Mini-Reviews: Flamecaster & For the Duke’s Eyes OnlyFlamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima
Series: Shattered Realms #1
Published by HarperCollins on April 5, 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 560
Source: Received from publisher

Set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Seven Realms series, a generation later, this is a breathtaking story of dark magic, chilling threats, and two unforgettable characters walking a knife-sharp line between life and death. This dazzling beginning to a new series is indispensable for fans of Cinda Williams Chima and a perfect starting point for readers who are new to her work.

Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now he’s closer than ever to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. With time running out, Ash faces an excruciating choice: Can he use his powers not to save a life but to take it?

Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told that the magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught. 

Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the ruthless king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.

Flamecaster launches a new YA fantasy series set in the world of the Seven Realms, following the children of the protagonists from the original story. If you have any interest in reading Flamecaster, you should start by reading the Seven Realms series. Trust me on this, it’s incredible.

I revelled in returning to the world of the Seven Realms. Everything that I loved from the original (magical school, warring kingdoms, scheming assassins, high stakes) was still present, but Cinda Williams Chima expands the world beautifully. New realms are explored, the characters meet pirates and battle blood-drinking priests, and even dragons make an appearance. But, as always, it was actually the every day experiences of the characters that worn me over. Important and challenging topics like racism, the exploitation of workers, and political extremism are all woven seamlessly into this world, and they make it feel that much more “real” for me.

The character work in Flamecaster is just as strong as the world building. The story is told primarily from the perspectives of Ash and Jenna, with chapters from intriguing secondary characters peppered throughout. Ash is, without question, his parent’s child. A quick thinker, good on his feet, a bit ruthless, a man with a plan and a penchant for self-sabotage. Readers know exactly who Ash is and where he comes from, whereas Jenna hardly knows herself – and certainly knows nothing of her origins. She has a fierce will and truly believes in justice, but there isn’t much time for self-discovery amidst all her obligations. Between being conscripted into the mines as a child and eventually joining the Ardenine resistance, Jenna is in full survival-mode. Although Ash’s story gets more page time, Flamecaster is clearly meant to set up Jenna’s story arc. We’ve got some tantalizing hints so far and I’m excited to see where things go in the sequel.

My one disappointment with Flamecaster is the obvious instalove between Ash and Jenna. After the incredible slowburn romance that Cinda Williams Chima developed in her Seven Realms series, my expectations were admittedly high, but still. Ash and Jenna would’ve made a great couple had they been given any time to develop but their instalove was exactly that: they made magical eye contact, held hands, and then they were in love. All in the same hour. Come on now! A missed opportunity for sure.

Overall, a great continuation of the Seven Realms stories.

Mini-Reviews: Flamecaster & For the Duke’s Eyes OnlyFor the Duke's Eyes Only by Lenora Bell
Series: School for Dukes #2
Published by HarperCollins on September 18, 2018
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Received from publisher

If adventure has a name…it must be Lady India Rochester. The intrepid archaeologist possesses a sharp blade and an even sharper knack for uncovering history’s forgotten women. Unfortunately, she has one annoying weakness: the dangerously handsome Duke of Ravenwood. Former best friend. Current enemy. And the man who dared to break her heart.

Daniel Bonds, the Duke of Ravenwood, is a thrill-seeking antiquities hunter who only plays by one rule: Never fall in love. He’s in it for the fortune and glory. At least that’s what he wants the world to think. He’s sworn to hide his tangled web of secrets, especially from the one woman he cares about and will protect at any cost.

But when a priceless relic is stolen from the British Museum, the rivals must align forces. Racing to recover the stolen antiquity and avert an international disaster? All in a day’s work. Avoiding their buried feelings? More and more impossible. For love is about to become the greatest treasure of all.

The grand adventure begins…now!

You can count on Lenora Bell to create fiercely independent heroines with goals and aspirations beyond finding love, and Lady India Rochester is no exception. With her pedigree, beauty, and intelligence, India is able to get away with behaving rather scandalously for a Victorian woman. Studying archaeology, traveling abroad, and even (gasp!) working are all things that India desires to do, and do them she shall. For Lady India will always follow her heart where it leads, even if it points her to the one man she’s sworn to hate forever.

India was betrothed to her best friend Lord Ravenswood as a child, but when Raven broke her heart they became enemies. Both travelling in archaeological circles, the pair fight like cats and dogs whenever they’re in the same room together – which is often. When a stolen antiquity forces the two of them to be partners, they’re finally forced to communicate and be honest about their feelings for one another.

Of course, all that arguing means that there are sparks aplenty between India and Raven. They have great hate-to-love-you style banter, and their witty repartee is both amusing and full of tension. Their chemistry is undeniable, but I didn’t find myself as caught up in them as I’d hoped. I think the push and pull between them was too shallow and repetitive.

India and Raven’s love story would’ve been more compelling – and believable – for me if Lenora Bell had put more time into establishing their emotional connection. As a character, India outshone Raven in every conceivable way. An ambitious, confident, playful and vulnerable heroine will trump a brooding and “tortured” hero plagued by noble idiocy any day. I was underwhelmed and even annoyed by Raven for much of the book, which didn’t exactly sell their love story.

I’ve enjoyed Lenora Bell’s stories in the past, but For the Duke’s Eyes Only simply didn’t work for me.