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Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Lady Dona St Columb seems to revel in scandal: she is involved in every intrigue of the Restoration court. But secretly, the shallowness of court life disgusts her, and in her heart she longs for freedom and honest love. Retreating to Navron, her husband’s Cornish estate, she seeks peace and solitude away from London. But Navron is being used as the base for a French pirate, an outlaw hunted by all Cornwall. Instead of feeling fear, Dona’s thirst for adventure has never been more aroused; in Jean-Benoit Aubery she finds a sensitive man who would, like her, gamble his life for a moment’s joy. Together they embark upon a quest rife with danger and glory, one which will force Dona to make the ultimate choice; will she sacrifice her lover to certain death, or risk her own life to save him?”

REVIEW: Daphne du Maurier’s books always promise a gripping and adventurous read, and this novel was no different. ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ tells the story of the bored and beautiful courtier Dona, who escapes to the Navron estate in Cornwall with her children after a scandal at court forces her to realise how much she hates the pretense of courtly life. Living in relative freedom and developing a friendship with the mysterious servant William, Dona is interested to learn of the pirate activity taking place in the surrounding waters, which the local elite are determined to put an end to. Sneaking out of the house one day, she meets the man she discovers to be William’s master – the pirate Jean-Benoit Aubrey – whose ship, La Mouette, is residing in the creek close by Navron. The two soon become fascinated with one another, both similar personalities but from completely different worlds, and begin a passionate affair full of riotous quests. Things are complicated, however, by the arrival of Dona’s husband Harry and his close friend, Rockingham, who has long held an interest in Dona, at Navron. As the hunt for the pirates begins to gain momentum among the Cornish elite, finding its base in Dona’s own household, Dona has to make the choice of which side she is truly on, and work out where her loyalties – and her dreams – lie. The romance that develops between Dona and her Frenchman, and the adventures they share, makes for gripping reading, and we feel freed with Dona as she escapes the confines of the noble court life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wish the ending hadn’t been quite so mysterious, as I am desperate to know precisely what happened – but I shall say no more, for fear of ruining it!

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The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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RATING: 4.5./5

BLURB: “Kelsea Glynn is the Queen of the Tearling. Despite her youth, she has quickly asserted herself as a fair, just and powerful ruler. However, power is a double-edged sword, and small actions can have grave consequences. In trying to do what is right – stopping a vile trade in humankind – Kelsea has crossed the Red Queen, a ruthless monarch whose rule is bound with dark magic and the spilling of blood. The Red Queen’s armies are poised to invade the Tearling, and it seems nothing can stop them. Yet there was a time before the Crossing, and there Kelsea finds a strange and possibly dangerous ally, someone who might hold the key to the fate of the Tearling, and indeed to Kelsea’s own soul. But time is running out…”

REVIEW: As followers of this blog will know, I was absolutely amazed with how extraordinarily brilliant the first book in this (soon-to-be) trilogy, The Queen of the Tearling, was. I was so amazed, in fact, that the minute I finished it I sat down and ordered this sequel, The Invasion of the Tearling. I couldn’t put it down, and, as is always a worry with sequels, it definitely did not disappoint. Kelsea’s compassionate and righteous decision to end the Tearling’s trade with the Mort, which involved the sending over of 300 Tearling people of all ages and genders per month based on a lottery-style system, is one that the reader heartily praises in the first novel and , while we still support Kelsea’s decision in the sequel, the ramifications of her actions are becoming far more apparent. The Red Queen, noticing the late shipment, has realised the threat that Kelsea presents to the dominion she holds both over her own lands and the Tearling, most of which is gained through a dark, violent power that she obtains from the demon Row Finn, who also meets with Kelsea throughout the novel to recruit her to his dark purpose. Interestingly, in this book we learn far more about the origins of the Tearling and the world that preceded it – a future version of our current world – as Kelsea begins to have visions of the life of Lily Mayhew, a pre-Crossing woman who begins to rebel after years of horrifically violent abuse from her political husband. Cleverly, Johansen links our slowly uncovered knowledge of the Tearling’s origins with the knowledge we slowly gain about the Red Queen. Both stories – that of Lily and that of the Red Queen – are linked with Kelsea’s own past, and inform her transition to power and the decisions she makes. Kelsea becomes much harder and colder in this novel as she struggles to decide how to wield the power that the sapphires she possesses have given her, but the reader still strongly supports her decisions and finds themselves in increasing desperation alongside Kelsea and her councillors as the Tearling and the Mort armies lean ever closer to war. The ending of the novel produces a shocking twist, and is left on a cliffhanger that has made me desperate for June 2016 to come around so I can read the final installment! This was a well worthy sequel in a brilliant series, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

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The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Kelsea Glynn is the sole heir to the throne of Tearling but has been raised in secret after her mother – a monarch as vain as she was foolish – was murdered for ruining her kingdom. For 18 years, the Tearling has been ruled by Kelsea’s uncle in the role of Regent; however, he is but the debauched puppet of the Red Queen, the sorceress-tyrant of neighbouring realm of Mortmesme. On Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of her mother’s guard – each pledged to defend the queen to the death – arrive to bring this most un-regal young woman out of hiding…
And so begins her journey back to her kingdom’s heart, to claim the throne, win the loyalty of her people, overturn her mother’s legacy and redeem the Tearling from the forces of corruption and dark magic that are threatening to destroy it. But Kelsea’s story is not just about her learning the true nature of her inheritance – it’s about a heroine who must learn to acknowledge and live with the realities of coming of age in all its insecurities and attractions, alongside the ethical dilemmas of ruling justly and fairly while simply trying to stay alive…”

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book. There are not words for how quickly I became hooked, gripped by the storyline, fascinated by the characters and deeply involved with each twist and turn of the plot. Kelsea is a brilliant character, by turns full of wit, emotion and cleverness that clearly surprises the members of her Guard, who were clearly expecting a replica of her vain, flirtatious mother Elyssa. We travel alongside Kelsea as she gets to know her Queen’s Guard, many of whom the reader develops fond attachments to, who prove difficult to win over but are ultimately loyal as they see Kelsea back to the Keep, the seat of the monarchy where her Uncle the Regent is currently waiting. As she gradually learns more about her kingdom, Kelsea is horrified to discover the abject poverty and suffering that plagues the majority of her subjects, all of whom are also living in fear of the Lottery. In a trade agreement with the bordering country of Mortmense, Kelsea’s mother agreed to trade hundreds of her people to the Mort Queen in order to avoid invasion. As a result, the people live in fear of a member of their family – even their children – being selected in the lottery to be shipped away as slaves, or perhaps worse. Only the elite escape this fate, and Kelsea’s horror at such a thing lead her into a desperate decision that frees her people and wins their loyalty, but also indirectly declares war on the far stronger country of Mortmense. Kelsea must now fight to take her throne from the Regent, keep the support of her people – and indeed, keep her life – as she works out how to protect her kingdom against the threats that come from both within and without. This is an absolutely fascinating book and the second I finished it, I was on Amazon ordering the sequel. It intermingles the genres of historical fiction, adventure and fantasy seamlessly, creating a novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers and, I have no doubt, attract a devoted fanbase.

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The Princess and the Captain by Anne-Laure Bondoux

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Princess Malva of Galnicia is beautiful, idealistic and very wilful. On the eve of her arranged marriage, she escapes the palace and sets sail for Lombardaine, unaware that a much more terrifying ordeal lies ahead. Orpheus is the young man sent to bring the Princess home. Thoughtful, rational and stubborn, he is as determined to return Malva as Malva is to be free. But there are far greater powers at work, steering these two towards the boundaries of the Known World, and beyond”

REVIEW: I first read this book when I was about twelve or thirteen and have often returned to it over the years; sometimes it just feels like the right time to return to the comfort of an old favourite. This book had everything I loved at thirteen and everything I still love now – danger, adventure, fantasy, travel and, of course, a dash of romance. Princess Malva escapes the palace after being humiliated by her father and betrothed to a much older man with the help of her maidservant, Philomena, and the guidance of her old tutor, the Archont. The Archont is not all he seems, however, and as soon as Malva and Philomena have fled he proceeds to hunt them down and make their lives as difficult as humanly possible. The two women are eventually separated and Malva ends up trapped in a harem with very little promise of escape – until the arrival of Orpheus Mcbott,  who is looking for a mission after the recent death of his father. Orpheus and Malva soon become the heads of a rather mismatched but extremely loveable crew, and each of these characters easily work their way into the reader’s heart – there is Babilas, the mute sailor tormented by the loss of his lover; Lei, a girl whom Malva befriended in the harem; orphan twins Peppe and Hob, who were stowaways on Orpheus’ ship; Finopico, the slightly crazed but very talented cook and fisherman; and Zeph, the loveable St Bernard who once sailed the seas with Orpheus’ father. Together the crew face many dangers and fears, crossing the boundaries of the Known World and fighting off numerous enemies. Although parts of the last hundred pages of the book are truly, truly heartbreaking (you WILL cry), it is completely worth it to read a book that is the true definition of escapist fiction.