It is September, at last! I’ve been eagerly awaiting this month, because it marks the beginning of something I’m really excited about — The Blades of the Rose, a four-book series by Zoe Archer that’s coming out one book a month starting Tuesday. (It’s been available on Kindle for a week, though, and there have been some early sightings. I found a copy last week at my local Borders.)
This series is very different from anything I’ve read before. It is reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies, as there are ancient artifacts, with magical potential, which our heroes are trying to find and protect from the villains who want to use the artifacts for personal power and glory (and, in this case, the continued expansion of the British Empire.) But the women in these books are very much equal partners, and the strong romance plots are interwoven with the adventure in each book. Best of all, we get a new couple in each book, and we see the couples from previous books still working together and loving each other as the series continues. The characters are distinct and interesting, with a different dynamic explored for each couple, and it’s great to see so many different ways that couples in this alternative Victorian setting can function as equals, balancing their individual strengths.
Each book in this series is set in a different locale, and each place really comes to life. The magical/paranormal aspects are very evocative of the feel of each place, and the details of scenery, climate, terrain and culture are vivid and involving. I’ve been fortunate enough to read and enjoy all four books in advance of their release; it says something that I am eagerly buying and reading each one as soon as it comes out.
These are the books I wanted when I got too old for Nancy Drew and Oz but found that most adventure books for older readers were really about the male characters, and the romances tended to be too easy and superficial.
The first book, Warrior, takes place in Mongolia. The heroine, Thalia, is the daughter of a Blade, a member of the secret society working to protect sources of magic from being captured and used against their native cultures. Raised mostly in Mongolia, she rides and shoots as well as a man; she is no polite English lady. She must work alongside Captain Gabriel Huntley, a newcomer to the idea of magic and the conflict between the Blades and the Heirs of Albion, who enslave whole nations by subverting the power of their native sources to expand the might of the British Empire. The son of a coal miner finishing a long stint in the army, Gabriel has no experience working with a woman as his equal. His language and manners are rough, and he doesn’t know how to deal with his attraction to her, her atypical abilities, or her determination to be in charge of their mission.
This is an excellent start to the series; it’s a satisfying self-contained adventure/romance, but it leaves you eager for the next installment. I found this romance to be the most simple of the four, because the obstacles Thalia and Gabriel had to overcome were almost exclusively external; they were connected by a sort of mystical instant attraction, and they were working together from very early in the book, so there wasn’t really anything keeping them apart. The threat to their romantic future is the threat they face to their lives; will they live long enough to enjoy the love for each other that they have discovered? Reading about them working together, facing the challenges and threats, is a great roller-coaster ride, and the Mongolian setting is wonderful. (I have a friend who is traveling in Inner Mongolia this week, and his Facebook posts each bring to mind a moment from Warrior.) Best of all, you get the start of a really fun, exciting and different series, full of smart, sexy men and women, magic, adventure, and romance.