Tag Archive | fantasy

Unmasking Miss Appleby (Baleful Godmother #1) by Emily Larkin

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She’s not who she seems…

On her 25th birthday, Charlotte Appleby receives a most unusual gift from the Faerie godmother she never knew she had: the ability to change shape.

Penniless and orphaned, she sets off for London to make her fortune as a man. But a position as secretary to Lord Cosgrove proves unexpectedly challenging. Someone is trying to destroy Cosgrove and his life is increasingly in jeopardy.

As Charlotte plunges into London’s backstreets and brothels at Cosgrove’s side, hunting his persecutor, she finds herself fighting for her life—and falling in love…

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, November 2016
Time & Setting: London, 1805
Genre: Historical Romance with Fantasy elements
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 5 stars

Review by Sara

I love when authors successfully merge two romantic subgenres without losing the tone a reader expects from each. Emily Larkin carefully folds supernatural elements into her Baleful Godmothers series so that the world building doesn’t get lost in the historical setting. The first book Unmasking Miss Appleby balances the magic and the romance perfectly into a story that I highly recommend.

Charlotte Appleby’s life has not turned out exactly as she had hoped. While she is grateful to her father’s sister for providing her a home after his death, she is far from a welcome member of the household. Suffering the family’s constant disrespect wears on Charlotte to the point that she dreams of finding a way to be independent but is unhappy with the options afforded an unmarried woman. Working as a governess or school teacher has no appeal and positions that offer the most income are only open to men. On her twenty-fifth birthday Charlotte is mulling over her future when a dark fairy arrives in her room claiming to owe her one wish as part of a centuries-old pact with the female members of Charlotte’s mother’s family. Wary of the woman and the magic she offers, Charlotte is careful to learn about the gifts the fairy can bestow. With the fairy quickly losing patience Charlotte chooses the power of metamorphosis. Charlotte can now become anyone or anything she wishes.

Charlotte seeks her independence in London by changing her appearance to a young man. Her new form includes all of the physical attributes of the opposite sex, but her mind remains that of a woman, and she can now experience life without the restrictions society places on a female. Charlotte – now Christopher Albin – applies for employment as secretary to the influential Earl of Cosgrove using a forged set of references but an eagerness the earl appreciates. She is hired on the spot and is quickly thrust into the earl’s investigation of who might be vandalizing his house and arranging attacks on him at night.

Marcus Langford knows he has both personal and political enemies but never thought they would stoop to petty crimes or assault to get the better of him. The last few years of his life have been marred by the scandal of his wife’s suicide and the rumors of her affairs in the gossip sheets. These recent attacks just add insult to injury; however Marcus will not let them dissuade him from fighting to outlaw slavery in England and the colonies. During the last attack his secretary was gravely injured and the new applicants for the position seem scared at the prospect of working for a moving target. Christopher Albin is the first applicant to seem cautious of the danger but still ready to jump into the position. Marcus is quickly impressed with Christopher’s analytical nature as they start searching for possible perpetrators of the crimes. ALbin’s enthusiasm for the job is only surpassed by his naiveté about the less savory aspects of London society and Marcus cannot help but like the young man.

The close working relationship Charlotte and Marcus develop causes Charlotte to feel sexual attraction for the first time. The physical responses to her interest could be disastrous if Marcus were to see them in her male form but Charlotte cannot help falling even deeper for her employer the more they uncover during their investigations. Taking some advice Marcus innocently gives to Albin about a man’s need to slake his lust, Charlotte creates a way for her to seduce Marcus in her true form, offering him clues about his attackers if he’ll sleep with her. Their liaisons become more intimate on a personal level as Marcus reveals another side of himself to Charlotte the woman while still being friendly and open to Albin the man. As the threat to Marcus escalates it becomes harder for Charlotte to keep the two sides of herself from being exposed to the man with whom she has fallen in love.

The paranormal elements of Unmasking Miss Appleby are easily integrated into Charlotte’s story as she learns about her family’s legacy along with the reader. She is unsure about her new abilities so we experience her fear and excitement at the same time as she does. Magic is an unknown force in the regular world so when things are revealed to Marcus his responses are just as genuine as my own might be. It’s very easy to be caught up in the romantic tension between Charlotte and Marcus and forget that she is wearing another face entirely for the closeness they share. In the beginning I wondered if Ms. Larkin was trying to send a very subdued message about the nature of attraction being a mental thing rather than a gender question, but things return to the status quo when Charlotte begins her seduction as a female.

I’ve read many romances with a woman disguised as a man but Ms. Larkin takes that idea to the extreme with Charlotte’s complete physical transformation. All of the little quirks an author normally folds into the heroine’s masquerade are explored and yet they feel fresh since Charlotte isn’t just wearing pants, she is anatomically a man with all of the responses that go with it. Along with all of her newfound knowledge about being a male Charlotte also comes to appreciate what it means to be female and to embrace her own sexuality. She offers herself to Marcus believing the encounter will strictly be a physical response to her attraction; however she finds that sharing herself with Marcus gives her power and a freedom that she never had before.

I could go on forever about how enjoyable reading Unmasking Miss Appleby was. From the clever twist in a standard romantic device to a story of female empowerment in a restrictive time there are many magical things for a reader to discover.

Night of the Highland Dragon (Highland Dragons #3) by Isabel Cooper

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They say,” said the girl, “that people disappear up there. And I heard that the lady doesna’ ever grow any older.””The lady?” William asked.”Lady MacAlasdair. She lives in the castle, and she’s been there years, but she stays young and beautiful forever.”

In the Scottish Highlands, legend is as powerful as the sword-and nowhere is that more true than in the remote village of Loch Aranoch. Its mysterious ruler, Judith MacAlasdair, is fiercely protective of her land-and her secrets. If anyone were to find out what she really was, she and her entire clan would be hunted down as monsters.
William Arundell is on the trail of a killer. Special agent for an arcane branch of the English government, his latest assignment has led him to a remote Highland castle and the undeniably magnetic lady who rules there. Yet as lies begin to unravel and a dark threat gathers, William finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of the Highlands…and the woman he can neither trust nor deny.

He prays she isn’t the murderer; he never dreamed she was a dragon.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, June 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Scottish Highlands, 1898
Genre: Historical Romance/Fantasy
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Natalie

Like her brothers, Lady Judith MacAlasdair is a nearly immortal shape-shifter who has managed to keep her identity safety hidden from the local villagers and society alike. All the MacAlasdair siblings have managed this over the centuries by periodically leaving their ancestral home at different intervals and returning decades later as a younger relative. During this last turn living at home, Judith has come to relish her small, insular village life. She understands that some suspect that there are secrets on the estate but that they are willing to keep those secrets because the MacAlasdair family has always done its best to protect and help their neighbors.

Meanwhile, Special Agent William Arundel, who has secrets and special abilities of his own, has arrived in Loch Aranoch. William works for a secret branch of the government that hunts down demons, and his most recent investigation has lead him to the door of Lady Judith, a woman who never seems to age. The two immediately distrust each other and when local farm animals turn up mutilated they each suspect the other of committing the crimes. But to find out what is happening in Loch Aranoch, Judith and William must call a truce. As they work together to protect the town their respect grows to understanding and attraction.

As I was reading Night of the Highland Dragon I realized that I had actually read the first book in the series, Legend of the Highland Dragon, when it came out in 2013. I loved the story, which was an interesting mix of period romance and fantasy. Ms Cooper definitely delivers with Night of the Highland Dragon,which is just as entertaining as its predecessors. The relationship between Judith and William is interesting, since they both have abilities and need to dance around each other, trying to figure out how much the other knows. The mystery aspect of the book is an extra bonus, giving the romance a place to grow without using some of the regular ‘misunderstanding’ tactics that can start to feel formulaic.

After finishing the novel, I was excited to go back to the first and second in the in the Highland Dragons series and read all of the books. While Night of the Highland Dragon works as a stand-alone novel, it is always a great feeling to be able to jump right back into the lives of awesome, well-written characters. Pick up one – or all three – in the series and settle in for a romance filled winter!

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

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BLURB:

What if you killed someone and then fell in love with them?

In an alternate Renaissance world, somewhere in an imaginary “pocket” of Europe called the Kingdom of Lethe, Death comes, in the form of a grim Spaniard, to claim his Bride. Until she is found, in a single time-stopping moment all dying stops. There is no relief for the mortally wounded and the terminally ill….

Covered in white cobwebs of a thousand snow spiders she lies in the darkness… Her skin is cold as snow… Her eyes frozen… Her gaze, fiercely alive…

While kings and emperors send expeditions to search for a suitable Bride for Death, armies of the undead wage an endless war… A black knight roams the forest at the command of his undead father… Spies and political treacheries abound at the imperial Silver Court….Murdered lovers find themselves locked in the realm of the living…

Look closer — through the cobweb filaments of her hair and along each strand shine stars…

And one small village girl, Percy—an unwanted, ungainly middle daughter—is faced with the responsibility of granting her dying grandmother the desperate release she needs. As a result, Percy joins the crowds of other young women of the land in a desperate quest to Death’s own mysterious holding in the deepest forests of the North…And everyone is trying to stop her.

Publisher and Release Date: Leda (Imprint of Norilana Books), 22 June 2013)

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: Alternative History (Renaissance Europe)
Genre: Dark Fantasy Romance
Heat Level:1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Warning: Graphic and Descriptive Violence

Review by Patrice

INTRO

Western literary historians observe that the creation of fantasy literature started with Spenser’s Faerie Queen, written during the English Renaissance, The Golden Age of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.  Still, others would disagree, traveling to Eastern shores for tales of exotic princesses and cunning heroes that stumble upon magic lamps.  How fitting it is that this tale is a pseudo-Renaissance Europe comprised of a historically and geographically shape-shifted Spain, France, Germany, Italy and the Mediterranean, sprinkled with Eastern flavor.

Cobweb Bride is astonishing and captivating; a lush fantasy of imagery and magical realism.  The visuals are illustrated by the author’s lyrical and metaphoric writing.  Every chapter and scene revels in this mortal coil, surrounded by an expansive collage of characters immersed in a plot as rich and decadent as a Verdi opera.

Plot Overview

Death visits the dying Queen Mother Andrelise in the glittering city Lethe one cold night; as vicious battle rages between Dukedoms Chidair and Goraque ; and the Silver court pays homage to its princess who has come of age; while in a serene village of Oarclaven, the peasant Ayren family says good-bye to their failing matriarch.  When Death demands his Cobweb Bride, no one can answer this mystery.  Encased for eons in rage and pain, the Reaper states that until his Cobweb Bride is found, no one shall know his embrace.  From that moment on, nothing enters Death’s realm, and though men fall in battle from horrific blows and matrons lay suffering on their deathbeds, there is no final rest for them.

Persephone,  called Percy, least admired and loved, the middle, ill-favored daughter, lost between two exquisite sisters, Parabelle and Patriciana, volunteers to travel to Death’s castle with countless other unfortunates, all converging to save the world from the blight of Death’s merciless curse.  Which one is destined to be Death’s Cobweb Bride? For there are those who do not wish Death to bring release to the lands of men again…

PROS

If this novel were edible, the rich sweetness of the writing and the exquisite detail would ruin thousands of dollars of dental work while making me a candidate for diabetes.  If it were a drug, it would be laudanum, pure poppy syrup fit for a Victorian to while away countless hours in magnificent dreams.  The vibrancy of Ms. Nazarian’s writing is sheer kaleidoscopic visualization.  The folkloric-fable twists and turns recount shavings from the mythos of Hades and Persephone without boring you with a full-blown serving of predictability.  The romance is as subtle as it is grim, with glimmers of hope taking us further to our doom—perhaps.  The author wields irony in a variety of forms.  One example is a pair of would-be lovers, with more dysfunction than true passion; all in the name of sacrifice that I would be the first to say stems from madness.

CONS

For those unfamiliar with European folklore and history, you might take a tumble into frustration. Do not be deterred, just go for the ride, and then satiate your curiosity later.  Whether you’re an amateur or scholar, this is not too far off the beaten paths so don’t be discouraged.  This is not for the faint of heart or those with a weak constitution.  There are violent and graphic battles scenes.  Also, there are enough characters in Cobweb Bride to pack onto an 18 wheeler tour bus, which can be overwhelming at times.  This is not the first story I have read with an endless roster of characters, and to be honest,  it is quite interesting.  The issue is when large chunks of time are taken away from the main character, in this case, Percy/Persephone.  If the author’s goal is to use the first book as a springboard for the plot layers in order to progress to the second book without all the extra supplies, then I can better appreciate the effort.

CHARACTERS

Again.  Be warned.  Although Persephone/Percy Ayren and Death are the focal points, the list of various nobles, warriors and peasants are endless.  I won’t spin your head with names, places, and descriptions, reading is believing.

There are Goth-as-heck-doomed, would-be-loners with names like, Marquis Vlau Fiomarre, and equally fortifying descriptions.  Don’t be afraid to jump in, there’s a wonderful author’s note and a list of character names/places – complete with pronunciations—to bedazzle your brain and plug you back in to the dark parade.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Cobweb Bride resonates in its literary role of Death and the Maiden. The danse macabre of this somber tale, bound and twisted by an endless thread of sly, murky humor is so exquisitely choreographed by Ms. Nazarian’s decadent language, you’re immediately swept away into her sinisterly fantastic world. The overall tone is introspective, hauntingly quiet with elements of horror-fantasy that are as provocative as the works of Tanith Lee and Storm Constantine.

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