Originally posted 06/22/11 in my meta/review blog
By rights, I should probably dislike this book. We have elves who are pretty much just humans with Vulcan ear caps, snappy and entirely too modern patter and Hollywood Backlot Fantasy Venice. It’s part “someone’s roleplaying campaign turned novel” and part “Garret P.I. Light.” I would also say it had a lot in common with the Vlad Taltos novels, though Our Heroine of course does not engage in criminal activity, just her family. For some reason I was also strongly reminded of Eric Flint’s The Philosophical Strangler, though there isn’t actually a great deal in common between the books.
Our Heroine is a young magic user named Raine Benares. She is employed as a kind of private detective referred to as a “seeker.” We open the book with her trying to keep a sometime employee out of trouble, an attempt that leads to her discovering a magical object with a very bad reputation. She also ends up in the middle of an immensely tense political situation that is impossible for her navigate out of thanks to the same magical object.
The story is entertaining, though I had some problems with the haphazard world building. The writer does make some effort at creating distinct cultures, but not nearly enough. The only distinctly non-human, non-European-pseudomedieval culture is that of the goblins, and the goblins are cast as evil or at least morally alien to the predominantly pseudomedieval-European elves and humans. Of course, the only way we can tell that the goblins are non-European-pseudomedieval is that they have “shamans” instead of “mages” or “priests.” Of course, the writer was not going for anything more in depth than a fun romantic adventure set in Backlot Fantasy Venice, so we cannot exactly expect much cultural detail even if politics and culture are a big part of the novel. (In other words, I should not complain because the brownies are not cheesecake.)
The thing I liked about the novel is the generally slow build of the relationship between Raine and Mychael. We do not go directly to a romantic relationship, as they do not quite trust each other yet. (I was a bit annoyed to see the Possible Romantic Rival turn up however. One of these days I will read a book with a romance plotline where instead of a love triangle, there will just be the male and female protagonists being amazing. Of course then I would die of shock.) I also liked Raine, though I can tell she is heading for High Powered Heroine Land already. (Other books I have seen in this series do nothing to dispel my worries.)