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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

November 14, 2019

5 Tales of Romantic Fantasy You May Have Missed

by MK French

It's often fun to explore new locations for a vacation. How about entirely new worlds? Some of them are close to our own, others can be completely different from everything we've ever known. People all need and want the same kinds of things, and that includes someone they can love and care for. It often isn't the driving force for the story, but it certainly helps to give our heroes an added push.

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The Queen's Keeper by J. L. Vampa

The Queen's Keeper
January 2019; 978-0578451473
audio, ebook, print (338); young adult
Luvenia Rousseau lived with her family on the edge of a war-torn country led by Queen Lilith Pietro that ravenously hungered for power, even at the expense of the common people. Collectors would take people off the streets to be sacrificed, especially if they were zealots of the old faith, whom the Queen blamed the plague and war on. When her family farm is attacked by Collectors, Luvenia literally stumbles across a gate leading her into an enchanted realm. Keepers are people with fantastic powers, and Luvenia is determined to get stronger so she could go back to find her sister.

There is amazing world building here for the start of the novel. The scenes with Luvenia's family and neighbors, details like the types of handmade soaps that were available, and the tension in the atmosphere because of the Collectors were very well done. The actual raid on the Rousseau farm is heartbreaking, and I felt for her and her sister. Once she crossed over into the other kingdom, there were many beautiful and fantastic places full of magic and magical creatures. It wasn't enough to stop her breakdown as she recalled the devastation at the farm and her drive to find her sister, which the others seemed to berate her for.

Characters seemed to suddenly become emotionally attached to others, or make surprisingly accurate guesses and connections between situations. That's probably to keep the pacing rapid, but when I think about how they all interact with each other, it doesn't ring true. It doesn't make sense for people to make the intuitive leaps that they do, or for characters to suddenly do well or fail for plot purposes. I can handwave the emotional attachments that occur because that definitely happens. You can know if you click with someone or not, and what seems like the inevitable romantic triangle setup doesn't actually happen. The end of the novel clearly sets up for more novels in this world, with more questions raised than answered.

Buy The Queen's Keeper at Amazon

Spinning Tales by Brey Williams

Spinning Tales
March 2019; Bold Strokes Books; 978-1635553147
ebook, print (314 pages); romantic fantasy
Maggie McShay was floundering in her own life and responded to a want ad to take care of a fairy tale cottage. It upends her life, introducing a whole new past she didn't know about, as well as people who had been watching over her long before she was aware of it. Her new role is not only to be the caretaker of this cottage but to repair the damage done to the fairy tale world with her new allies.

There are many stories based on changelings and fairies, so this book is in good company. The cottage has a back door that serves as a gateway between worlds, which has gone unattended for at least a year, and villains of various storybook areas have gone rogue. Maggie has to figure out how they got through and sort out where they're supposed to go, like a supernatural police officer. That's a fun concept to play with, and we're gradually introduced to her new reality and the role she is taking on. It's obvious from the start that she would be attracted to Kody, who isn't painted in a very flattering light. As we learn about her back story, it explains some of her difficulties.

We see a lot of the Celtic lands and learn about the magic and culture of the place as Maggie does, which is fascinating. Every spinner would have their own magic, and something they have to discover for themselves. This, of course, makes for errors and the potential to offend different groups of fairy tale characters, though they're all overjoyed that she's alive and realize she's naive to their ways. There is a lot of focus on world-building and establishing relationships.

It took me longer than I expected to finish this book. Not because it was tedious or boring. If anything, it was the opposite! There was so much detail, I kept slowing myself down to really absorb the details that were in it and to try to imagine the action as it was going. It ends neatly, but with enough potential threads for future stories. I would love to see the team working on stories in future novels if this is a series.

Buy Spinning Tales at Amazon

Reviving the Commander by Nadine Keels

Reviving the Commander
June 2019; 978-1071322567
ebook, print (170 pages); romantic fantasy
Opal Whitstead is considered an old maid but is enamored with the Commander Exemplar of the king's army. It's impossible for such a match to be made when the Commander is a grieving widower still in love with his lost wife and the King's father. In addition, she has secrets of her own that she has to keep.

This is a standalone novel related to Keels' other works, which is good for me because I hadn't read the trilogy before this. That is probably why the beginning feels a little like an info dump, with the Commander's history laid out all at once. The kingdom names take a bit to get used to, as the kingdom of Diachona, Munda and the Eubeltic Realm are name-dropped with little explanation in the beginning, though I honestly laughed out loud when the people of Munda are known as Mundayne. Society in this world is more like medieval or Regency times, as men are expected to marry well and have large families, and women are expected to be pretty ornaments. Royal daughters would be subject to political marriages and alliances, though Staid is interested in their emotional wellbeing as well as the good of the kingdom. Perhaps because his late wife was the Queen and he isn't royal, he has more concern about love and relationships. He's tender with his young son and has infinite care and concern for his older married children as well.

There is no hint of Opal's secret until three-quarters of the way through the book, which made me wonder what could be so terrible. Throughout the novel until that point, she was the epitome of grace and thoughtfulness, even with total strangers. As Staid tells her, she spends so much time looking after the needs of others that she ignores her own needs. She is so concerned about the appearance of things, about genetic children and families, and holds onto her fear that she isn't worthy of love. This story is as much hers as it is the Commander of the title, and she gets the happily ever after she deserves.

Buy Reviving the Commander at Amazon

Beyond a Darkened Sky by Dana Alexander

Beyond a Darkened Sky
August 2019; Whispering Pen; 978-1733300544
ebook, print (323 pages); adventure
The balance between good and evil has been shattered, and the Soltari enlist New York psychiatrist Dr. Sara Forrester to retrieve the three keys hidden thousands of years ago. Her past lives know clues to their location, and she also has powers that had been blocked from her memories. Thrust into a world of demons, shadows, magic and amulets, Sara has to figure out how to perform this quest and save the world. The Last Great Warrior has to help her without reminding her of the love they had shared over her past lives, because billions of lives are at stake, and can't be interrupted by emotional decisions.

I had requested this as well as A Light Within, book two, Flight of the Feathered Serpent, book three and also Winter's Labyrinth, book four. There are supposed to be little things that sum up prior books in the series, but I honestly was not able to finish the first book in the series. The premise was amazing and exactly my jam, but the execution turned me off. You know those sayings for writing that says 'show, don't tell' for scenes? We have showing AND telling. There is so much repetition of things, like every moment has to be accounted for, that I found myself skipping pages to see if anything new would show up. Sara says she mistrusts a character, and not only goes snooping about without telling him why, she withholds information, and tells everyone around her on multiple different occasions that she has no tangible reason to mistrust that character but doesn't anyway.

Characterizations were solid, and I can tell that a lot of effort went into crafting them as well as their locales and the relationships between them. I wish I had more positive things to say because I really wanted to like this book. Maybe skipping to the next several novels would have been better, because this entire first novel felt like it was too much setup and not enough action. As it was, I really was so disillusioned, I'm not reading them.

Buy Beyond the Darkened Sky at Amazon

Whispers of Shadow & Flame by L. Penelope

Whispers of Shadow and Flame
October 2019; Griffin; 978-1250148094
audio, ebook, print (495 pages); adventure
The Mantle separating Langrimar and Elsira is about to fall, changing the shape of both kingdoms. Kyara is a deadly assassin due to the magic she had been born with but can't control, and has to capture the legendary rebel Shadowfox. Darvyn ol-Tahlyro is the most powerful Earthsinger, but tortured by the memories of those he couldn't save. Kyara might hold the key to unlocking secrets of his past, and the two have to work together to unravel old prophecies and head off a war when new threats arise.

This is the second novel in the Earthsinger Chronicles, following Song of Blood and Stone (read my review). It definitely helps to read that one first, as this book opens several weeks prior to the end of the first one, and progresses forward in time. We hear about Jack intermittently, but without reading the first book, it wouldn't make sense why he's so important. Langrimari tend to be dark-skinned and Elsirans tend to be lighter-skinned with red hair, and there is prejudice against the Langrimari in Elsira. That doesn't change for this second book in the series, but we're on the other side of the Mantle now. The True Father, immortal and ruling with strict, ever-changing laws and a network of informants, is a looming,  threatening presence even to his own people.

There is a lot of tension, as Kyara and Darvyn are attracted to each other and are suspicious of motives at the same time. The other thread involves the serving girl Zeli, her mistress Devana, and Delvana's fiance Kerym. Through them, we see the impact of informing on neighbors for rewards of food or supplies, as well as the perceptions they have of the Shadowfox.

As the story progresses and the different stories weave together, the big picture emerges. The plotting inherent in the country isn't just in the informing of neighbors, but in the highest levels of government as well. We learn more about Nethersong and Earthsong, and see a different side of The Queen Who Sleeps. I definitely understand Darvyn being upset with Her and the disappointment in the Keepers. The politics and fighting of the Rebellion is potentially devastating, just as the True Father's can be, though their ultimate goal is more benevolent than the government.

This novel also ends with the fall of the Mantle, this time on the other side of it. There will be more novels in this universe, and I'm sure they'll be just as finely crafted as this one.

Buy Whispers of Shadow & Flame 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 and three young children. 

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  1. the covers for the first two books rock for me. since blogging i read a lot more genres than i used to and fantasy is one of them. thanks for sharing
    sherry @ fundinmental

  2. You're very welcome! I had so much fun reading most of these! :)