I chose this book because I was intrigued by the description in the blurb and was looking for new fantasy romance to try. This one is actually a blend of sci-fi and fantasy and I was enthralled with the world building, the colorful characters, the all-encompassing story and series arc, but at the same time I think there was a bit of first book in a series syndrome that kept it from being as sharp as it could be.
The world building is complex in that the people of the planet Celta are descendants of humans from earth. They seem to all have innate magic of some level. The power of the magic was what determined the class structure and the type of magic determined the houses of nobility. Some nobles seemed to even have more than one magical skill. The best way to describe it all is think Historical Romance set in Regency or Victorian London- rigid class structure, segregated sections of town, social season and coming out for the nobles as well as marriages brokered for convenience or for connection. The one glaring rarity is the Heart Mate (soulmate) connection. This is the version of marrying for love no matter what the other circumstances of the pair. And that is what is at the bottom of this story.
The story begins when a nobleman, T’Ash, finds his heartmate. T’Ash is an unusual noble in that he was born into a noble family, watched his family destroyed by magical fire from a betraying noble house that set them up as rivals, he escapes to survive in the worst part of the city, returns when he is old enough and powerful enough to exact a strong revenge on those who killed his family and is finally restore as Great Lord of his House of Ash. With the help of the Holly Noble House, he re-establishes himself as the sole member of his house, but he never quite fits in and he is suspicious and closed off from other nobles who are condescending and nervous around him. He is uncouth from his years living in the gutter and hides his sensitivity of feel less than by a foreboding manner. Unfortunately, his heartmate is as opposite of him as possible and she wants nothing to do with him even accusing him of seducing her with magic when he was just trying to court her with his heart gift.
Danith Mallow is middle class and she prizes her independence and control over her life. She has little magic, grew up in an orphanage after her parents were killed and found the strict, cold existence something she never wants again. She only wishes to make her own rules and go quietly through life surrounded by a family. She has even picked that family out and the man who won’t jostle her plans at all. She loves his folks, his sister and he is nice- staid, but nice. Into her serene world crashes Great Lord T’Ash and his rough street cat familiar, Zam Foxhill. T’Ash scares her and bewilders her with his smoldering, powerful personality. This man is not made for a calm, even home, relationship or partnership. He won’t just accept the trickle she is willing to put forth; he’ll push her to open herself entirely and that type of totally trust terrifies her not to mention the strong waves of attraction she doesn’t want to feel toward him. He pushes her to accept his forceful courtship insisting they are heartmates and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. And then he really sends her life in a whirl when he proves that she is actually more gifted with magic than she knew. Between T’Ash, her new status as a noble lady and all the changes she is confused, but most definitely not indifferent to the man with the rough manners and forceful personality. As she gets to know the man behind the title, she realizes that she is not the only one who struggles to open up and share the vulnerable tender feelings inside.
This was a book that I nearly put aside several times. I was only mildly engaged for a lot of it which was part of the problem, but the other part was that the heroine drove me crazy. As brutish and pushy as the hero is, I still liked him. He earned my respect for all that he had accomplished and the fact that he was open to having a heartmate. He was honorable and loyal to his friends. He put their needs first and from the moment he met Dannith, he put her first. Now did he go about things patiently and gently? No not at all. He was a real thorn and I would have been okay with her rejections if she were honestly indifferent instead of just in serious denial. T’Ash didn’t meet her profile for perfect hubby with the white picket fence and two point five kids and dog. She waffled between treating him like scum on the bottom of her shoe and freaking out that he was way high above her in status. It was hard to see her rip into him out of ignorance and her own fears, to watch her hit him where he was vulnerable time and again. She was awful to him and yet he kept trying. Honestly, this is the weakness of fated mates stories for me. I don’t mind the device, but yet unless I like both the players; I end up feeling pity that someone is stuck. Danith finally got her act together somewhere near the last ten percent of the book, but she never really won me over after all the dilly-dallying and lack of spine from earlier.
Now, beyond my issues with the heroine, the rest of the book had great potential. It took a while to get going and could get ponderous in explanation, but yet I’m not really sure how the author could have left it out because it was important much of the time. The world was so complex that the author did a pretty good job of not just dumping info, but the reader/listener does need to pay attention to keep from being confused.
The exciting moments were great. The fight scenes were mostly back alley stuff with street toughs, but I found them pretty thrilling. T’Ash is this huge warrior and I loved the moments in the scenes where he went all lethal protector on those who would attack him, Danith or his friends. He was also so tender and sweet when he cared for Danith in the aftermath. Be still my heart! I loved this guy and maybe that is why Danith’s rejections were such a strong irritant. Eventually, they got up to some sexy times. It was near the end that I was resolved to and even liked their pairing. They definitely are each other’s ying and yang by the time all was said and done.
Now, even though I had trouble sticking with this story a few times, the narrator, Noah Michael Levine, was actually part of what kept me going over my rough spots. He was a decided strength. He made the World of Celta come alive for me, he made all the details so fascinating and really engaged me with T’Ash and the other characters. His pacing was really good whether it was a quiet scene with T’Ash and his cat, Zam, T’Ash and Danith having a terse dialogue, a fight scene or a scene of passion. I would definitely listen to other books he narrates.
All in all, this one landed on the side of moderately enjoyable, but also left me with a desire to keep going with the series. I think a different heroine and maybe now that I’m passed all the first book explanations will really make the difference. I loved the blend of sci-fi and fantasy and would recommend it to others.
Literary Pickers #97 Couch
Romance Roundabout #96 FR
New to Me #52 Series
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