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Thursday, March 7, 2013


Author:  Alexa Egan (Also writes as Alix Rickloff)
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2  
Publisher and Titles:  Pocket
     .1   "Awaken the Curse" (e-novella, 11/2012)
     .5    "Unleash the Curse" (e-novella, 9/2013)
   1    Demon's Curse (novel, 1/2013)        
   1.5   "Vanquish the Curse" (e-novella in Cursed, 3/2014)
   2    Shadow's Curse (novel, 9/2013)
   3    Warrior's Curse (novel, 4/2014)
       Cursed (collection of the first 3 e-novellas, 3/2014)  

Sorry to be so late in posting this reviewanother one that slipped throughout the cracks. This post was revised and updated on 1/16/15 to include a review of  Warrior's Curse, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novellas, a summary of the third novella, and reviews of the first two novels.  

            NOVEL 3:  Warrior's Curse              
     Major Gray de Coursy, Earl of Halvossa, is the exiled heir to the five clans of the Imnada shape changers. As the story opens, his grandfather (the current clan leader) is dying, and the clans are under the temporary control of the villainous Sir Pryor Dromon, the Arch Ossine, who plans to kill Gray and take permanent control. Dromon has built up a fierce and brutal Ossine army of loyal believers who follow his orders blindly. 

     Meeryn Munro is Gray's childhood sweetheart, left behind when Gray went off to war and was then stripped of his clan marks and banished because of his curse. (See the World-Building section of this post for more about the curse.) Recently, Meeryn has become the N'thuil Aneavala, the voice and vessel of the Mother Goddess and anointed keeper of Jai Idrish, the most sacred artifact of the Imnada. Dromon sends Meeryn to London to bring Gray home, ostensibly to make peace with his grandfather and the clan, but really to fall into Dromon's murderous trap.

     The romance revolves around Gray's determined attempts to keep Meeryn at arm's length because the curse has brought him to the brink of death. Meanwhile, Meeryn has to decide whether to trust Gray or Dromon. Gray and Meeryn are so attracted to one another that lust takes over fairly quickly, but even though they have a few passionate interludes, Gray holds back emotionally because he doesn't want to break Meeryn's heart with his imminent death. The action plot, of course, centers on Gray's efforts to break the curse and take down Dromon, thus saving the clans and opening a possible path to peace with the Fey-Bloods. Here, Gray's friend, Mac, summarizes Gray's tasks: "Defeat the Ossine, kill Dromon, break a Fey-blood spell, reclaim your throne."

     Gray has possession of all four Keys of Gylferion, and he believes that they are crucial to breaking the curse forever. One weakness in the plot is that it takes Meeryn until page 269 to have an "Aha!" moment in which she suddenly realizes that since she is the N'thuil who "had the sum of Imnada wisdom at her fingertips," she should be able to figure out the answer to the curse problem. Of course, if she had thought about that earlier, this would be a short story rather than a novel.

     The story is heavy with angst with both Gray and Meeryn pining for each other, remembering the sad events of their pasts, and worrying about the deadly curse. Once again, the mythology gets very woo-woo with lots of somewhat confusing magical elements all coming together in the showdown scene near the end. The final chapter provides an unexpected twist and then ends rather abruptly with the usual HEA. Click HERE to read an excerpt from chapter 1 of Warrior's Curse.  

     Set in Regency London, this series centers primarily on a small group of outcast Imnada, who are "a race of shapechangers and telepaths divided into five clans overseen by the ruling Gather. They wield no magical powers though they are sensitive to its presence and can identify those who possess magic. At first they existed peacefully with the magical race of Other [aka Fey-Bloods] but when the Imnada betrayed King Arthur to his death, they were hunted down in the wars and uprisings that followed. In the ensuing centuries, those who survived grew reclusive and fiercely suspicious of all outsiders to the point that most believe the Imnada no longer exist." (Imnada Lexicon) The Imnada can also mentally communicate (aka "path") with others, both human and supernatural. 

     The Ossine are another important group within the Imnada clans. They are shamans and spiritual advisers who tend to be the strongest and most powerful of the Imnada. The Ossine select each Imnada mating pair and have their own armed militia that performs various enforcement tasks—mostly violent ones. 

     The supernatural enemies of the Imnada are the Fey-Bloods, known as the Other. These men and women possess the blood and magical powers of the Fey, and they despise the Imnada, viewing them as nothing more than beasts. The feud goes back to Arthurian times when an Imnada warlord (Lucan) supposedly murdered Arthur, the last king of Other. That event triggered a massacre of the Imnada by the Fey-Bloods, nearly wiping them out completely.

     The four leading men of the series—all Imnada—were English soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. One day in June 1815, one of them (Adam) happened on a Fey-Blood (aka Other) scholar who knew immediately what he was. The Other man forced Adam to shape shift, and Adam mortally injured him. When the other three soldiers arrived on the scene, the dying Other placed a Fey-blood curse on all four of the men. "With his last breath, he cast a spell upon us. It corrupted our powers. Tainted our lives. We were no longer acceptable to the clans…..We became emnil. Rogue. Less than the dirt upon the road or the smallest ant. We become nothing." (Shadow's Curse, p. 152) The curse forces the men to shift into their animal forms at sunset and remain in that form until dawn. They were banished forever from their clans and
stripped of their clan marks and signum (mental imprints). All through the series, Ossine enforcers constantly track down and attack the four outcasts. 

These are the four Emnil (outcast) soldiers:

  >   Adam Kinloch: lynx (He dies early in book 1.)
  >   Cormac Cúchulainn Flannery (Mac): panther 
  >   David St. Leger: wolf 
  >   Gray de Coursy (aka the Ghost Earl): eagle

     In book 1, we learn that a small group of Fey-Bloods and Imnada are trying to work towards a truce between the two ancient enemies. There is also a revolutionary group of outcast Imnada who plan to rise up against the elders of the Gather and throw out the old rules, including those against intermarriage with humans.

     By the end of book 1, the men find a way to end their night-time curse, but now the Fey-Bloods know they exist, and they are being hunted. Click HERE to go to the Imnada Lexicon, an extensive glossary of terms, on the author's web site. This glossary is also included within each novel.

     Here is a book-by-book chronological list of the soul-mate couples who find their HEAs in this series:

    > "Awaken the Curse" (January 1814): James Farraday (Lord Duncallan) & Kathrine Lacey
    > "Unleash the Curse" (February 1816): Sebastian Commin (Earl of Deane) & Sarah Haye
    > Demon's Curse (October 1816): Mac Flannery & Bianca Parrino
    > "Vanquish the Curse" (January 1817): Lt. Jack Ramsay & Lady Estelle Swann
    > Shadow's Curse (May 1817): David St. Leger & Callista Hawthorne, a Fey-Blood necromancer
    > Warrior's Curse (August 1817): Gray de Coursy, Earl of Halvossa & Meeryn Munro

             .1 NOVELLA:  "Awaken the Curse"             
     This novella begins in 1814, a year before the first novel takes place. Five years ago, Katherine Lacey and James Farraday (Lord Duncallan) had a single passionate union, but her father, a respected professor, discovered them and ordered James to stay away from his daughter. Since then, James has come into his title and has given up his wanton ways to become a scholar of the Imnada race. Both James and Katherine are Fey-Bloods, with James having the ability to cast illusions and Katherine being able to heal. When James receives a letter from Katherine's father asking him to come to Wales and assist him in an investigation of an obelisk and an amulet that are possibly connected with the Imnada, James is only too happy to accept the invitation because it means that he will be able to see Katherine once again. The obelisk is a huge stone carved with Imnada runes, and the amulet, which also has an Imnada rune, is a silver disk that Katherine gave James before their relationship ended.

    The professor's home is in a remote, mountainous region in Wales, and as James travels there he is viciously attacked and left for dead, but is rescued by Cade, a household servant. James is shocked to learn that Katherine's father has been missing for three cold and snowy days. Another visitor to the area is also interested in the obelisk and the amulet: Chevalier Gilles d'Espe, an unpleasant Frenchman who is visiting a nearby estate and who is a self-proclaimed expert on the Imnada. Both the professor and the chevalier are certain that the Imnada still live in these mountains. Even the locals believe that to be true, as they tell tales of fierce and mysterious nightwalkers—beasts that attack unwary night-time travelers. 

     The plot follows James and Katherine as they rekindle their romance and search for both her father and for the connection between the amulet and the obelisk. Unfortunately, their work is violently interrupted by two rival factions, each wanting possession of the amulet. By the end of the story, the couple gets their HEA (as you always knew they would) and unlocks the secret of the obelisk. 

     I recommend that you read this novella before reading the Demon's Curse, mainly because it provides essential background on Chevalier Gilles d'Espe, who plays a very important role in that novel. Another character, who appears at the end of this novella, will no doubt turn up in a future book (but not in book 1) so it will be helpful for you to have read his back story. Click HERE to read a very brief excerpt (the beginning of a love scene) from about half-way through this novella.

            .2 NOVELLA:  "Unleash the Curse"            
     James (Lord Duncallan) and Katherine are now married and living on James' rather run-down estate, and they're having a house party. Among the guests are two Fey-Bloods: James' friend Sebastian ("Seb") Commin (the Earl of Deane) and Sarah Hayes, a London stage actress. Six months ago, Seb and Sarah met at another house party and had a torrid one-night stand, after which both pretended that it never happenedat least that's what they pretended to each other. In reality, each one fell head over heels for the other.

     The romance plot follows the rekindling of the lust between Seb and Sarah, even though she is on the verge of betrothal to the rich and handsome Christophe, who claims to be an Italian prince. As a major mystery develops in the household and jealousy builds between Seb and Christophe, Sarah's feelings for Seb go far beyond simple lustand the same goes for Seb's feelings for Sarah.

     The action plot comes right out of The Twilight Zone, but if I explain the woo-woo part, I'll spoil it for you. Let's just say that you'll realize early on that Christophe's "Italian prince" persona involves some type of identity fraud, and that the truth of the situation turns out to be very weird and disturbing. Lucan (from the first novella) plays a key role in the plot. After he turns up at James' house in the middle of the night, badly injured and delirious, Sarah begins snooping around, hoping to uncover what's going on and how Christophe is involved. Naturally, she gets way more than she bargained for, and she and Seb are eventually forced to put their lives on the line for each other. 

     Other than introducing Seb and Sarah to the ever-growing cast of series characters and subtly reinforcing the villainy of Sir Dromon Pryor, head of the Ossine, this story doesn't add much to the series story arc. In fact, it introduces a new bit of mythology that apparently will appear just in this novella and which has no real bearing on the various plots and rebellions that fuel the series action. Seb and Sarah's characters aren't deeply developed, because this is a short novella, not a novel, but they are relatively interesting, particularly Sarah, who socializes with the Ton while always being reminded that her early hard-knock life and her scandalous acting career will never allow her to be truly accepted by London's high society. Click HERE to read an excerpt that comes about 1/4 of the way into "Unleash the Curse."

             NOVEL 1:  Demon's Curse             
     When Adam Kinloch dies, only four people attend his graveside service: his three comrades and a beautiful actress named Bianca Parrino. The local gossip has it that she was Adam's mistress, but the truth is that they were great friends, but not lovers. Mac Flannery suspects that Bianca knows of Adam's Imnada heritage, and he is afraid that she will let their secret out so he follows her to her home and confronts her about her relationship with Adam. The attraction between Bianca and Mac is the usual instantaneous love-at-first-sight experience that we find in most paranormal romance novels, but this romance takes a very long time to reach the consummation point.

     The one-note evil villain of the story is Renata Froissart, the daughter of Chevalier Gilles d'Espe, the Fey scholar we met in "Awaken the Curse." D'Espe is the man who cursed—and was killed by—the four soldiers. Ranata has powerful magical talents, and she is determined to get her revenge. She suffers from severe daddy issues—having always wanted to please her father but never being quite good enough—so this is her way of proving to her father (even though he's dead) that she is a worthy daughter.

     The plot revolves around the romance, as Bianca tries to deal with her distrust of all men and Mac keeps his Imnada heritage a secret as long as he is able. When the couple learns from Adam's journal that he discovered a cure for the curse, they focus their energies on deciphering the formula and gathering the ingredients. The action part of the plot involves Renata's attempts to capture, torture, and kill both Mac and Bianca. The Fey-Imnada peace-talks group shows up briefly in a story line that is woven into the main action plot. 

     A pair of new characters appears near the end: the mysterious Mr. Ringrose, who owns a magic shop, and his female crow-shifter partner, Badb. They play a crucial part in the climactic ending and make a bargain with Mac that is unresolved in this book. These characters were mentioned very briefly in the first novella in conjunction with Katherine's purchase of the amulet that is so important to that plot. Katherine describes Mr. Ringrose as "Merlinesque," perhaps a clue to his real identity—or maybe not.

     The author tells the story in full melodramatic style. Except for the paranormal part, this could be any 1990s Regency romance novel. The bedroom scenes are particularly dramatic: "Heaven wheeled overhead....Rolling. Spinning. Diving. The tilt of planets. The crash of suns." (p. 196) "...until the sweeping, thundering rush of ecstasy shattered her." (p. 318) "The cresting pleasure of their joining still buzzing within him like the growl of the ocean or the sough of the wind through the high mountain passes." (p. 370) 

     The men are all handsome alphas, and the women are all beautiful and saucy. Characterization is thin and the plot is predictable, but if you love traditional romances, you might enjoy this series. Click HERE to read an excerpt taken from midway through this book.

           1.5 NOVELLA:  "Vanquish the Curse"              

     This novella is not published as a single e-book. It is available only in the anthology Cursed, which is a collection of the three IMNADA novellas. Since I have already read the first two novellas (which are published as single e-books), I will not be purchasing  Cursed or reviewing "Vanquish the Curse." For informational purposes, I am including the publisher's summary below:

Publisher's Blurb: 
Lady Estelle Swann didn’t come to London in search of a husband. Instead she’s here hunting for one of the magical Keys of Gylferion in hopes of preventing a war between Fey-blood and shape-shifter. So when the notorious scoundrel Lt. Jack Ramsay turns his dangerous charms her way, she’s more than a little suspicious. But he’s after something else—something that leads the couple on a mission both complicated and deadly. Soon Estelle and Jack find themselves fighting not only unseen enemies but their own very dangerous attraction.

            NOVEL 2:  Shadow's Curse              
     Callista Hawthorne is a Fey-Blood necromancer who has been making a living by hiring her services to people who wish to communicate with their dead friends and family members. Callista uses a set of bells to put herself into a trance that takes her soul into Annwyn, the land of the dead: "a tangle of paths, sort of like a funnel. The farther and deeper you go, the more dangerous it becomes and the more difficult it is to retrace your steps." (p. 222)

     Callista is under the complete control of Branston, her vile half-brother, and Victor Corey, his villainous business associate, both of whom are using her talents to make as much money as possible. Corey plans to take sole control of Callista's powers by marrying her and then forcing her to raise an army of the undead to do his bidding. One night, Callista tries to run away, but when she is caught by Corey's gang of thugs, she is rescued by an Imnada in his wolf form. Not realizing that the Imnada was after her attackers—not herself—she knocks him unconscious and he is captured and chained in silver. That Imnada is David St. Leger, one of the four cursed and exiled soldiers. He has been living in London, drowning his sorrows in whiskey and women and easing his boredom by shifting into his wolf form at night and taking vigilante action against thieves, murderers, and rapists.

     When Callista realizes that David is her only means of escape from a forced marriage to Corey, she cuts him free of his chains, but only after he promises to accompany her to Scotland, where Callista's estranged Aunt Deirdre lives on the Isle of Skye, where she is the leader of an ancient Fey-Blood order called the Sisters of High Danu (aka bandraoi), who live a contemplative life in service to the gods.   

     Protecting the Sisters are the Warriors of Scathach (aka Amhas-draoi), a brotherhood of warrior mages. "The Amhas-draoi devoted their lives to protecting the realms of man and Fey, mostly from each other...Great warriors and powerful sorcerers, the brotherhood…stood for honor, justice, and integrity. For those in need, they were a bright sword against the dark. For those who undermined their supremacy, they were a cold blade in the back." (p. 100)     

     The plot follows the usual two branches: the romance and the action. The romance moves along rather slowly for a paranormal romance novel. The lustful attraction between the two is there from the beginning, but they do not consummate their love until much later in the story—after they join a traveling carnival to hide from Corey's men. The action plot has two, possibly three, villains: 

     > Victor Corey, who wants Callista for her talents and David for his magical healing blood; 
     > Eudo Beskin, an Ossine enforcer whose job is to kill both the four outcasts and any Fey-Bloods he finds; and 
     > Deirdre, who still can't forgive Callista's mother for marrying out of the clan and who is horrified that Callista has mated with an Imnadathe sworn enemy of the Fey-Bloods. 
     Another piece of the plot simmers mostly in the background: the attempts by Mac and Gray to overthrow the powerful leader of the Ossine and to forge a truce between the Imnada and the Fey-Blood. In addition, all of the outcast warriors are trying to cope with the fact that their Fey-Blood curse is slowly killing them.

     This is another solid entry in a series that is a cut above the usual paranormal romance series currently on the market, primarily because of its suspenseful over-arching series plot and because of its inventive mythology (although its complexity sometimes leads to confusionand a heavy reliance on the glossary). I recommend that you read this novel in sequence because there are many references to past events. Additionally, the characters from previous books continue to play important roles, so you need to know their histories. A helpful glossary of terms is provided at the end of the book. Click HERE to read an excerpt from chapter 3 of Shadow's Curse.  

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