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Saturday, December 12, 2015


Author:  Nora Roberts  
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—3  
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
          Stars of Fortune (11/2015)
          Bay of Sighs (6/2016)
          Island of Glass (12/2016) (FINAL)

This post was revised and updated on 12/28/2016 to include a review of Island of Glass, the third—and FINAL—novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels.

                    NOVEL 3: Island of Glass                    

     As the hunt for the Star of Ice leads the six guardians to Ireland, Doyle, the immortal, must face his tragic past. Three centuries ago, he closed off his heart, yet his warrior spirit is still drawn to the wild. And there’s no one more familiar with the wild than Riley—and the wolf within her. 

    An archaeologist, Riley is no stranger to the coast of Clare, but now she finds herself on unsure footing, targeted by the dark goddess who wants more than the stars, more than the blood of the guardians. While searching through Irish history for clues that will lead them to the final star and the mysterious Island of Glass, Riley must fight her practical nature and admit her sudden attraction to Doyle is more than just a fling. For it is his strength that will sustain her and give her the power to run towards love—and save them all.

A map of Ireland with
County Clare in
     The final novel is set in Ireland, at Bran's huge stone house on a high, steep cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Coincidentally (or by fate's design), the property is also the site of the house in which Doyle grew up. In fact, his family's burial plot is next to Bran's gardens.

     As was true in the first two novels, the six Guardians must find and protect one of the three Stars of Fortune, in this case the Star of Ice. You'd think that once they found that star their quest would be complete, but you'd be wrong. In fact, midway through the book, the six intrepid warriors discover that the number "3" is the key to everything: They themselves are three couples. There are three stars and three goddesses (well, three good goddesses). The stars have been hidden in three different locations, etc., etc.... So, this last task will have not one, but three parts. They must find the star, find the novel's titular island, and more dangerous adventure that I won't describe here. All the while, they have to fight off the evil Nerezza, her equally evil minion Malmon (who is now a blood-sucking demon), and Nerezza's demonic air forcea horde of horrific bat-monsters with knife-edged wings and long, poisonous fangs and claws.

     For most of the book, the plot basically duplicates the first two novels: The Guardians eat (frequently), drink lots of beer and wine (constantly), bicker amiably among themselves (endlessly), praise each other's goodness (unceasingly), and have sex at every opportunity (persistently). Doyle and Riley don't get in on the sex part until midway through the book, but when they do, they make up for lost time. In fact, Roberts writes one of the best make-up sex scenes I have ever read towards the end of chapter 13.

     For me, this is by far the best book of the series, mostly due to the wonderful lead characters: Riley and Doyle. Both are headstrong, intelligent, blunt, no-nonsense world travelers. Both have always been loners who prefer to do things their own way. That means, of course, that when Cupid's arrows strike their hearts, each must find a way to accept the fact that they are, in fact, actually in love for the very first time and thatdeep downthey desperately want a lifetime of commitment to the other person. That last part will be particularly difficult for this couple because Doyle is immortal and Riley is humanwell, werewolf-humanso he will be forced to watch her her grow old and die, just as he has had to do with other friends and acquaintances during his three centuries of immortality. (Did you catch that?...THREE centuries of immortality. You really have to pay attention to the numbers in this novel, particularly when there is a "3" involved.)

     Obviously, since this is the final book of the trilogy, all of the Star-related conflict and several of the Guardians' personal problems are resolved by the time the novel ends. Along the way, the six also discover some interesting details about their ancestral connections. At every opportunity, Roberts emphasizes the theme of "strength in unity" that has been front and center throughout all three novels.

     Although having to wade through three different quest-steps threatened to drag down the pace a bit, in the end, it is Doyle and Riley's relationship that gives the plot the strength it needs to hold the reader's interest. They are definitely the most entertaining and fascinating of the Guardians, so Roberts made a great choice in choosing them to climax the series. 

     Of the three female Guardians, Riley is the one that I'd like to share a pizza with. (Annika would be too busy arranging the pizza box and the napkins into an Italian tablescape, and Sasha would be tranced out in one of her ambiguous visions.) As for the male Guardians, I think that Sawyer, with his drawling snark and his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, would be the most fun to join the pizza party. (Glum and broody Doyle  is definitely not a conversationalist, and nice-guy Bran doesn't have enough edge to him.)

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Island of Glass on the book's page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon. 

     Here's how one of the characters explains the mythology early in the book: Three sister moon goddesses "wanted a unique and lasting gift for the queen they knew would rule for the good, who would hold peace softly in her hand as she did. So each made a star, one of fire, one of ice, one of water, all brilliant and filled with strength and magic and hope….Another [goddess] like them, but as unlike as white to black, wanted what they'd made, and what the queen had, which was power over worlds. The three…knew as they tossed the stars toward the moon, and the other struck out at them with her dark, they would need to protect what they'd created….So the three used what they had to see that when the stars fell, they would fall away from one another, as their full power is only reached when together. They would fall in secret places…until the time came for them to be lifted out, brought together, and taken to the next new queen." And now, that time has arrived.

     Now for the cast of characters, listed in the order in which they are introduced in Stars of Fortune. For the human characters, I am providing only the facts the reader initially learns about themnot the secrets that they gradually reveal later in the first book. So…no spoilers here.

Luna, Arianrhod, and Celene: the three "good" moon goddesses

Nerezza: the "bad" goddess

Sasha Riggs: a timid, insecure American artist with powerful psychic talents; a seer and an empath

Dr. Riley Gwin: a brash American archaeologist, adventurer, and world traveler

Bran Killian: a charming, wealthy Irish magician 

Sawyer King: a fearless, profane American sharpshooter who is skilled in all types of weaponry

Annika Waters: a joyous young woman of mysterious origin who is discovered at the water's edge one night by Sawyer

Doyle McCleary: a brusque, sword-wielding Irish loner with great tactical skills who comes to the rescue of the others during their first battle with Nerezza

Andre Malmon: a villainous adventurer who is only mentioned in passing in book one, but who will almost certainly appear in the next book. Riley describes him as a thief, a cheat, and a murderer, while Scott claims that Malmon has been stalking him for five years because he wants an object that Scott has in his possession.

     This series has basically the same general plot as the COUSINS O'DWYER TRILOGY: three magical soul-mate couples in search of a means to defeat a psychopathic ancient enemy who constantly harasses them. The major differences between the two series are that the main characters in this one are not witches and that these stories are set on islands off the coast of southern Europe rather than in small-town Ireland. (Stars of Fortune takes place on the island of Corfu (see map below), off the coast of Greece and Albania in the Ionian Sea, while Bay of Sighs is set on the Isle of Capri, off the coast of Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea.)

                             NOVEL 1:  Stars of Fortune                               
     To celebrate the rise of their new queen, three goddesses of the moon created three stars, one of fire, one of ice, one of water. But then they fell from the sky, putting the fate of all worlds in danger. And now three women and three men join forces to pick up the pieces. 

Sasha, Riley, and Bran
meet in Corfu Town
(red airplane) and then
travel north, up the coast
to the villa that will serve
as their headquarters
     Sasha Riggs is a reclusive artist, haunted by dreams and nightmares that she turns into extraordinary paintings. Her visions lead her to the Greek island of Corfu, where five others have been lured to seek the fire star. Sasha recognizes them, because she has drawn them: a magician, an archaeologist, a wanderer, a fighter, and a loner. All on a quest. All with secrets. 

     Sasha is the one who holds them together―the seer. And in the magician, Bran Killian, she sees a man of immense power and compassion. As Sasha struggles with her rare ability, Bran is there to support her, challenge her, and believe in her. 

     But Sasha and Bran are just two of the six. And they must all work together as a team to find the fire star in a cradle of land beneath the sea. When a dark threat looms, the six must use their combined powers—including trust, unity, and love—to find the fire star and keep the world on course.  

     In THE GUARDIANS, Nora Roberts presents her readers with yet another "threesome" trilogy: three soul-mate couples, three stars, three quests, and three "good" goddess sisters (versus one bad one). If you are a fan of Roberts's patented plotting style, you'll no doubt enjoy this series, but if you're getting tired of one-dimensional, unkillable characters, an overload of food descriptions, and a psychotic magical villain doomed to certain defeat, you may want to wait for her next series in the hope that she'll freshen things up. 

     In the opening novel, Roberts makes extra sure that we understand her straightforward mythology by introducing it in the prologue and then repeating it every time a new character joins the group—seven times altogether. If you combine this repetition with all of the meal-preparation/eating scenes, there isn't much time left for the action. Basically, after the characters meet up with one another, they interact at the dinner table, gradually reveal their personal secrets, have a few battles with Nerezza and her bat-like minions, learn to work together as a team, and eventually begin to pair off, with Sasha and Bran leading the way down the soul-mate road to HEA. (Annika and Sawyer are next.) Clues to each character's deep secrets are liberally sprinkled throughout the story, so most of them aren't very surprising when they are finally revealed in full.

     In each book, the three couples will search for and find one of the stars, while Nerezza intermittently attacks them. In this first book, Roberts includes a few scenes starring Nerezza, in which she acts like a stereotypical wicked villain, luxuriating in her dreams of future power: "She would rip them to pieces, crush their bones to dust, paint the sea with their blood." Then she twists off the head of one of her beastly creatures and drips its blood into her goblet "as a woman might add cream to her tea." What a sweetheart!

     For those of you who love Roberts's hyper-romanticized bedroom scenes, there are several for you to enjoy. The first heroine—Sasha—is (of course) a virgin, but her sexy lover magically turns her first sexual experience into a night of pain-free, passionately perfect pleasure. 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Stars of Fortune by clicking either on the cover art of the "Listen" icon.

                    NOVEL 2: Bay of Sighs                    
     To celebrate the rise of their new queen, three goddesses of the moon created three stars, one of fire, one of ice, one of water. But then they fell from the sky, putting the fate of all worlds in danger. And now three women and three men join forces to pick up the pieces. 

     Mermaid Annika is from the sea, and it is there she must return after her quest to find the stars. New to this world, her purity and beauty are nothing less than breathtaking, along with her graceful athleticism, as her five new friends discovered when they retrieved the fire star. 

     Now, through space and time, traveler Sawyer King has brought the guardians to the island of Capri, where the water star is hidden. And as he watches Annika in her element, he finds himself drawn to her joyful spirit. But Sawyer knows that if he allows her into his heart, no compass could ever guide him back to solid ground. 

     And in the darkness, their enemy broods. She lost one star to the guardians, but there is still time for blood to be spilled—the mermaid’s in the water and the traveler’s on the land. For she has forged a dangerous new weapon. Something deadly and unpredictable. Something human.

     In this book, Roberts takes Ariel and Dr. Who and turns them into Annika Waters, a naive, fun-loving mermaid/siren, and Sawyer King, a drawling, sharpshooting time/space traveler. The two fell in love at first sight in book one, although they do not speak the actual "L" word until midway through Bay of Sighs. Unfortunately, Roberts conflates two very different mythologies when she makes Annika both a mermaid and a siren. In ancient Greek mythology, sirens were pictured as having the feathers, and sometimes the legs, of birds, probably because of their beautiful singing. Sirens did not live under the sea; they perched on rocky islands where they used their magical singing to lure unsuspecting sailors to their deaths. Later, in Roman mythology, they were pictured as beautiful women (with no bird-like characteristics). Mermaids, on the other hand, have always been seen as water-dwelling creatures. Their mythology originated in ancient Assyria. As sailors in ancient times traveled further and further across the seas, they encountered large marine animals, like manatees, that they mistook for sea-dwelling humans with tails instead of feet. Mermaids were generally a symbol of doom―shipwrecks, drowning, storms, floods―but could also be benevolent. According to legend, they did not sing like the sirens, but they would sometimes speak to humans and even mate with them. The conflation of sirens and mermaids is a modern convention that muddles the image of two separate mythological creatures.

     The plot of this novel is exactly the same as in book one, but it moves at an excruciatingly slow pace because there is much less world-building to pad the storyline. Basically, the six characters spend several weeks on the Isle of Capri in a sumptuous villa where they spend their time doing push-ups; practicing martial arts and weaponry skills; setting magical traps for the enemy; drinking beer, Bellini cocktails, and sun tea; shopping for clothes and trinkets (women only); hugging and praising one another; and eating plate after plate after plate of food. They are so organized and fair minded that they even have a chore-chart that spreads the cooking and cleaning tasks evenly among the group members. They also make a few dives into the sea in search of the second star. Although several battle scenes appear in the second half of the book, most of the pages are given over to the group's mundane activities. Here's an example of one of their "you're so great, no you are…" dialogues, this one between Annika and Riley:
     Riley: "You're more tolerant than me."
     Annika: "You're the smartest."
     Riley: "You're starting to improve my mood, Anni."
     Annika: "Sawyer is so clever, and Doyle has lived so long, has much experience. Bran is smart, and he has magic. But your brain is the biggest...Knowledge is a power and a weapon, and you give us knowledge."
     And on and on they go, endlessly heaping praise and platitudes upon one another.

    I was hoping that Roberts would spend some time on character development for Annika and Sawyer―fleshing out their past histories, for example―but that never happens. We never get a single detail of Annika's previous life under the sea, and we never learn exactly how Sawyer's traveling powers work. In fact, he himself doesn't seem to know. When he runs into a problem with his compass, he has to call his grandfather for advice, but we are never party to those conversations. He just goes off with his cell phone and comes back with an answer. It's all very dull for the reader―too much "tell" and not enough "show." And don't get me started on Annika, who comes across as a ditzy woman who prefers to spend her time turning joyous cartwheels across the lawn, building weirdly beautiful tablescapes out of dishes and cutlery, and adorably mangling the English language. Although she is supposed to have been a mature woman in her undersea life, now that she is on land she has turned into a Disney cartoon character.

     The villainous Nerezza recruits a new minion in this book: Andre Malmon, a sleaze-bag with whom both Riley and Sawyer have had past encounters. (Malmon appeared briefly in book one.) He is a greedy, narcissistic man who yearns for more money and power, thus making him a perfect victim for the Queen of Lies. 

     So, to summarize: In this book, the six protagonists spend so much time eating, exercising, and heaping cheesy clichés on one another that the pace remains glacial from beginning to end except for the handful of battle scenes. Once again, Nerezza is a cardboard cutout of a villain, as is Malmon. Annika, Sawyer, and their friends are so unbelievably loving and forgiving and thoughtful and too-good-to-be-true that there is absolutely nothing interesting about their group dynamic. Towards the end of the book, Roberts begins to hint that the reason they were all specially chosen for this star-gathering task has its roots in past events, but we won't learn the truth of it until the final book. Perhaps that is why this book is so flat. The first book gave us the initial world-building and set up the starry theme, and the third book will fill in the remaining details of the mythology and take us to the final resolution. But this book is just filler, with no new information and way too much platitudinous chitchat over an endless stream of food-filled plates. Here's an example: 
     Sawyer: "Gotta have the bright side."
     Annika: "The bright side helps us face the dark."
     Sawyer: "Can't argue."

     As I was reading this book while seated in a public place, a woman sitting near me asked me if I was enjoying the story. I told her that I didn't much like it because it was so sappy. There was a pause, and then she admitted that she reads Nora Roberts precisely because she likes sappy stories. So, if you are like this lady, perhaps you will enjoy this novel, because it takes sappy to new heights.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Bay of Sighs on the book's page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon. The final novel is set in Ireland, at Bran's huge stone house on a cliff overlooking the sea. Obviously, it will tell the love story of the immortal Doyle and the werewolf Riley.

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