Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Finalist!

We are proud to announce Toru: Wayfarer Returns has been named a Foreword INDIES 2016 Book of the Year Finalist in the Multicultural (Adult Fiction) category!

Foreword/Clarion also bestowed a nice five star review  last year.

Winners will be announced during the 2017 American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago on June 24, 2017. We would like to congratulate our fellow finalists on their very intriguing books and wish everyone good luck as we wait for news of the winners.

The US Review of Books RECOMMENDED 5 Star Review of “Toru”

Palantir Press is proud to share with you the latest editorial review of “Toru: Wayfarer Returns,” just in from reviewer John E Roper at The US Review of Books. Or find it here on Goodreads. We include it here as well for easy access.

Tōru: Wayfarer Returns
by Stephanie R. Sorensen
Palantir Press

 

 

“Jiro was shouting, pointing urgently at something, but Tōru couldn’t hear. Just in time he saw the men at the anchor raise a blade and slice down, severing the line to the anchor.”

He knew he was taking a tremendous risk in coming home. For two years, Tōru had lived among Americans, learning their language and their ways, studying the technology of the West that far outmatched that of his homeland in the East. It would have been much safer to stay where he was, even if he would never fit in completely, than make the forbidden journey back to a land where the Shogun’s law demanded his death as a “spy,” But Tōru also knew that Japan was a ripe plum in the eyes of the Western powers, and before long, the Americans or perhaps one of the European nations would sail with their mighty ships of war to pick it. So he felt compelled to return with the knowledge and secrets he had gained and to try to convince his people of their danger before it was too late, even if that meant paying for his courage with his life.

In an impressive debut Sorensen weaves a page-turning tale of alternate history that examines what might have been if Japan had been on a more equal footing militarily when Commodore Perry attempted to open up trade with the island nation through gunboat diplomacy. That question alone would be enough to fuel an interesting novel, but the author takes the narrative up a notch by adding elements of steampunk to her storyline along with some familiar characterizations from Japanese anime and manga. The result is a satisfying blend of serious historical speculation, military action, suspense, and romance that at times also evokes the mood of a Miyazaki film. Tōru’s tale is just the first installment in a much bigger saga. If future volumes are as well-written and entertaining as this one, Sorensen’s future as an author looks extremely bright.

RECOMMENDED and awarded 5 stars on Goodreads by the US Review of Books.

CLOCKWORK SAMURAI

211 pages $2.99 on Kindle

Ninjas, Dragon Airships, Romance and Adventure, from the Forbidden City to Japan under isolation, a fun adventure yarn

Jeannie Lin is best known for her romance novels, historical romances set in Tang Dynasty China. I have not read those, but have now read the first two books in her Gunpowder Chronicles steampunk series set in the Opium Wars era in China in the mid-19th century. I enjoyed both, and look forward to seeing more books in the series, now that she has set up the world and her characters so well.

Clockwork Samurai picks up soon after Gunpowder Alchemy, with our heroes from Gunpowder Alchemy, Jin Soling and Chen Chang-wei, now at work in the Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City, Soling as an Imperial physician and Chang-wei as a senior engineer in the Ministry of Engineering. An audacious plan to seek a Japanese alliance against the British, who are rotting China from within with opium, tainted and otherwise, is ordered into action by the new Emperor.  Soling and Chang-wei are dispatched to Japan, an island nation closed against all foreigners for over two centuries. Action, intrigue, reunions and shifting alliances ensue.

Ninjas! Clockwork Samurai! Dragon airships! And mechanical Chinese herb mixing machines and other delightful Asian-inflected steampunk elements enliven the mix. I don’t want to give the plot away except to notice that there is a great deal of tromping around in the Japanese countryside suffering rather frequent attacks by assassins in well-written bouts of action that reminds me oddly enough of the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy where Merry and Pippin as Team A and Frodo and Sam as Team B spend much of the book tramping here and there to get to various places under rather frequent attack by orcs and other disagreeables, an shortcoming remedied in the Two Towers film version by spending the film time on less tramping and one big hellacious siege battle. I kind of got to the end of the book still looking for the climactic “boss fight” after all the tramping. The author set up a lot, whether it be the danger of the tainted opium, the position of the Japanese Shogunate on foreign politics, the position of the Chinese empire, but that the story didn’t quite push any of these elements as far as they could have been pushed or get to resolution or payoff on any of them. I found this underdevelopment by a terrific writer a crime of omission in what is otherwise a great read.

For it is a great read, my quibbles aside, and head and shoulders above much else that is available in the steampunk genre world, well-written in graceful yet concrete prose. For Lin’s adventure yarn also brings in wonderful elements of romance in the slow-simmering and very Chinese romance brewing over two books between Soling and Chang-wei, the backdrop of the urgent and tumultuous struggle for survival between the great Far Eastern powers and the rising Western Powers that marked the mid-19th century, and a growing flock of well-drawn characters in what is fast-becoming an epic scale world. Lin’s characters are individual and unique, reflecting their Chinese status-conscious culture here, or their Japanese dedication to honor and duty there.

The romance element is strong, befitting Lin’s background in historical romance. While I do suspect Lin came up with more excuses for Soling and Chang-wei to be thrown together in private, with Chang-wei’s shirt off to reveal nicely muscled masculine flesh so Soling can play doctor on him, than were absolutely necessary for plot requirements, the occasional fiery chance touches and shivers and moments of snuggling were welcome and let the Western reader accustomed to more sexual action understand that these two are in to each other even if they spend most of their time stoically ignoring each other. Lin’s grasp of the period history and culture is strong and sure, and her tale provides a great introduction to the non-Asia expert on the period and place where she has set her story.

I look forward to seeing Soling and Chang-wei continue their romance and their careers under the capricious new Emperor, and hope they are able to forge the alliance with Japan that they seek with their new friends and…no, I shan’t give it away. Suffice it to say that the new allies and technologies they found in Japan set up many new exciting possibilities for the next installments in the Gunpowder Chronicles. I look forward to reading more from Jeannie Lin. I recommend the book to action-adventure fans, historical romance fans, steampunk fans looking for something outside Victorian England and the American Wild West and anyone who enjoys a well-written yarn.

“Toru: Wayfarer Returns” Virtual Book Tour Live!

Palantir Press is excited to announce our first ever book tour of our first published book, Toru: Wayfarer Returns, the story of a Japan that might have been. Over the next thirty days, we’ll be making stops at thirty book blogs, with author interviews, excerpts, giveaways and more. We’d like to thank the great folks over at Goddess Fish who organized the tour for us. Here’s the list of blogs we’ll be visiting each day for the next month! We’re excited to meet these book bloggers and hope you will check them out as well.

During this upcoming month, we’ll be running additional promotions on Goodreads and Amazon and through the thirty book blogs, so sign up to follow author Stephanie R. Sorensen on Goodreads and Amazon to get notified about upcoming giveaways and promotions. Follow Palantir Press on Twitter to get updates on Toru: Wayfarer Returns news and promotions, as well as our reviews of other books.

Speaking of news and awards, we have some!

First up, Toru: Wayfarer Returns was just shortlisted for the Cygnus Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction Novel award by Chanticleer. We’d like to congratulate the other shortlist authors as well–check us all out here!

Then, the fine folks over at IndieB.R.A.G. awarded their B.R.A.G. Medallion to Toru: Wayfarer Returns. We’re proud of that recognition because it’s a mark of quality, as they explain below:

“Our mission is to discover talented self-published authors and help them give their work the attention and recognition it deserves….All ebooks brought to the attention of indieBRAG, LLC are subjected to a rigorous selection process. This entails an initial screening to ensure that the author’s work meets certain minimum standards of quality and content. This initial screening may involve a review of sample chapters available on Amazon.com (or other on-line booksellers), or portions of the nominated ebook. IndieBRAG, LLC reserves the right to reject an ebook during this initial screening assessment for any reason in indieBRAG, LLC’s sole discretion. If it passes this preliminary assessment, it is then read by a selected group of members drawn from our global reader team. In both the initial screening phase and, if appropriate, the subsequent group evaluation phase, each book is judged against a comprehensive list of relevant literary criteria.”

We’ll proudly take that!

But that’s not all! The excellent folks over at Awesome Indies also saw fit to bestow their Approval upon Toru: Wayfarer Returns. Check out their 5 Star Assessment! Like IndieB.R.A.G., Awesome Indies also seeks to find quality independently published work, so we are very proud to receive their approval as well. Here’s a peek at their criteria for approval:

‘The Awesome Indies is a not-for-profit indie book accreditation service that approves independently published works of fiction that meet the same standards as books published by mainstream publishers – as evaluated by publishing industry professionals. We aim to showcase books that meet a specific set of standards for fiction writing so readers can browse for indie books knowing they will be buying well-crafted works.”

Thank you all for helping us get the word out!

ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS

Intelligent, entertaining, witty. Just read it. Even if you hate science fiction.

Author: Elan Mastai

$12.99 on Kindle, $26.00 hardcover.

To be published February 7, 2017 by Dutton/Penguin

Canadian screenwriter Elan Mastai’s debut novel is a time travel tale with all the psychological insight and skillful wordsmithing of a literary novel. Or a literary novel with time travel, alternate time streams, romance and adventure. But don’t waste time quibbling over what it is. Just read it. It’s good. You’re going to want to read more from this guy.

First, let’s get some reviewer bias admissions out of the way. I quit reading the latest literary fiction releases a few years back when my book clubs kept picking well-reviewed literary fiction blockbusters about self-pitying, self-indulgent protagonists who whine about their parents a lot while floating around in books where nothing ever happens for long pages of beautifully written prose. I like my protagonists more capable and competent, with less self-pity, more like the dude in Andrew Weir’s “The Martian.” Seeking more action and adventure, I threw myself into the more exciting world of speculative fiction, where lots happens but–let’s be honest here–the writing in too many science fiction and fantasy books can be as painful as Sunday dinner with your [insert your most despised political party]-favoring in-laws right before the election.

I hunger for good writing craft plus a cracking good story. “All Our Wrong Todays” delivers both by the truckload.

I don’t want to frighten off the core time travel fans by praising the writing. All the stuff you love is here too! If you enjoy “Terminator: Genisys” or “Time Travel Hot Tub 2,” to name some recent time-travel movies, you’ll find plenty of action, humor, romance and adventure in “All Our Wrong Tomorrows,” plus thoughtful consideration of the usual time travel paradoxes and constraints. Mastai comes up with two separate time travel mechanisms, and a flock of vividly imagined alternate time streams. He just does it subversively, intelligently, humorously, gently rollicking along on the rails of well-traveled time travel tropes until ZHWOING!!!! Mastai hurls you, gentle reader, off into a whole new ballgame, time and time and time and time again. I don’t want to spoil the reader’s journey by any plot hints, except to promise that the moment you think you have it figured out, Mastai will find a way to turn you and the story inside out. He knows the time travel tropes; he uses them in fresh and fun ways.

I’m sure the literary fiction fans are already terrified. Time travel? Egad! But please give this a chance. The writing is great, with rhythm you’ll want to read aloud, an approachable but richly detailed style and an unerring sense for the image and dialogue that captures a moment. The work is a bit of a memoir, multi-faceted, multi-time-stream memoir, one that even starts with my most-hated-protagonist-type, the loser who whines about his parents a lot. Thankfully he does not remain so, nor do we spend hundreds of pages doing nothing. I persisted, even given my disdain for whiny protagonists (see above), because the writing and the world-building were superb, and the intelligence and wit behind the story and the character so evident. I decided to trust the author and he delivered. For the more literary-minded reader, you’ll get thoughtful and insightful meditations on a range of unexpected topics. What is the good life? What do I value and why? Who is my family? What is reality? What would I do for love? What am I responsible for, accountable for, and what must I do to right a wrong even if it wasn’t my fault? When must I quit blaming others for my life and start owning my choices? What is forgiveness, and how do I learn to forgive? What does the greater good, and my own self-interest, even mean? (And some badass ideas on the logistics of time travel and the heuristics of technological innovation, but if that’s not your thing, you can glide right over those bits.)

Recommendation: for time travel fans, of course, but for anyone who enjoys well-written fiction seasoned with equal parts wit, intelligence and adventure. Strongly recommend, with five stars.

Disclosure: I received a free pre-publication version of this story from Netgalley and the opportunity but not the obligation to write a review.

THE SILVER BARON’S WIFE

Author: Donna Baier Stein

Publisher: Serving House Books

206 pages, $3.99 Kindle, $14.95 Paperback

Award-winning literary novelist Donna Baier Stein has just published a moving and powerful portrait of a controversial and memorable character well known here in Leadville, Colorado but little known at lesser altitudes, “Baby Doe” Tabor, the second wife of Horace Tabor, the 1880s Silver King who left his name on many local landmarks.

Baier Stein brings respect and restraint to this story of a scandalous love affair, keeping her story firmly rooted in a real woman’s battle to live her life on her own terms. In a time when women were expected to keep house and tolerate their men’s misdeeds, Elizabeth McCourt (Doe) Tabor boldly divorced a philandering, drug-addicted husband and sought her fortune in the booming mining town of Leadville. There she met and won the heart and hand of wealthy Horace Tabor, who divorced his wife Augusta for the beautiful young Lizzie. Baier Stein keeps her focus on Lizzie’s choices and actions, brilliantly illuminating her character as a woman of strength and courage. In Baier Stein’s telling, Lizzie truly loved her Horace, raising her two daughters with him after his financial ruin until his death. After his passing, while still a young woman left penniless with two daughters to support, she carried on as best she could to meet his last request, a plea to attempt to revive the Matchless Mine.

To Leadville locals, surrounded on every side by buildings still bearing the Tabor name and tourist picture postcards of the beautiful young Baby Doe, the dashing Horace Tabor and the stern-faced Augusta Tabor, the broad outlines of this story are familiar territory. What I found most moving and engaging in Baier Stein’s account was Lizzie’s inner experience of these familiar events. Her distress, for example, as an earnest and devout young Catholic, at contemplating divorce. Her visions and dreams, which she carefully recorded and pondered, looking for divine instruction and guidance. Her courage in seeking work in a man’s world, refusing the only readily available work for women in Leadville—prostitution. Far from the gold-digger of popular imagination, this Lizzie was a woman of constancy and spiritual depth, a devoted if disappointed mother and a true partner and lover to her Horace.

This is a work of fiction, and so Baier Stein’s Lizzie is a fictional Lizzie, but an authentic and believable one well-rooted in her time and circumstances. The author clearly researched her subject and the period deeply and rigorously, and drew much from Baby Doe’s own journals and letters, as well as the often lurid newspaper accounts of the time. As a reader who loves historical fiction, history and biography, I greatly admire the author’s skill in creating a vivid and memorable character while honoring the historical record and the oral traditions surrounding Baby Doe that still echo around town.

Recommendation: I wholeheartedly recommend this beautifully written book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially set in the Wild West, biography or well-written biographical fiction. Whether you know the story of Baby Doe, or if you have never heard of her, you will enjoy this engaging and moving story of a brave and tragic woman who met life on her own terms no matter the cost.

OASIS IN THE CLOUDS

Dragons and a Complex and Nuanced Tale of Frenemies

Author: C. Esther

YA Fantasy, 248 pages. $9.99 paperback, $2.99 Kindle

Disclosure: I received this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

When I finish a book, I close my eyes for a moment and ask myself, “What stands out? What do I first think of or feel having met this story and these characters and this world?” In the case of YA fantasy author C. Esther’s “Oasis in the Clouds,” the first book in her “When Worlds Collide” series, the answer came fast and strong.

Dragons.

Esther portrays for her readers the most fully realized dragons I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting in literature, with distinct personalities and a well-developed role and history in the world. Close on the heels of the several dragons Esther introduces to readers would be her gift for showing us the reality, a moment-by-moment gritty reality, of riding those dragons, and learning to control one’s magical powers and other joyful duties of being a fantasy heroine. Thanks to Esther, I now know what it is to ride a dragon, to see magic particles take shape and learn how to shape them myself. For this, I thank her with my whole heart, for she has gloriously captured the essence of fantasy in making these experiences so real for readers.

The story itself is a classic fantasy journey quest, of an heir who must recover her birthright and claim the destiny intended for her. Various skills must be discovered and mastered, allies befriended, enemies sought and overcome, and the world restored to its rightful order. All very well and good, and having read and forgotten more stories of this type than I can now remember, I can attest that this part of the journey is straightforward and solidly done if predictable enough.

More unexpected and special, though, is the unique relationship between heroine and villain in this story. Using the devices of the need to recover stolen memories from the villain, and the heroine’s inborn ability to retrieve selected memories of her forebears, the story is structured to give us an uncommonly deep understanding of the villain and the villain’s motivations, an understanding made richer by the friendship the two once shared. I often had an odd but distinct sense that the author’s personal experience may be closer to that of the villain than of the pampered princess heroine Niri, for Wicca Melody’s anguish over her terrible choices was so sympathetically and believably portrayed and the reasons, twisted though they may be, behind her choices deeply rooted in the villain’s own vividly portrayed personal suffering. Out of sympathy for the Wicca Melody, I found myself rooting for some kind of rapprochement between Niri and her former friend, knowing all the while that in the realpolitik of a proper fantasy world, where villains must be overcome, my hope was a foolish and vain one. Major kudos for creating a sympathetic villain along with a likable enough heroine and a complex and nuanced relationship between the two frenemies.

I also found myself thinking long and hard about the ending. I don’t want to write a review with spoilers, so I’ll have to speak around things a bit. The predictable punishment of the villain at the end of such a fantasy story occurred, yes, but in a fresh and, I must say, somewhat disturbing way. I found myself pondering how I felt about the heroine after she executed such a punishment on her rival. Without sharing where I came down on the matter, I will say the author’s decision on this matter was neither obvious nor expected, and certainly falls in far more interesting and morally ambiguous territory than one usually finds in more typical black and white YA fantasy. As for the outcome for the heroine at the end of this book’s quest, I have both hands clapped over my mouth lest I spill any beans regarding the wholly unexpected and magnificent choice the author made for Crown Princess Niri. Well done, brava!

The book itself is obviously lovingly written and carefully edited, although the honest part of the review compels mention of a few nits on writing style and craft. While punctuation and spelling are otherwise flawless throughout, the writer or editor occasionally mangles homonyms (taught/taut, phased/fazed) or tosses in modern business memo jargon, e.g. “process the information.” The nit that caused this grumpy old curmudgeon the most distress was the use of “Crowned Princess” in place of “Crown Princess.” As citizen of a loud democratic republic that long ago overthrew our monarchical chains, perhaps I am mistaken in believing “Crown Princess” to be the correct term for an heir to the throne whose royal parents are still alive and ruling, for if she were crowned, then she would be Queen Regnant and no longer Royal Princess. But these are the difficulties of a pedant and not those of most readers.

On more of a style and personal preference side, I found the writing style to tend toward over-explaining at times, whether on dialogue tags, emotions or facts that we already knew or could easily guess. Perhaps that extra attention to explaining the whys and wherefores of a story is necessary in fantasy for young readers, but the tendency occasionally slowed the flow and pacing of the story for this reader. However, I forgot all my complaints every time the dragons took flight or Niri learned a new skill, so in the grand scheme of things these nits are unimportant and will not harm the reading experience for most readers.

Recommendation: wholeheartedly recommended for young readers of fantasy, especially those who have longed to meet a dragon. I can still taste the wind blowing in my face as my dragon dives and I desperately hang on lest I fall. Thank you to the author for sharing this experience with me.

MAKING MONSTERS

  An oddly heartwarming dystopia

240 pages, $2.99 on Kindle. Dystopian humor.

By Joe Turk.

Summary: Ozark and a “misfit toys” collection of co-conspirators—gamer, pole dancer, assassin, gay actor and so forth–must overthrow the United Corporations of America (Health, Energy, Defense etc.) while surviving and/or escaping their quasi prisoner/slave existence. They struggle at it for a while, but are overcome by events. The End.

Review: The plotline and world-building are the simplest of threads, straightforward from oddly intriguing and mysterious kick-off chapters to gentle build in the middle and gallop to a mighty and powerful end. The treat here is the characters, a huge and high quality chocolate box of unique and delicious characters. We’ve got generals airlifted in from Dr. Strangelove. As mentioned above, a pole dancer with a heart of gold. Several gamers, hardcore, and their evil bot opponents. Murderous assassin-roommates. A handsome gay actor with a flair for on-stage revolutionary fervor. Our hero, Ozark, of course, but I will leave the reader to discover him. Author Joe Turk is a marvelous character builder. Even the minor characters linger with you, each with their own speech and behavior patterns and perfect reality. The storyline and world are social commentary sketches, more absurd than strictly plausible, powerfully but non-didactically skewering our crony capitalist current reality by taking it to absurd extremes and then letting events unfold. The author also takes aim at online dating sites, military leaders, and seed manufacturers, among other fun explorations.

I loved the writing. Unobtrusive when the action was galloping along, full of delicious observations and turns of phrases during slower periods, this book was a true pleasure to read. From the first chapter, I relaxed into the absurdities and trusted the author, for I felt safe in the hands of a mad master. The book might piss off a few ardent regulation-hating capitalists, but anyone with a sense of humor will enjoy it. Little tricks, like a chapter number countdown, demonstrate the intelligence and craft behind every line. I suppose it is strange to call dystopian novel “heartwarming” but it actually was, in spite of all the tragedies, and the dead people, and the insect-things, and the end of the world as we know it.

Recommendation: I happily recommend this book for those who like dystopian fiction mixed with a little gently humorous social commentary. The writing and craft are top-notch. Some sexy moments and cartoon violence, but nothing gross or graphic.

 

LEGACY OF TRUTH

A tale of love and magic set in 1800s Ireland

358 pages, $5.99 on Kindle. Historical fantasy.

Author Christy Nicholas’s first book in this series, “Legacy of Hunger,” wonderfully demonstrated her love for Ireland and Irish culture and history. This second book, “Legacy of Truth,” keeps those strengths and adds more—memorable characters, powerful conflict and a nuanced exploration of what is family, what is love and how one is to navigate the choices life throws one.

We meet Esme, the “good” twin in a pair of twin sisters, as a young girl nearing young womanhood. Her life is set in motion by two things—her Grandfa bequeathing her a slightly magical heirloom brooch and her selection of a husband from her suitors. Both lead to a schism with her remaining family, as she must leave her home to follow her new husband and conceal from her jealous twin the precious heirloom. Without spoiling the journey for readers, both the brooch and Esme’s continuing decisions about loving companions frame the course of her life and the drama in the story.

The writing is smooth and well-edited, with a vivid and detailed concreteness that beautifully supports the enthralling world created by the author, a world that begins in the 1780s in small towns in Ireland. I greatly enjoyed the flashes of Irish folklore and moments of magic, more organically integrated into the story in this volume than in the first book. The characters are real and human, with distinct personalities and motives. I particularly enjoyed Esme’s friendship with her neighbor Aisling, a surprising and sweet love. Esme herself, while “good” relative to her scheming and ambitious twin Eithne, is flawed and human, struggling with life’s challenges as we all do, and failing at times to be perfect and upright. While I questioned Esme’s decisions and judgment around love at times, I never found them to be forced or false but rather a natural outgrowth of her worldview and understanding as a simple woman in a small town, far from the worlds of sophisticates and lords and ladies. This is not a plot-driven tale of high adventure, but rather a chance to live in and explore another time and place and society through the life of a sympathetic and engaging character.

Recommendation: for readers of historical fiction who enjoy Ireland and the tiniest hint of magic, and well-drawn humble characters living real lives and a gentle tale pulled inexorably forward by the main character’s decisions about how to live her life.

LEGACY OF HUNGER

A compelling tour of 1840s Ireland

288 pages, $4.99 on Kindle, historical fiction/fantasy.

Author Christy Nicholas obviously loves Ireland, Irish legends and the period of history she has chosen to write about, the 1840s in Ireland, the time of the potato blight and much suffering in the Irish common people. Whenever her clean, spare prose turned to Irish faery tales, or descriptions of the land and people, I could see and feel a warm glow on the page as her love for the time and people shone through. There is much to enjoy and savor within these pages, especially for those drawn to the period and the place.

And so I settled in for the story, now on a ship, now in a bumpy carriage, now running from men who would do heroine Valentia harm. Sad things happened, tragic circumstances arose. These tragic events did not rise to the level of drama, in the sense of a purposeful hero pursuing a meaningful end and meeting powerful resistance. They were just sad, tragic distractions on a single-minded journey.

Valentia had goals and motivations aplenty, and Nicholas crafted in her a subtle and nuanced character who did grow and evolve on her bumpy journey. And yet, as a reader, although I rather liked Valentia, carefully drawn flaws and all, and I was perfectly happy to join her on that journey, eventually I found myself waiting for The Story, the heart of her journey, to begin, and it never did, or not in a satisfying way for this reader. When we arrived, rather abruptly, and in strangely summarized form, at the end, I was startled to discover no real hook into the next book in the series, where perhaps The Story proper could begin now that the world and main character had been so carefully drawn.

I struggle to explain what was missing for me, for Valentia did all the things a good hero should do, persisting in the face of obstacles, developing kindness and compassion to overcome defects in her upbringing and blinkers in her world view. She was active, not passive. She made the choices about her journey, not the men or the servants or the mentors she met on her path.  If I attempt, imperfectly, to summarize my feeling as a reader, it is that I was a passenger on someone else’s long and circuitous and often colorful and interesting journey, but I never knew where we were going or precisely why, and neither did Valentia, other than her quest to find an old brooch. And that is a terrible summary, for it was clear from the beginning that we were going to Ireland to search for grandmother’s brooch, which may or may not have magical powers, and that is precisely what we did, no matter the many obstacles. I just found myself wanting more powerful motivation than a comfortably raised young woman’s whim to go in search of an old brooch.

I’ve heard it said that “Satisfaction is Reality divided by Expectations,” and perhaps therein lies my personal difficulty with this finely wrought yet ultimately dissatisfying work, the high expectations I brought to the read. I was never quite sure what to expect, although I had been told to expect a historical fantasy, a genre I much enjoy. One of the challenges of the genre is the balance between historical and fantastical elements. Nicholas went heavy on the historical side, which I quite enjoyed by the way, and the care she took in her research shows, with slight hints of the fantasy that burst into full view only at the very end. That is fine, and a perfectly acceptable decision for a creator to make, and yet I found it a bit confusing as a reader, for I found myself waiting for the “fantasy stuff’ to begin and start driving the story but it never really did. The author created a kind of glass pane and distance between the reader and the experience of magic, in that the legends were told and described, as though a scholar were explaining to the reader bits of Irish faery legend, rather than allowing the reader to experience them in person as occurred only very occasionally in the book. Rather we were treated to small bits of Irish faery legends here and there in conversation and a few magical moments, but the fantasy never really took root but felt pasted on at the end. I wonder if a stronger choice in either direction might have been less confusing for readers and avoided some of that impatient waiting feeling I experienced, either light up the fantasy side faster and bigger earlier, or tell a straight historical fiction tale without the magic.

Recommendation: for readers who wish to learn more about Ireland of the 1840s, this is a thoroughly researched and lovingly drawn sketch of Ireland in that time. It lacks drama as a story, although the journey is an interesting and informative one, and the main character appealing in her very human mix of virtues and flaws. I am concerned that more fantasy-oriented readers will find the fantasy dosage less than their hopes and historical fiction readers may find the fantasy altogether too much.