Excerpt and Giveaway: The Rogue Not Taken

The Rogue Not Taken

I am beyond excited right now. Sarah MacLean is coming out with a brand new book to kick up another spectacular series. If you’re new to this blog, you might not know about my deep and overwhelming love for Nine Rules and the Rules of Scoundrels series. But if you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I have a book release countdown calendar for my favorite authors of all time, and Sarah MacLean is ON IT. The Rogue Not Taken releases on Dec. 29th, so take note, and read on for an exclusive excerpt, giveaway, and other fun goodies.

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Portrait of a woman seated and reading possibly on board SS TANDA -- from the Australian Maritime Museum

Read-It-Again Romance Favorites

Earlier this month I re-read Pride & Prejudice for the first time in over 10 years. I had a completely different experience reading it as a 30-something historical romance reader than as a college-aged English Literature major. Somehow it was wittier, more romantic and subtle, more sly and tongue-in-cheek than I remembered it being. Of course I fell in love with Darcy and Elizabeth all over again and vowed to never again let so much time pass before re-reading Pride & Prejudice. 

It’s officially on my read-it-again romance list, and yes, I have a real list. It’s small at the moment, just a few select favorites that I turn to every year (sometimes less, sometimes more) when I need a little something that I know I can always find within its pages.

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A Teenage Assassin in Love

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversTitle: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book 1
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo

Once upon a time, my book sister, Heather De La Garza, and I had a book club–a YA Dystopian Book Club to be exact. Spurred on by our mutual love of teenagers in mortal peril, we read through many an iteration of world-ending scenarios. Somewhere along the way our book club got much bigger and turned into us just reading whatever the hell we felt like reading. That said, our love for Young Adult Literature runs deep, and our latest book club pick, Grave Mercy, brought us back to our YA roots.

Fleeing an abusive arranged marriage, Ismae is smuggled away to the Convent of Saint Mortain, God of Death. There she learns the art of assassination–poison, weaponry, seduction, and killing. Ismae’s first assignment as a Handmaiden of Death sends her to the royal court of Breton in the company of the handsome (of course) nobleman Duval. There she must protect the Duchess Anne and unravel a tangled web of political intrigue, treason, and attempted assassination. The challenge? Staying true to her mission and convent while nursing a pretty serious attraction to Duval.

Grave Mercy is really a historical fiction whodunnit with a secondary romance and just a dash of fantasy. Ismae is a formidable female protagonist. Although she suffers from many of the  annoying tendencies that plague first-person narrators in YA literature–self-absorption, naivete, stubbornness to the point of willful ignorance–she’s quite a likeable lead. This is a credit to LaFevers, who never lets the story get bogged down in Ismae’s self-consciousness and manages to keep the storyline moving. The romance between Ismae and Duval is heightened by the political mystery (Who’s trying to kill Anne?!?), which adds an interesting twist to an already unconventional pairing. To complicate the Breton-noble-meets-teenage-assassin love story, Duval’s loyalties are repeatedly called into question. Ismae is forced to reconcile her devotion to her convent and the Duchess with the slow-growing attraction she feels to Duval. If he is indeed the traitor, she must be the one to bring him down.

This romance is a very slow-burn, with probably the least sexy sex scene I’ve ever read in young adult or romance literature. The history and political intrigue is what kept me reading; the romance was just a slight bonus. The precarious world of the 16th century Breton court was fascinating, and the layer of fantasy (in the form of the God of Death) never felt overpowering or out of place. In fact, I’d hesitate to recommend this novel to fantasy and romance readers, but if you’re a lover of historical fiction in general, you’ll find it difficult to put this book down.

Rating: B+ (unexpected and surprisingly enjoyable)

 

Falling in Love on the Road, Plus MAGIC

Mystic and Rider by Sharon ShinnTitle: Mystic and Rider
Series: Book 1 in the Twelve Houses Series
Author: Sharon Shinn
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo

Librarians are the best, y’all. A few months ago I was in a serious fantasy funk after completely losing my head and heart to Laini Taylor‘s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. I wanted to read something high fantasy, with maybe a little romance thrown in, but not exclusively written for young adults. Where could I go for high quality reader’s advisory? Only the largest collection of badass librarians anywhere on Facebook: the ALA Think Tank. After posting about my reader’s ennui and desperately pleading for suggestions, I was flooded with a rash of amazing book suggestions by some seriously well-read folks. Thanks to them, my public library book hold list is out of control, and I am now a complete literary-evangelist for fantasy-writer Sharon Shinn.

Have you read Mystic and Rider? Because you should. It is high fantasy at its best, and it was a 2005 Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best Epic Fantasy. You get a romance too! Bonus!

The first book in Shinn’s Twelve Houses series, Mystic and Rider is an introduction to the world of Gillengaria, where mystics (people with magical abilities) are held in suspicion, the king’s wife is rumored to have ensnared him with sorcery, and the twelve powerful noble houses of the land are divided in their loyalties to the crown. Aware of the growing unrest in his kingdom, King Baryn dispatches Senneth, a powerful mystic with power over fire, to learn more about the political situation he faces. Accompanying her on this journey are Justin and Tayse, two members of the King’s Riders; Kirra, a noble-woman, shape-shifter, and magical healer; Kirra’s constant companion and fellow shape-shifter, Donnal; and Cammon, a young, untrained but powerful empath whom they rescue.

It’s a classic on-the-road adventure story of people from different worlds brought together for a common mission. Although the story moves with purpose, Shinn’s focus is primarily on her characters. From the opening chapter we get a sense of each mystic and rider and the interpersonal relationships that shape them: Donnal’s unwavering loyalty to Kirra, Justin’s older-brother-style fondness for Cammon, and Tayse and Senneth’s growing connection. It’s a far cry from so many fantasy-adventure stories that suffer from what I call Plot-Plot-Plot Syndrome (i.e. this happens! Then this other thing happens! Then something else happens to a person you don’t care about because the author hasn’t developed any one character very well!). Shinn’s a thoughtful crafter of characters. Her party of travelers is now among some of my favorite ensemble casts from literature and television–“the Scooby Gang” in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Clan Fraser in the Outlander novels, the crew of Firefly…You get the idea.

That’s not to say that Mystic and Rider doesn’t benefit from some awesome world-building, because it absolutely does. There’s a sense of history unfolding as the travelers make their way across Gillengaria. Old grudges are revealed and the roots of alliances grow, all while our band of six get to know one another as we learn about them.

Did I mention there was romance? Because there is, and it is lovely. The groundwork for a romance between Tayse, the first among the King’s Riders, and Senneth, the powerful mystic, is laid early in the novel. Senneth is a strong woman clearly capable of using her magic to take care of herself and those she cares about, which makes her attraction to Tayse that much more powerful. She’s a woman who knows what she wants. The fact that Tayse, a strong man in his own right, is drawn to Senneth’s power makes him king among alpha-male heroes in my book. Their romance is a slow burn, but it’s a good one. My only criticism is that I wished the flames had burned sooner and brighter.

Rating: A+ (For badass women who can hold their own, stellar world-building and character development, and a great romance on the road.)