Friday, December 31, 2010

Stranger In A Strange Land

I'm closing out 2010 with Stranger, the fourth and final book in Zoe Archer's inventive Blades Of The Rose series.  I feel like it's the perfect book to wrap up this year before moving on to the new.  After four books, released in consecutive months, and me reading them as such, I feel a bit like I've run the gauntlet.

Those who have read the previous books are, by now, familiar with our hero, Catullus Graves.  He's a snappy dressy, a highly intelligent man, has a quick mind, and invents all manners of useful devices to be used in the Blades' quest to thwart the evil Heirs of Albion.  This book, his romance, picks up immediately after Rebel, as he, Astrid and Nathan are making their way back to England.  It's on board the ship that they realize determined American reporter, Gemma Murphy is following them.  Her eavesdropping skills picked up just enough information back in the Canadian wilderness to realize that these three people were the key to one massive story.  And Gemma, bless her heart, can't say no to a big story.

Naturally, what follows, is Gemma joining forces with the Blades, working directly with Catullus.  Our evil-doers, the Heirs, still have control of the magical Primal Source, and this is the book where that small matter has to be dealt with.  So we, once again, have quite a bit of derring-do, battles of good vs. evil, plus some settling of old scores.

From various chatter I've seen online, I know several readers were half in love with Catullus before this book even hit the shelves.  Me?  Yeah, not so much.  Not that I didn't think he was a likable fellow, but he didn't make my fangirl heart go squee right out of the gate.  I was more interested in him as his own character, than in any potential romance he was going to have.  He's quite unique among romance hero types.  He knows how to dress and he's intelligent.  Ok, nothing unique there.  But he's also the sort of fellow who easily gets distracted by his work.  He's logical.  He's determined.  And on top of all this?  He can fight.  He's brave.  He knows how to throw a punch.  Oh, and he's a hottie.  He's actually the embodiment of every "good" quality you could possibly ever want in a hero.  Tall, dark and handsome is always nice, and Catullus is that, but also more.

Gemma is the kind of heroine I tend to like, despite the fact that she's a reporter.  I know I'm not the only one who cringed a bit when that tidbit came out, am I right?  Why?  Because reporter heroines are a minefield in Romance Novel Land.  It's so easy for them to slip into Too Stupid To Live territory.  Blessedly, that's not Gemma.  As intelligent as Catullus is?  So is she.  She's just as logical.  She's just as capable of thinking things through.  And bless her heart, she's a straight shooter.
"What is it with you Heirs?  Seems any woman who has a mind of her own suddenly becomes a slut?"
All this being said, the romance does take a long while to start cooking.  The first half of this novel has our romantic couple traveling with others, namely Astrid and Nathan.  Then they're thrust into confrontations with the Heirs.  This book clocks in at almost 500 pages, which are needed to wrap up all the series goo-ga, but it does mean the reader has to wait around for the "relationship stuff."  It should also be of note that while you probably could get away with reading this book out of order - I wouldn't recommend it.  The author does do a good job of bringing the reader up to speed, but this book literally opens up where Rebel ended.  They are very much tied together, especially during the first half.

So where does this leave me at the end of the day, and 2010?  I think the author has done a very nice job wrapping up, what I consider, a high-concept series.  All my questions were answered.  The ending was just right, and nicely believable.  Fans of the series got to see the returning couples in vital rolls to this book, and the series in general, without riding in on a wave of saccharine.  I liked Catullus.  I liked Gemma.  And I liked them together.  This was a solid final installment to what has been a good solid series.  Victorian historical, paranormal, adventure, saga and romance all rolled into one.  Impressive indeed.

Final Grade = B-

8 comments:

RRRJessica said...

Great review. I just cannot get myself to pick up a series that everyone across the board calls "solid". There's too many "amazings" and "fantastics" out there, you know? But I do have at least one of these on my kindle, so we'll see.

bafriva said...

Wendy
Thanks for the review. I had such a mixed reaction to this series-I thought the first one was merely okay(interesting idea, but the writing was uneven), absolutely loved the second one (Scoundrel) and threw the third one (Rebel) against the wall about 75-100 pages in and never picked it up again. I think I'll give #4 a pass.

Wendy said...

Jessica: For me this entire series was "solid" - but it never quite tipped the scales into "amazing" or "fantastic." Still trying to put my finger on "the why" that is - but my stock answer? The paranormal aspects. This probably deserves a whole blog post, but I'm really not much of a paranormal girl for various reasons. And the paranormal aspects in this series get a lot stronger with each title.....

bafriva: Now, see - this is interesting. The strongest books for me were the 1st and the 3rd. What I found interesting about all of these is that every book had one strong element in each of them to keep me interested - but other aspects in the stories didn't always gel for me. (For example, really liked the hero in Scoundrel, but had general pacing issues with the story and was lukewarm at times on the heroine).

PK the Bookeemonster said...

I just finished the first book. I like the hint of Indiana Jones caper-ishness to it.

ms bookjunkie said...

Different strokes for different folks…I was going "wheeeeeee!" throughout the whole series, but especially the first two books. I'll be better able to express my reaction after a reread, because the way I glommed this series, I'm sure I missed stuff!

Buriedbybooks said...

Happy New Year!

I've been stalling on reading the final book of this series for some reason.

I loved book 1 and 2 but really didn't like 3.

I like the series because it uses a different cultural and literary tradition for each book. Mongolian, Greek, Native American... The problem for me was the chase/race to the Sources plots grew a bit repetitive.

nath said...

Huh, I thought this series was 7 books... Obviously, I'm wrong :)

It's good to hear that this is a solid and consistent series. I still haven't read the first book though ^_^;

I think it helps that the heroine is a reporter in the Victorian era... I don't know, they would be less intense about getting a story?

Ah well, good review and good way to end the year :P

Wendy said...

PK: There's a "road romance" vibe in all the books, but I felt it played out the strongest in the first one. Plus the Mongolia setting hooked me.

Ms. Bookjunkie: I really liked the strong frontier vibe that the first and third books had.

Buried: I felt that too re: the Sources. I do think that the author spiced that aspect up a bit in the final book. She ramps up "the paranormal stuff" so it seemed less repetitive to me.

Nath: She definitely has the drive to be taken seriously, and she doesn't want to be relegated to writing about frou-frou lady stuff. But she's also smart and logical. Doesn't wander off half-cocked on crazy harebrained schemes after the hero warns her she's in danger etc.