First, a wonderful quote:
"Author T.C. Boyle gives a eulogy for Dutton's Brentwood, remembering his
first visit to the store where immediately he was "tenderly wrapped in
the aura of a bibliophile's paradise--the lighting dim, the interior
hushed, a smell of print investing the air as if the presses were even
then churning away in the basement."
Ahhh, yes, I have known many a bookstore that was just that wonderful.
But back to our regularly scheduled review.
I have to say it flat out: I love Lynn Kurland's books. I'm not a straight romance reader, and yet her books that are only slightly paranormal romances are all wonderful fun, extremely well written, full of witty banter between main characters and they always have a satisfying HEA ending.
Yet I wondered, when I picked up a copy of "Star of the Morning" by Kurland if she could handle a fantasy/romance hybrid and still come out smelling like the proverbial rose.
The good news is yes, she can and does not only handle the fantasy brilliantly, she creates a whole kingdom full of romantic tension that she somehow manages to sustain through two books.
The bad news is that Kurland is a cruel mistress of prose, and she makes the reader wait until he or she is halfway through the second book, "The Mage's Daughter" before she even allows her two main characters to kiss. Yes, that's right, I said kiss. They don't get into any more hanky-panky than some smoldering looks, kisses and hand-holding throughout the second half of Mage's Daughter. And there's been all that love, that sensual tension, that perfect combination of two adults who were meant to be together for 324 plus 378 pages. I was salivating for these two to consumate their relationship, but all I got was strung along by the delicious prose created by the adept Ms Kurland, whom I am beginning to think has a wicked streak running through her creative veins. She's like a cat toying with us....now put those readers down, Lynn Kurland and stop dangling them from your mouth by their tiny tails! Squeak!
Seriously, though, I loved Star of the Morning and The Mages Daughter. The prose was Kurland's usual beautiful style, which is not too florid and yet still detailed and elegant enough that you feel you can see the scenes she sets up. The plot marched right along, only dawdling a bit in the second book for some fluffing up of the relationship between the main characters, and to give the reader a bit more time with some wonderful secondary characters, like the horse master who talks to his horses and understands their speech. Above all, though, Kurland just knows how to tell a good story, and good storytelling is paramount in a fantasy novel, with or without the romance element.
The story so far is that our reluctant heroine, Morgan, is a trained warrior woman who is sent by her foster father on a quest to return a magical dagger to the King of Neroche. Meanwhile, back at the castle, the King of Neroche loses his magic and his magic sword (but he's such a buffoon the reader doesn't mind) and his bright brother (one of six siblings) who also happens to be the archmage of the kingdom, sends his braggart brother the king out into the kingdom to find that special someone who can wield the sword of Angesand, a magical sword made by a former queen. Foppish king sets off, gets himself repeatedly in trouble, and bright archmage follows to help him. Archmage meets up with reluctant heroine, loses his heart, and realizes, somewhere along the path back to Castle Neroche, that she is the magical sword wielder, but he doesn't tell her, because she has an aversion to magic and all things bespelled. Archmage and his doltish king brother take Morgan back to the castle, she encounters the sword of Angesand, and realizes, at the same time, that this men who have been traveling with her are the king and the archmage. She gets pissed off, naturally, and breaks the sword in a million pieces. She exits the room in disgust at the lies she's been told, and is given a cup of poisoned wine by the ultimate bad guy, a black mage named,oddly enough, Lothar (and I am certain I am not the only one who remembers the Mike Myers Saturday Night Live skit with Lothar of the Hill People, who called intercourse "walking") and is carried off to be cured by her foster father, who is more than he appears.
The second book shows us a weakened Morgan returning to her mercenary training ground to try and gain some perspective, only to have the archmage, Miach (pronounced Mike?) come to the training ground to learn swordplay and win the forgiveness of the love of his life, Morgan. Miach has discovered that Morgan has a dark and terrible heritage, and that she will have to confront that heritage and use her magic if the kingdom is to be saved. The two end up on a long and perilous quest, and are betrothed by the end of the book. There is a bit of puffery in the middle of the second book, but its so well done, and we get to spend time with more of Kurlands wonderful secondary characters, that I didn't actually mind. There is also more than a bit of Tolkien in these books, and a smattering of Arthurian legend as well. It makes for some tasty storytelling and I am certainly going to rush right out and get the next trade paperback in the series as soon as it hits the shelves.
Here's to hoping the sexual tension is finally relieved by the end of the third book!