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November 3, 2018

3 Books for Fans of Romantic Fantasy

by MK French

Romantic fantasy is a popular sub-genre of fantasy. It is particularly popular with the young adult demographic but there are plenty for the adult reader as well. The explosion of paranormal romance, which is actually a sub-genre of romance, has somewhat eclipsed the romantic fantasy in the public eye. However, sometimes these subgenres blur the lines and are often enjoyed by the same reader. So there is a paranormal romance thrown into this list.

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Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

Phoenix Unbound
September 2018; ACE; 978-0451489753
audio, ebook, print (400 pages)
fantasy, romance
The Empire requires every village to send a young woman to the capital as a Flower of Spring. These ladies are used by the gladiators the night before they're burned as an offering to the gods by the cruel Emperor and his even more twisted Empress. Gilene of Beroe is gifted with illusion and fire magic, so she is sent every year in order to save the other women of her village. Azarion is the Gladiator Prime, and he is somehow able to see through her illusions. This year, he blackmails her into helping him escape slavery, and her talents as a fire witch will help him reclaim his birthright when he returns to his people.

The story unfolds gradually, so we get a good look into how the Empire functions, and the indignities that the subjugated people suffer through. Azarion and Gilene have differing motives for working together, and it's an uneasy alliance that's tested by the Empress sending guards to try to retrieve her favorite plaything. Of course, the two are at odds initially and Gilene wants to escape back to Beroe out of duty to her village. Azarion is never overtly cruel to her, but he is determined to return to his clan and use her talent as a fire witch, which is revered by the tribes as a gift from Agna, the fire goddess. We can guess at some of the plot points right away (Gilene doesn't believe in Agna, she doesn't like Azarion but does find him attractive, the two have to claim to be married as they travel, etc) but that doesn't detract from the plot.

Gilene is a great character to get to know. We see most of the story from her point of view of Azarion's, and I really liked her. Despite all of the hardships and lack of hope that her life had given her, she remains strong and determined to do the right thing. She learns the ways of the various people she meets along the way, and I liked how she was able to open up and be less angry and resentful of her duty to Beroe. Azarion also unwinds emotionally as they travel, so that he isn't driven by his own needs. He is able to apologize for his mistakes, see others' concerns as well as his own, and honors the promises he makes even as he loves Gilene and wishes that she could stay with him. The ending might be easy to guess, but I enjoyed seeing it play out and cheered for them all.

I'm not sure if the "Fallen Empire" notation on the cover means this is the start to a series or not. This novel ends neatly, and I'm satisfied by how everything tied together. If there is a series following this one, I will gladly pick them all up and see what happens to Gilene, Azarion and the rest of the Kestrel clan.

Buy Phoenix Unbound at Amazon

Blood Moon (Chroma Crossing Chronicles Book One) by S. Yurvati

Blood Moon
February 2016; Shando; 978-0692622100
ebook, print (378 pages); fantasy, romance
Candy inherited a Savannah estate after her father's death and took the opportunity to go to art school even though her stepmother and stepbrother live in the main house. A series of coincidences and accidents leaves Candy chased into a different dimension that lacks color. Thorne is the hunter that found her in this land and makes Candy want to be just as hormone driven as her stepmother.

It took me a while to warm up to the style of writing and how the characters spoke, and it still bothered me intermittently as I was reading. Candy's stepmother Cherry Ann and stepbrother are caricatures of terrible people in every possible way, and I find myself trying to skip past any of the passages they're in. Candy's tenant Liam is a friendly and welcome contrast to them. The creepy characters are over the top in their oddities and creepiness, and it's almost awkward to read the chapters from their point of view. It was interesting to see how the cat saw the world and could sense the creepiness that the human characters ignored and pushed aside.

The premise was interesting, which is why I kept pushing through to try finishing the book even though I wanted to stop after the first third. Chapters are very short and rapidly switch points of view, and it takes a while for the plot really pick up. I'm not sure that I really like the characters or the situations that they're caught in. I found a few typos ("peaked interest" and a private investigator being "discrete" in following Candy instead of being discreet), possibly because I wasn't as sucked into the text. There is a lot of explicit content in Cherry Ann's chapters after she gets involved with Mark, which is markedly different from what I had expected from the story. Her relationship with her son is also a complete turn-off.

Even skipping entire chapters, three-quarters of the way through and Candy hadn't crossed over into the different dimension. I find this odd, given how much it's stressed in the summary that she will go to a new world. If that's the entire point of the story, why wait until the final quarter to do it? That's assuming she even goes there because I stopped reading at that point. We haven't met Thorne, she isn't in the other dimension, and there are entire chapters of Cherry Ann's sexual antics and interactions with her son. It isn't the sex that I'm opposed to, but that it doesn't feel part of the story at all. Sexy times in a story should still serve the plot, even if the plot is just how two characters get together. I didn't see any point to what was going on and seeing more of Cherry Ann's chapters than Candy's is what made me stop reading. There's probably more to the story that would be good, but I wasn't invested enough to get there.

Buy Blood Moon at Amazon

Summer's End by Kristy Brown

Summer's End
July 2018; MuseItUp Publishing
ebook (370 pages); romance, paranormal
Summer was in a fire and wakes up afterward with no memory. Dooney is brooding and determined to do his part to save the world by killing her. The problem is, the more he spends time around her, the less he wants to do that.

This novel had first appeared on Wattpad, but I hadn't heard of it in that format. It alternates between Summer's and Dooney's first-person perspectives, and likely because they're teens the language is very stream-of-consciousness when we first meet them. I don't always mind the first person perspective in storytelling, which seems to be really common in YA novels now, but I find myself getting irritated with how these characters think. I also don't particularly like most of the supporting cast of characters. There's also the oddity of the setting. It sounds more like a college campus, yet they specifically mention that Summer is turning eighteen. On top of that, there are the creepy guys that her creepy friends keep pushing her toward, who discuss her like a piece of meat and wind up drugging her.

There are flashes of a more interesting plot in the second half of the story, but I really don't like how it was executed in the novel. I could guess at most of the relationships and what was going to be the plot twists, and it didn't feel done in a new or interesting way. That really is a disappointment, given how much there could have been to the story.

Buy Summer's End at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever. 

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