Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Code of Love by Cheryl Sawyer

No Cover Available

The Code of Love
by Cheryl Sawyer

Trade Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Signet Eclipse
First Released: 2006

Source: Bought from library sale

Back Cover Blurb:
To Sir Gideon Landor, an English prisoner in the French colony [on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius], Delphine Dalgleish, a Parisian trifle who would think nothing of turning him over to the French legion, is as pretty--and as useless--as a porcelain doll. To Delphine Dalgleish, Sir Gideon is an ice-cold double agent she despises for his treachery.

But these two are about to discover how wrong first impressions can be. In the midst of the Peninsular War, Sir Gideon has orders to crack the Grand Paris Cypher, a complex code created for Napoleon. Meanwhile the emperor himself sends Delphine to London on a delicate espionage mission. When Gideon and Delphine confront each other, they manage to defend their dangerous secrets, but not their hearts. As passion takes hold, they must decipher their own complex code of love...

And still war draws them inexorably to the Peninsula, threatening their lives and testing an alliance that may prove stronger than two empires...

The book is a historical romance set in the early 1800's. The historical side of the story is well-developed, and the problems in the story come from the events happening at the time.

The characters are well developed and act in realistic ways. The pacing is good, and every scene serves a purpose. There is a fun "Pride and Prejudice" type proposal scene near the middle of the story. There are no explicit sex scenes, but the main characters do have sex after they're married. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One

"Escaped prisoner!" On a hot night in July 1810, the news sped around the capital of Mauritius and sent a frisson through the veins of its inhabitants. Captain General Decaen might well run the island as though it were the tightest ship in the Indian Ocean, but this was a time of war, and the English fleets hovering over the horizon created a powerful sense of menace around the remote Bonapartist stronghold. Rodriguez was already occupied by the British, Bourbon had fallen only a week before, and it was to one of these islands that the prisoner must have been aiming, for having silenced two sentries he reached the port unseen and swam out to snatch one of the French navy pinnacles in the harbor.

Delphine Dalgleish, at her family plantation of Saint-Amour, received a hasty note from a neighbor about the escape, and read it with consternation. The prisoner was English, and enemy, so she should not care--but she did. It was too close to home. The soldiers of the legion had been just in time to retake him, he had been mauled by four men-at-arms and he was already in solitary confinement by the time society rose and took its chocolate and sweet rolls in the warm light of the next morning, but the shock of it stayed in the mind. With one dramatic gesture, this young British officer had shown how different he was from the other prisoners of war, most of whom lived amongst the French colonists in a spirit of understanding. He had acted with a violence and speed that ran counter to the ordered island ways, which was why his treatment by the legion had been so vicious.

It was three days before he was brought back to the Maison Despeaux, the Garden Prison from which he had broken out. He was scarcely able to walk. He had not spoken a word under interrogation, nor a syllable since. Only Delphine Dalgleish knew who had betrayed him to the legion, and she told just one other person, so no one else knew what to think. Which made a visit to the Garden Prison de rigueur at the earliest opportunity.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Star of the Morning by Lynn Kurland

Star of the Morning

Star of the Morning
by Lynn Kurland

Trade Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
First Released: 2006

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Darkness covers the north, since the black mage has begun his assault on the kingdom of Neroche. Legend has it that only the two magical swords held by Neroche's king can defeat the mage. Now the fate of the Nine Kingdoms rests in the hands of a woman destined to wield one of those blades...

In this land of dragons and mages, warrior maids and magical swords, nothing is as it seems. And Morgan will find that the magic in her blood brings her troubles she cannot face with a sword-and a love more powerful than she has ever imagined.

This is a "romance fantasy," where the book has a strong romance in a fantasy setting. The world-building is fairly good, and the characters are engaging. The pacing is good, and every scene serves a purpose. There are no explicit sex scenes, but the hero and heroine do kiss. The magic is of the typical fantasy sort, allowing a man to shape-change or be "invisible" or such. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Personal note: As primarily a fantasy reader, I've always been disappointed that romance authors who try their hand at writing fantasy inevitably assume that "fantasy" means "doesn't have to be realistic." Yet the non-fantastical parts of a fantasy novel have to be solidly realistic in order to sell the reader on the fantastical parts. Lynn Kurland does a good job at keeping the realistic parts realistic and building an interesting fantasy world. (The one glaring example of where she flubs on realism is when she has Morgan, who's never been close to a horse before, able to ride, groom, tack, etc., a horse with expert skill the moment she comes in contact with it and without an lessons.)

Excerpt: Chapter One
Morgan of Melksham walked along the road, cursing both autumn's chill and her journey that caused her to be traipsing out in that chill instead of hunkering down next to a warm fire. This was not what she had planned. Her life had been proceeding quite nicely until she's received the missive in the middle of a particularly muddy campaign in which she'd been trying to pry one of Melksham's nobles from a keep that did not belong to him. The message from Lord Nicholas had been brief and pointed.

Come soon; time is short.

Morgan didn't want to speculate on what that might mean, but she couldn't help herself. Was the man suffering from life-threatening wounds? Was his home under siege from nobles he had exacted donations from once too often? Had he had a bountiful harvest and needed an extra pair of hands to bring that harvest to the cellar?

Was he dying?

She quickened her pace, forcing her thoughts away. She would know soon enough, and then that uncomfortable, unwholesome pounding in her chest would cease and she actually might be able to eat again.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl
by Shannon Hale

Trade Paperback: 383 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
First Released: 2003

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s stories and learning the language of the birds, especially the swans. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady in waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to help her. She becomes a goose girl and must use her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

This is a "fairy tale re-telling" based on a Grimm's fairy tale. The world-building in this book is good as is the pacing. The characters act and change realistically throughout the book. The romance in the story develops slowly. There are a few kisses, but no sex. I don't recall any curse words being used. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days.

The pacing queen directed ministers and physicians to the crib. They listened to her breathing and her hummingbird heart, felt her fierce grip and her tiny fingers soft as salamander skin. Al was sound. But her eyes did not open.

For three days the grave-faced attendants came and went. They prodded her, lifted her lids, slipped thick yellow syrups down her throat

“You are a princess,” the queen whispered to her ear. “Open your eyes.”

The baby cooed in her sleep.

When the third day had worn away to the lake blue of evening, a hand parted the nursery curtains. All was still for the night. The queen dozed on the bed. The baby in her crib dreamed of milk, her round, perfect lips nursing in sleep. A woman in a fern green robe pulled aside the curtains and tiptoed across the carpets. She slid her callused hands under the infant’s back and head, held her up, and grinned.

“Did you call me out of my house to come and tell you stories?” she said. “I will, my fat one, if you will listen.”

The queen awoke to the sounds of the rocking chair creaking and a voice singing about magpies and pigeons. She stood up, ready to call the guards, then saw that it was her own sister who sang to the baby, and that the baby was looking back at her aunt with wide eyes.

It was the aunt who shortened the crown princess’s name to Ani.

On clear days she took Ani to the north edge of the palace grounds where no wall had been built. That far out, the garden was allowed to stray out of its ordered beds and rows and merge with the occasional copse of ash and pine. The aunt felt easier there, and she held her niece’s small hand and named all she saw.

“You see the bird on the tallest branch there, the one with a yellow breast?” she’s migrating farther north now that the weather is warmer. The bluewing there is looking for twigs and says he has a found a picky mate.”

Ani began to speak sentences at one year. The aunt knew too well how Kildenreans disliked anything outside the common, and she tried to keep Ani’s progress hidden. But the household staff noted it, and rumours began that perhaps the queer green-clad nurse-mary possessed unnatural methods of awakening a child’s words.