The Rebel Prince

The Rebel Prince by Celine Kiernan is the last in a trilogy about the medieval-fantasy, semi-political adventures of Wynter Moorehawke.

rebel

Blurb:  King. Country. Crown. What would you die for?

Wynter Moorehawk has braved bandits and Loup-Garous to find her way to Alberon–the exiled, rebel prince. But now that she’s there, she will learn firsthand that politics is a deadly mistress. With the king and his heir on the edge of war and alliances made with deadly enemies, the Kingdom is torn not just by civil war–but strife between the various factions as well. Wynter knows that no one has the answer to the problems that plague the Kingdom–and she knows that their differences will not just tear apart her friends–but the Kingdom as well.

Wynter, her friends, and the Merron tribe arrive at Alberon’s camp and reality slams back around our trio, reminding them of their social and political divisions. I hate diplomatic, political speak and it’s frustrating, at first, watching Razi and Wynter dance around the issues with Alberon. But whether it’s a result of their close relationship or the long journey away from court, it doesn’t take too long to cut to the chase and lay it all on the table. Finally, we get the answers that have been sought since the trilogy began. But not all at once – we get bits and pieces slowly building to a whole. And a whole ‘nother side to the story as we finally get to meet Alberon and learn his side of everything that has been happening.

And it’s a mess. A huge, jumbly, messy mess of wrongs and rights and do the ends justify the means and how to save a kingdom and it’s people and alliances made with those you hate for the sake of a purpose and how far should a leader have to sacrifice or compromise for his duty and responsibilities. The division between Alberon & his father is chasmic and I honestly thought war was inevitable. I just couldn’t see how Wynter and Razi would be able to mediate or resolve the differences of opinion (and approach) between the king and his disowned son.

Wynter also has to make her own choices and decide where to stand on her own convictions; political and social expectations, and the relationship she has established with Christopher, a social inferior so far as the court is concerned. In the second book, Christopher made his stance clear when introducing Wynter to his people and protecting her from the Loups-Garous. Wynter has the same opportunity here and you can’t help but love Christopher all the more for his patience and lack of pressure while she wrestles with the decision.

You’ve heard the cliche about a crisis balancing on the edge of a knife? Well, it’s quite literal in The Rebel Prince. And not everything gets wrapped up in a pretty bow once the fog clears and the weapons are laid down. But it feels like it does. After a long series of drawing out every detail and explaining every action, the story stops in the middle of a huge tumult and then is wrapped up in a sugary-sweet epilogue. If you felt cheated by The Hobbit (and Lord of the Rings) employ of “The eagles are coming” then you’ll likely feel a bit excluded from the resolutory action here.

Oh, but you finally get an answer for the whole wolves question. Frankly, while the ghosts served a narrative purpose in the first and second book (albeit small purposes), the talking cats were fun but felt like a bit of an unnecessary contrivance. And then you get “wolves” right in the latter third of this last volume and it felt out of left field. Going back & rereading, I can see where Kiernan sprinkled little hints along the way. But I think there has to be some basis to foreshadowing. Explaining what I mean through a different popular series – in Twilight, the hints that are laid regarding Edward being a vampire only work because the reader knows about the concept of vampires in the first place. The semi-fantasy/semi-reality world Wynter lives in never hints at the existence of anything outside of ghosts and talking cats (both of which are mentioned almost immediately in the first chapter of the first volume) so “wolves” being anything besides a solely canine-type animal felt like a sudden lurch in the established world-building.

All that being said, I enjoyed this series and it is difficult to browse through a volume looking for a particular passage as I find myself an hour later, happily rereading the entire thing. Have you read any books that grab you every time you pick them up?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Crowded Shadows

The Crowded Shadows by Celine Kiernan is the second in a trilogy about the medieval-fantasy, semi-political adventures of Wynter Moorehawke.

crowded

Blurb:  Brother. Ally. Enemy. Who would you trust?

Every tyrant who ever threatened the Kingdom is gathering to Alberon’s table, and the forest is alive with spies, wolves, and bandits. Within these crowded shadows, Protector Lady Wynter Moorehawke travels alone and unprotected, determined that she shall find the rebel prince and heal the rift that has come between the King and his legitimate heir. But who is an ally and who is a foe? In this, the second volume of The Moorehawke Trilogy, old friends and even older enemies ensure that Wynter is never certain of who she can trust.

The book picks up where the first novel ended; Wynter, alone on the road, hoping to somehow find the hiding Prince Alberon. Fortunately she almost immediately stumbles on the two people she most wants to see, Christopher and Razi, who are secretly traveling in the woods for the exact same purpose. Together, they travel on and soon encounter more than one element from Christopher’s past. 

The Crowded Shadows is my favorite volume in the trilogy. Just picking it up to refresh my mind on one or two parts of the story was difficult as I kept finding myself sucked into the narrative. Firstly, unlike The Poison Throne which all took place within the palace grounds, this part of the story involves their travels. The setting, mainly surrounded by trees and around open campfires, the occasional stop at an inn, and various encounters with different enemies and friends, made for a much different vibe. Almost carefree despite the constant danger, after the stifling atmosphere of the court.

The second reason, and the main pull for me, was halfway through the book when they meet up with a Merron tribe.  Although not Christopher’s specific tribe, they are still his people, and it was fascinating to encounter such a unique people group. Their culture and beliefs were well developed and, while not always pleasant, believable. I am always intrigued by culture and the nomadic Merron’s similarity to Vikings was fascinating. We also learn a great deal more regarding how Razi and Christopher met, and Christopher’s backstory. It’s horrible but finally sheds light on one of the mysteries in this tale filled with unknowns.

As before, the relationships drive the story. Away from the strained politics of the court, the friendship between the main trio deepens as does the romance between Wynter and Christopher. The blurred physical boundaries continue on in much the same vein as before, and while the line is never crossed, it isn’t due to Wynter’s unwillingness. But in the context of the story, it made some sense. Away from society, living without pretense, it can be easy to forget the rules and just focus on the principles underneath them. As Wynter puts it, “We have made our promises to each other, Razi.”

The slight fantasy elements are not as apparent in this volume. Except for two seconds in the very last chapter, they don’t encounter any ghosts or cats so the realistic medieval environment settles around the characters. There is constant talk of the Loups-Garous as wolves but I was never sure how to take that – a description of their evil ways or something literal. There are also some other uncomfortable elements regarding the Merron. Homosexuality is accepted in their culture and the narrative, while not explicit, does not hide the fact. And while the Kingdom has always been painted in a way that made them seem somewhat “Christian” in their beliefs, the Merron are not and their pagan beliefs and practices caught me off guard. (Though had I been a little more familiar with Vikings…) The story is still violent and doesn’t gloss over many details but it doesn’t revel in them either.

Despite the fact that the story ends without meeting Alberon, it doesn’t feel like wasted filler as many middle books do. The main trio go through quite a journey to arrive on Alberon’s doorstep; not just physically, but in every other regard. And their purpose slowly transforms from just “find Alberon and figure out what’s going on” to “not just the Kingdom is at stake.” The next volume entices with the promise to finally reveal all.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Prodigal Nights

I think I need to work on a review format. Reviewing one book should not take me hours, right? *sigh*

Prodigal
Blurb:    For two returning prodigals will the challenge to live “good” withstand the allure to be bad?

After a nasty divorce, Bethany Davis returned to college and lived up to the low standards set by gossips. Her dad’s stroke has now brought her home, and Bethany finds herself in a dilemma–how can she get beyond her past, learn to trust again, and live a “good” life? 

Bethany’s father’s involvement in the defense industry adds excitement to her expectation of a boring life back home. However, bodyguards, stalkers, and international secrets are the least of her problems–opening her heart to trust again is a totally different matter. And the mutual attraction with her new team leader, Jason Ross, spells the possibility of big-time heart trouble.

Jason’s days of wild living are over, and he’s determined to prove to himself and God that he’s on the right path. When Bethany steps into his office, he sees the girl of his dreams, but is she God’s gift or Satan’s temptress?

Maybe it’s just me, but I think this suspenseful romance is lacking a blurb that adequately entices. While it states the central conflict well, it does so in a way that feels slightly off-putting, which is a shame because I really enjoyed the book and would hate for potential readers to get scared off by the “goody-two-shoes” blurb.

Prodigal Nights by Lisa Buffaloe is primarily Bethany’s story. Married young, things had fallen apart dramatically and when vicious gossip began to fly, Bethany had fled town and her faith to live the stereo-typical wild college life. That era behind her, she’s determined to move on when she is tricked into a summer back home. Bethany quickly finds herself caught between the new path she’s laid for herself and an attraction to a coworker. Afraid to risk her heart and determined to avoid physical temptations, where can Bethany find the strength to do the right thing?  Add bodyguards, a possible stalker and international intrigue from her father’s involvement in military defenses and Bethany’s got enough trouble to keep sleep far from her on these prodigal nights…

I enjoyed this book. A simple read but with more meat than an inspirational Harlequin, I found the suspenseful parts creepy and exciting. You know how some books (and movies) keep up the intrigue by having the character’s distracted by one problem only to have another creep in while the reader wants to shout “look behind you!”? Well, I was immensely gratified in this book because the character’s were smart enough to put two and two together and know something more was going on. I always respect intelligent, realistic characters!

I also appreciated the perspective on the physical side of a Christian romance. So many inspirational romances gloss over that aspect of human physiology as if Christian’s are exempted from “temptations of the flesh”. It’s unrealistic and I’d rather a romance prepare young ladies for those feelings than pretend they don’t exist.

Frankly, the only part of the book I disagreed with was the opinion the main couple seemed to have that it was harder for them to “be good” because they knew what they were missing. Coming from someone who married the only man she ever dated, I distinctly remember how strong those physical temptations can be and I didn’t have past indiscretions fueling the desires.

I did also think two of Bethany’s coworker friends were rather stereotypical. I would have enjoyed it more if Rhonda, the solid Christian, had been the one with spiky, tinted hair. But that’s a personal preference of mine, always going against the stereotype, and I doubt any other reader would notice.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.