi. I’m superman. I’m perfect except when exposed to Kryptonite.

 

Thinking through this made me realize that in many, many novels I’ve read, the heroes don’t have too many flaws. As I think through these books, and the heroes I’ve liked, here are some of the flaws I’ve seen that worked for the character without making me dislike the character:

Demanding. Setting extremely high standards for themselves and those around them, sometimes too high.

  • In Finders Keepers, the Captain was known for being extremely difficult and held his crew up to the same high standards he held himself to.
  • I’ve seen this is several other books, such as the The Bride. He takes responsibility for his entire Clan, keeping peace, etc.

 

Bucking Society. This one usually works when something perceived as appropriate by  historical society differs with today’s views. For example:

  • A hero that spends most of his time with his wife and family rather than away from them. (Most Regency)
  • A hero that accepts being considered crazy because he married for love and still loves his wife. (Accidentally Compromising the Duke)
  • A hero that dances with his wife to the exclusion of all others.(Accidentally Compromising the Duke)
  • A society that forces a woman who was raped to be shunned and viewed as a “soiled dove” (The Study of Seduction).

Interestingly, I recently read Loving a Lost Lord and the Madness of Ian Mackenzie (book reviews are coming, I promise!). I rated both of these books very high. The first dealt with a duke whose father was English and whose mother was Indian. This was a central issue of the book although it was mostly glossed over. This was treated as a “flaw” for the historical time frame, with the heroine loving him without regard to his heritage. The second had an autistic hero. The author did an amazing job with the hero, keeping him powerful, brilliant and in control. Yet, he clearly had flaws. Such as being unable to meet people’s eyes, shunning large groups, and being unable to lie.

 

Ruthless. Granted, this tends to be a trait the hero has to put aside for the heroine. It always makes me a little uneasy as I am not a fan of the “being saved by a good woman’s love” trope. But ruthlessness can really work. I am in the middle of reading Marrying Winterbourne, and he is most assuredly ruthless. You see ruthless heroes in Stephanie Laurens’ work as well.

 

Selfishness. No great examples of this in recent fiction I’ve read, but Han Solo always comes to mind.  Granted, he overcomes it by Return of the Jedi. Character arc?

 

Arrogant. Thinking of Darcy here in Pride and Prejudice.  Again, he gets over himself somewhat by the end, but that’s the point of a character arc, right?

 

I’m sure there are more. What do you all think? What character flaws can a character have or grow out of that you can still find them a good hero?

Character Analysis: Heroes Part 2

After taking a look at heroes I didn’t like, the next step is to take a look at those I did like. Much like with heroines, when I first started this post, I thought the heroes I liked would be the exact opposite of what I didn’t like.

It turned out a little more complex than that.

I have to have the basics: no brooding, no jerks, and a character doing something. But as with the heroine, when I think through what I about the characters I like, there’s more to it.

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The Bride – The hero is a powerful Scotsman, who may be considered barbaric, but he takes care of his people and protects his wife. He is physically capable and a good leader.

The Highwayman – While I didn’t like him because the author took it too far, his cold, rational and eminently practical persona is appealing.

Finders Keepers – I loved the hero. Yes, he was a powerful captain in the Imperial “star fleet”. But he was smart, extremely capable, and a demanding commander. He had a touch of the cold and aloof, but he also didn’t spite himself when he realized he loved the heroine.

The Study of SeductionWhile I hated the heroine, I liked the hero. He was practical, not willing to be swayed by the whimsy of other people’s opinions, and he was actively trying to help and then protect the heroine. He was smart, well-educated, and could build metronomes.

A Gentleman’s Honor – This hero is one of those “perfect” types, but perfect for a reason. He is the alpha male without ever being a jerk. He protects the heroine from the beginning. Yes he’s attracted to her, but there’s more than that as well. There’s his honor. And what’s right. He is intelligent, physically perfect, and acquainted with the rougher things in life. He firmly believes in his obligations to take care of the people on his lands and his duty to serve because of his birth-rites.

 

So, what does it take for me to actually like a hero?

Competence – I like characters that are actively out there doing something and being good at it. I do not find bumbling or indecision endearing. Intelligent characters, especially, seem to be my favorites. Part of this competence is accepting their feelings, even if they don’t like them, and dealing with them. In the romance genre, the hero has to be believably in love by the end of the story.

Need to Protect – I am actually surprised at myself by this one, but there it is. I strongly favor heroes who protect rather than exploit. They are the “good guys” although bad-boy characters can be fun, they’re fun when they use their bad-boy skills to be the protector the heroine needs. Yeah, I know. Not exactly the feminist ideals I hold myself to, but there it is.

Honorable Leader – The ability to command respect is important in a hero, but so is the ability to turn his back on society’s opinion and do what’s right. A strong moral fiber to keep the hero on the high road rather than becoming a villain.

 

 

Character Analysis: Heroes Part 1

After considering heroines I like and dislike, I decided to turn my attention to the hero.

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Like with the heroine posts, I’m going to break it up into a couple of different posts.

One of the things that stuck with me when reading about heroes is that even if I liked them in the story, they might be people I’d give a very different label to in real life. But that discussion is for a separate post.

Stephanie Plum Series – I never really liked Joe Morelli, the sort of male love interest. Not that he wasn’t fine when he was “on screen”. But I disliked the fact that he magically disappeared the moment we put the book down. Never called. No texts, etc.

Journey’s End – The hero was pompous, arrogant and overly worried about his reputation. Yes, his father ran off with his mother’s sister. I get it, a scandal. But when you’re one of the richest men in America, why, exactly, do you care?

Deliver Me from Darkness – Another hero I never really liked. His brooding because he became a vampire was beyond annoying. Pick yourself up and make something of yourself. Use those powers for good, evil, something.

Tycoon Club – I wanted to like the hero, but there was nothing to him. I didn’t like him, but I guess I didn’t dislike him either. A farm boy from Ohio becoming one of the richest men in the world seems like there should be so much more to him . . . Instead, he’s waffling and really not developed at all.

Accidentally Compromising the Duke – I didn’t completely dislike him. I had some sympathy for him, but I did grow tired of the brooding over his first wife’s death and irrationally blaming himself for it.

Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard – This hero was so busy brooding and trying to ignore his feelings that it almost cost the heroine her life. Um, yeah, not so much.

The Highwayman – I am okay with alpha heroes, but he was beyond the norm. While I had compassion for him, I never liked him. I can get behind a cold and ruthless hero, but this went too far with that.

The Rogue Not Taken – Hero was a complete ass. Again, an alpha hero is one thing, but kicking her when she’s already down, which is the way he treats her through the whole book – I wish the heroine had been more like Elisabeth in Pride and Prejudice and told him off!

 

As I think through all of these scenarios, a couple of things stands out to me:

  1. Brooding Characters –  Get over yourself. You made a mistake, life happened, or life wasn’t fair. Yup, I live in that world, too. When you’re as rich, handsome, powerful or whatever most of these characters are, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for him not stepping up. This leads into point 3 below.
  2. Alpha Male that Bleeds into “Jerk”– I’ve seen this in too many books of late. Yes, there is an alpha male trope out there, and yes, it is a favorite among many readers. I, myself, enjoy them in books if not real life. But there’s a difference between Alpha Male and arrogant jerk. Once you cross that line . .  .
  3. Indecision/Inaction – Perhaps not fair, but I expect the hero to be out there doing something, and I expect that something to either help him reach his goals or help the heroine. A hero who chooses to turn his back on the problem, run away, or be paralyzed by indecision is a quick way to make me dislike him. Sure, he might not like or want the feelings he’s having, but I expect him to do something about them and the something is not run away.