GIVEAWAY: The House of the Four Winds, by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Courtesy of Tor Books, I’m excited to announce that readers of my blog have a chance to win a copy of Mercedes Lackey’s and James Mallory’s upcoming fantasy novel, The House of the Four Winds. (Which I reviewed here, if anyone’s curious.)

What do you have to do to get your name into this draw? Just comment on this post telling me what you would do with your life if you could follow your passions. Realistic or not, it doesn’t matter. Assume that you have all the funds and access to training that you would need, and that the end result would happily keep you going for the rest of your life.

Rules
~ 1 (one) entry per person
~ Open to all residents of the US and Canada
~ Must comment to be entered
~ Must provide some way of being contacted in case you win
~ Winner’s address will only be used to give to the publisher for shipping, and will not be retained by me
~ Contest closes at 11:59 PM, PST, on Sunday July 13, 2014.

Many thanks to Tor Books for kindly providing a copy of this book to giveaway! (You folks are seriously awesome!)

The House of the Four Winds, by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Lackey’s website / Mallory’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 5, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Thoughts: I’m pretty partial to just about anything written by Mercedes Lackey. If she’s written it, I’ll give it a chance, and more often than not I’ll enjoy it. I may encounter a problem here or there, but on the whole, whatever she writes is very likely to amuse me.

The House of the Four Winds, co-written by James Mallory, is no exception.

The story is a fairly simple one, drawing on old ideas and giving them a bit of a new twist. A king can’t afford to provide a dowry for each of his twelve daughters, so instead he helps them find their passions and get training, and then on their 18th birthday they will go out and make their own way in the world. The House of the Four Winds focuses on the eldest daughter, Clarice, who took to swordwork and wants to make her way to the New World. Disguising herself as a man and assuming the name Clarence, she finds herself a ship to take her there. The ship, though, is captained by a cruel man who has plans of his own, plans that don’t involve reaching his supposed destination, plans that involve piracy and magic and adventure on the high seas.

It’s a good combination when what you’re looking for is a fast-paced adventure with a solid dash of romance in the mix. You get an interesting story in the beginning, then it really ramps up once the captain has been killed and the piracy plot begins, since that’s when the crew comes across the House of the Four Winds, a deceptively nice island city ruled by pirates. Strong-armed into taking on a quest by the ruling pirate council, the crew of well-meaning mutineers once again heads off into danger, seeking a lot relic.

And here’s where the book largely falls apart. I’ll grant you, the first 75% of so is standard fantasy adventure, fun and light and it moves so quickly that you don’t notice the time passing, which is another thing I’ve come to expect from whatever Lackey has written or co-written (I haven’t read anything of Mallory’s that he’s written on his own, so I can’t say if that’s something he does as well). Aside from a couple of odd things that may have been editorial errors and will be ironed out in the final release (I read an ARC, so I’ll refrain from commenting until I see the final version), the story was great and just what I was looking for at the time.

But then I ran into problems.

The first problem was the issue of Clarice disguising herself as Clarence and falling in love with Dominick. No, actually, that isn’t a problem on its own. That was expected, and I actually enjoy seeing “disguised as a man” aspects to stories, for some reason. The problem for me came when Clarice’s actual gender was revealed. Specifically, Dominick’s reaction to it. Clarice was outed, did not choose herself to tell people that she was really a woman, nor that she had feelings for Dominick. It came as a surprise to everyone. And less than a day later, Dominick is by her side, confessing that he loves her too, but that when he thought she was a man he mistook those feelings for “mere friendship.” This rubbed me the wrong way. It was presented poorly. Had he said, “I convinced myself it was just friendship,” or had he admitted to struggling with what he thought were inappropriate feelings for another man once or twice, it would have come across to me much better. As it was, it seemed very much like Dominick was stating the only difference between being a friend and being in love with someone was what lies between that person’s legs. A friend is only a friend so long as they’re not the gender you’re attracted to. I’m certain it wasn’t intended that way, but it was, as I said, a poor presentation, and something that seemed so unrealistic is you take Dominick’s words at face value.

This was, however, a personal dislike about this scene, and it may not come across that way to others. A few other reviews I’ve read have praised it, in fact, for not having Dominick freak out and instead having him be very accepting of the situation. So your mileage may vary.

The second issue I had, and a much more troubling one, was the serious plot derailment at the end. The crew is sent after the lost artifact, find out how to get to it, almost get to it… and then in overthrowing the pirate-sorceress Shamal who forced them into it in the first place, end up elsewhere all of a sudden, away from the relic and with no resolution to the plot that drove the most of the last half of the novel, and the rest of the book is the crew fixing the ship, looting a ship graveyard, and heading back to land. To say that this was disappointing is an understatement. It felt sloppy, like the authors had written themselves into a corner and didn’t want to deal with what they had created, so they employed deus ex machina to solve the problem.

That being said, the rest of the book was fine. Better than fine. It was a great fantasy adventure on the high seas, set in a world that’s based upon (or was simply just meant to be) an alternate Earth, with a good narrative, detailed descriptions, and characters that feel bright and shiny and new, even if a good number of them lack depth or development. It’s the kind of fantasy you read when you want your world to have black-and-white morality, when you want a light adventure that’s easy on the mind but that will still provide you with hours of fun as you go along. Despite the problems I had with it, I still enjoyed reading it, and I’m already looking forward to seeing how the series will continue.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

The Outstretched Shadow, by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Mercedes Lackey’s website | James Mallory’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – April 1, 2007

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Kellen Tavadon, son of the Arch-Mage Lycaelon, thought he knew the way the world worked. His father, leading the wise and benevolent Council of Mages, protected and guided the citizens of the Golden City of the Bells. Young Mages in training-all men, for women were unfit to practice magic-memorized the intricate details of High Magic and aspired to seats on the council.

Then he found the forbidden Books of Wild Magic-or did they find him? The three slim volumes woke Kellen to the wide world outside the City’s isolating walls. Their Magic was not dead, strangled by rules and regulations. It felt like a living thing, guided by the hearts and minds of those who practiced it and benefited from it.

Questioning everything he has known, Kellen discovers too many of the City’s dark secrets. Banished, with the Outlaw Hunt on his heels, Kellen invokes Wild Magic-and finds himself running for his life with a unicorn at his side.

Kellen’s life changes almost faster than he can understand or accept. Rescued by a unicorn, healed by a female Wild Mage who knows more about Kellen than anyone outside the City should, meeting Elven royalty and Elven warriors, and plunged into a world where the magical beings he has learned about as abstract concepts are flesh and blood creatures-Kellen both revels in and fears his new freedom.

Especially once he learns about Demons. He’d always thought they were another abstract concept-a stand-in for ultimate evil. But if centaurs and dryads are real, then Demons surely are as well. And the one thing all the Mages of the City agreed on was that practicing Wild Magic corrupted a Mage. Turned him into a Demon. Would that be Kellen’s fate?

Deep in Obsidian Mountain, the Demons are waiting. Since their defeat in the last great War, they’ve been biding their time, sowing the seeds of distrust and discontent between their human and Elven enemies. Very soon now, when the Demons rise to make war, there will be no alliance between High and Wild Magic to stand against them. And all the world will belong to the Endarkened.

Thoughts: Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory teamed up to do an epic fantasy in an expansive world with a fairly rich, if somewhat unoriginal, history. In Armethalieh, the tongue-twistingly-name Golden City of Bells, where everything is taken care of thanks to mages, Kellen is an unhappy teen who doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a mage himself, thinking magic to be too stuffy and boring. But then he stumbles across the books of Wild Magic, forbidden texts, and from there his life turns upside down.

There are so many stereotypes and tropes running through this novel that it could almost be a game to spot them all. A bored and rebellious teen. A heavy patriarchy, keeping women in their place. An oppressive government. The discovery that women aren’t evil after all. A flirtatious centaur. Aloof elves. Demons with a plot to take over the world by corruption of its inhabitants. There definitely some rather creative elements in the novel, particularly with the way Wild Magic works, but for the most part, Lackey and Mallory don’t present us with anything we haven’t seen many times before.

The book is long, and like many novels involving Lackey, fairly slow-going with a lot of set-up, switching viewpoints from chapter to chapter so that we not only see through the eyes of the teenage protagonist Kellen, but also through his father, his father’s assistant, and thus we get glimpses into political events, schemes for betrayal and corruption, and many other things that help set the tone for Armethalieh as a more oppressive city than it looks at first blush, or as we may come to expect from a single cynical viewpoint of a young man chafing at his mundane life. Kellen thankfully does a fair bit of growing up as the book goes on, which is quite welcome since in the beginning he could get quite whiny, often rebellious for the sake of rebellion, and often deliberately didn’t do what he was supposed to just because it would annoy other people.

Much of the story was told ploddingly, with plenty of emphasis given to Kellen’s developing skill and understanding, the minutiae of life wherever he (or whatever other character we’re following) lives through, which makes it detailed and full of strong imagery, but also slows the story’s progression. I don’t know if Mallory is known for this, but I know for certain that Lackey is, and she seems to have developed some sort of super-power over the years so that the book stays interesting while very little is actually happening. Shalkan the unicorn provides witty and sarcastic dialogue, the elves may be aloof but their culture is fascinating, and the Endarkened may be an entire race of evil demons in love with torture devices, but they have an interesting underworld worth exploring.

It should be mentioned that this book has become my go-to book for examples of why editing is necessary even with big name authors who can sell books based on name alone. It’s a small error, but, well, allow me to illustrate:

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It’s a facepalm moment, one that should have been caught but for some reason wasn’t. It doesn’t change anything about the story, doesn’t make anything beyond that one exchange not make sense. Little errors like this seem to crop up a fair bit in Lackey’s works, I’ve noticed, little fact-checking problems that don’t do much beyond making me raise an eyebrow and give the book a weird look. (Another example in a Lackey book, The Fire Rose, where a character must participate in a magic ritual wearing clothes that are untainted by animal products… and so shows up wearing silk. I guess thousands of dead insects don’t count as animals to spirits of light and purity.)

This isn’t a great book, but it certainly is a good book, set in a world as interesting as it is derivative. It brings little new to the genre, but still provides a good deal of entertainment. Good for those looking for that particular combination of a thick book but light reading, the sort that will amuse you without making you have to think too hard. Fluff with substance, and plenty of potential to grow as the series goes on.