It's no secret that I've been a fan of Sharon Lee and Steve Millers Liaden Universe space opera/Science Fiction novels for years--I am all over any of their novels of Korval, with the intricate characters, complex plots and amazing world-building that have become hallmarks of their work.
Because they have a huge following for anything Liaden, I was surprised when the duo announced that they were turning their hands to a high fantasy/romance for Baen Books.
Yet I was eager to read what style the couple would take with the book, and was again surprised when Duainfey turned dark and searing, not generally the kind of fantasy I expect from a middle aged married couple from Maine.
However, though I was uncomfortable with the horrific moments, I was riveted to the storyline by Lee and Millers fabulous characters, world building and labyrinthine plots (trust me, with them, it's a good thing to have a plot full of twists and turns--they never commit the sin of boring the reader).
Duainfey is mainly the story of Rebecca Beauvelley, a crippled noblewoman (she has a withered arm) and Meripen Vanglauf, also known as Longeye, a fey ranger who guards and protects the trees. Becca is faced with terrible choices as a young woman, to marry a cruel landowner or run away with a handsome Fey lord named Altimere, who presents her with an edited version of the future that shows her a life of beatings and domination or a life of pampered luxury with him. What Altimere doesn't tell her is that she is possessed of a great deal of "Kest" which is something like the Force that springs from the souls of those who are fey or quarter-fey mixed with newmen. Altimere enslaves Becca and uses her kest for his own nefarious dealings, including killing his rivals and having Becca service rivals and friends sexually. Becca manages, with the help of an herb called Duainfey and a few loyal friends, to break out of her enslavement, but almost dies in the process. Meanwhile, Meri Longeye is recovering from abuse and violence at the hands of people called "newmen" who are 'regular' people living beyond the barrier errected by the fey to protect themselves from the cold iron of progress and prejudice of non magical people. Longeye's lover is tortured and murdered in front of him when neither will reveal their 'secret' of making gold from thin air.
The sequel, Longeye, picks up as Meripen Longeye is recovering his kest and working with the newmen in a forest close to the barrier to figure out why there are trees appearing that are not alive, have no voices to speak to the rangers and seem to suck the life out of anyone or anything that encounters them.
Becca is also recovering from her ordeal, and has run away from Altimere's encampment with an artifact servant named Nancy and a quarter fey horse named Rosamunde. Because each has been tortured at the hand of the other's people/fey, Longeye and Becca are an unlikely couple. Yet through their love of trees and the green growing land, they bond to try and find the secret of the 'dead' trees and Altimere's plans for the barrier that sets their worlds apart. Romance eventually ensues, they entwine their kest and learn of one another via a mental bond that is unbreakable.
Though she's the protagonist, Becca came off, at times, as a bit of a ninny, stubborn and willful when she needs to review the situation and cooperate, and pliant/in need of rescue when she needs to be independent. She wasn't as stupid as Bella Swan,(of Twilight) thankfully, or I would never have made it through Duainfey, but she also wasn't as smart as the female protagonists of the Liaden Universe novels, who were able to take care of themselves and become heroines. I realize that the damsel in distress is part and parcel of the high fantasy/romance genre, still, I find the stereotype of the petite-yet-fiesty lady being rescued from her ignorance and problems by the tall and handsome-but-wounded manly woodsman a touch precious. This is not to say that I disliked Becca. I liked her, I just found her immature at times, though I was glad she and Longeye were able to vanquish the enemy and save the world.
Still, I enjoyed both Duainfey and Longeye, (the latter more than the former) and was pleasantly surprised that Lee and Miller were able to tie up all their loose ends so neatly and with logic. I also enjoyed the awakening that Becca and Meripen created in each other, and their ability to grow beyond their prejudice of the fey and newmen that had done them wrong. I wish a bit less time had been spent on Altimere in the barrier and his evil doings taking kest from everyone trapped there, etc. I really didn't feel the need to know about whatever calculations he used to try and bring down the barrier, but that's just me...I realize the mechanics of such things usually interest guys and, as Steve Miller co-wrote these books, he must have felt the need to add the scientific stuff, which is fine. It's just a place to skim over for me.
Anyway, other than those small nitpicks, I recommend Duainfey and Longeye to all those who love high fantasy/romances and who don't mind some darkness here and there to spice things up a bit.