Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

March 17, 2014

Review – Champion of the Rose by Andrea K Höst – AWWC14

This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. The novel this week is Andrea Höst’s Champion of the Rose, a political-mystery-romance set in a high fantasy realm with great mages, ancient magical constructs and some very daunting Fae. Like all of Höst’s novels, it is self-published (with a very beautiful Julie Dillon cover).

You almost feel sorry for Soren Armitage, the mystically chosen personal Champion of the monarch of a kingdom that has been a Regency for a couple of hundred years. Not being naturally inclined to the court, she’s happy enough with the complete lack of prestige or responsibility that comes with a position that nobody takes seriously. Which is when, of course, a magical rose blooms to let everyone know that the King has unexpectedly returned.

The shape of Champion of the Rose is a little hard to pin down. The first third or so is a hunt for a King whom nobody’s seen and who shouldn’t exist. Then the focus shifts to Soren’s navigation of courtly politics flavoured with espionage, betrayal and attempted assassin, all while she attempts to unravel ancient magical secrets and negotiate impossible personal relationships. Finally the last bit is more of the previous, only with the stakes turned up to eleven by the unanticipated presence of a Fae embassy.

Soren Armitage is one of those reluctant heroines who goes from comfortable to out-of-her-depth in a matter of a few paragraphs. With no great martial or magical skills, she holds her own only with a slightly disoriented pragmatism and a tenacity reinforced by a series of confounding magical revelations. While she is far more resourceful and brave than she’s given credit for, I found myself far more interested in several of the supporting cast. In particular Aristide Couerveur, the son of the Regent (and a character with as Höstian a name as the author has ever conjured) is fun. He is the tremendously powerful mage whose ascent to the Regency is arrested by the King’s return – the author successfully teases his inscrutable motives for quite some time before he shows his true colours. Despite the dour self-control that dominates his personality, I found Aristide one of the highlights of the story.

Champion of the Rose is an engaging fantasy political thriller (in part), a tormented romance (in some ways) and a complicated magical murder mystery where the dead bodies are in all the wrong places. I found it an enjoyable read with a satisfying resolution. I would just caution readers that the geopolitical history of the setting set out early in the novel is pretty important. Maybe don’t skim over those bits quite as casually as I did, or you’ll find yourself having to check back when it all comes together in the later chapters.

 

May 21, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – Hunting by Andrea K. Höst

This is my third review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. I thought I was doing a little better than that, but then I remembered that I’ve been reading short stories almost exclusively for the last couple of months. So I’ve got a little bit of catching up to do.

Hunting is a standalone young adult fantasy novel by Andrea K. Höst [1]. Ash Lenthard is the street-smart young heroine  who has disguised herself as a (slightly younger) boy and apprenticed herself to a herbalist in order to escape from an unfortunate previous life. When her guardian is murdered, she finds her desire to return to life on the streets thwarted when she is warded to the Investigator appointed by the king to look into the serial killing of herbalists. With no choice but to maintain her identity as a young boy, Ash finds herself cornered into becoming a seruilis (squire) to the foreign noble and a key part of his murder investigation.

A summary of the first couple of chapters makes Hunting sound like a bit of a fantasy version of a grim investigative procedural, and to an extent it is. The more that Ash and the nobleman, Thornaster, poke around, the more vicious and bleak the conspiracy they uncover becomes. Beneath the witty banter, romantic interplay and the flirtation with cross-dressing farce, the world of Hunting has a more nihilistic streak than most of Host’s work. But she does an excellent job of keeping the action moving so that the story never threatens to wallow in its own darkness.

The author has mentioned that Hunting was written at least partly in response to her frustration with the heroines of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, who despite their deep reserves of pluck and spirit often fall just short of being proactive. Some guy always comes along to make all their decisions for them.  Ash is every bit as strong-willed as any Heyer heroine, but she’s only likely to go along with a would-be white knight if it happens to suit her purposes. She’s a fun character, even if she herself is not often having much fun.

I have to confess that I didn’t fully understand the magical elements of the story, which are integral to the plot’s resolution, but it certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying them. Apart from that, it’s an adventurous romp with plenty of derring-do, peril and romance, flavoured with the odd splashes of darkness to settle the froth.

 

[1] I have previously reviewed her novels And All the Stars,  Stained Glass Monsters and The Silence of Medair.

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