Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.
Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.
Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.
Thoughts: I’m pretty partial to just about anything written by Mercedes Lackey. If she’s written it, I’ll give it a chance, and more often than not I’ll enjoy it. I may encounter a problem here or there, but on the whole, whatever she writes is very likely to amuse me.
The House of the Four Winds, co-written by James Mallory, is no exception.
The story is a fairly simple one, drawing on old ideas and giving them a bit of a new twist. A king can’t afford to provide a dowry for each of his twelve daughters, so instead he helps them find their passions and get training, and then on their 18th birthday they will go out and make their own way in the world. The House of the Four Winds focuses on the eldest daughter, Clarice, who took to swordwork and wants to make her way to the New World. Disguising herself as a man and assuming the name Clarence, she finds herself a ship to take her there. The ship, though, is captained by a cruel man who has plans of his own, plans that don’t involve reaching his supposed destination, plans that involve piracy and magic and adventure on the high seas.
It’s a good combination when what you’re looking for is a fast-paced adventure with a solid dash of romance in the mix. You get an interesting story in the beginning, then it really ramps up once the captain has been killed and the piracy plot begins, since that’s when the crew comes across the House of the Four Winds, a deceptively nice island city ruled by pirates. Strong-armed into taking on a quest by the ruling pirate council, the crew of well-meaning mutineers once again heads off into danger, seeking a lot relic.
And here’s where the book largely falls apart. I’ll grant you, the first 75% of so is standard fantasy adventure, fun and light and it moves so quickly that you don’t notice the time passing, which is another thing I’ve come to expect from whatever Lackey has written or co-written (I haven’t read anything of Mallory’s that he’s written on his own, so I can’t say if that’s something he does as well). Aside from a couple of odd things that may have been editorial errors and will be ironed out in the final release (I read an ARC, so I’ll refrain from commenting until I see the final version), the story was great and just what I was looking for at the time.
But then I ran into problems.
The first problem was the issue of Clarice disguising herself as Clarence and falling in love with Dominick. No, actually, that isn’t a problem on its own. That was expected, and I actually enjoy seeing “disguised as a man” aspects to stories, for some reason. The problem for me came when Clarice’s actual gender was revealed. Specifically, Dominick’s reaction to it. Clarice was outed, did not choose herself to tell people that she was really a woman, nor that she had feelings for Dominick. It came as a surprise to everyone. And less than a day later, Dominick is by her side, confessing that he loves her too, but that when he thought she was a man he mistook those feelings for “mere friendship.” This rubbed me the wrong way. It was presented poorly. Had he said, “I convinced myself it was just friendship,” or had he admitted to struggling with what he thought were inappropriate feelings for another man once or twice, it would have come across to me much better. As it was, it seemed very much like Dominick was stating the only difference between being a friend and being in love with someone was what lies between that person’s legs. A friend is only a friend so long as they’re not the gender you’re attracted to. I’m certain it wasn’t intended that way, but it was, as I said, a poor presentation, and something that seemed so unrealistic is you take Dominick’s words at face value.
This was, however, a personal dislike about this scene, and it may not come across that way to others. A few other reviews I’ve read have praised it, in fact, for not having Dominick freak out and instead having him be very accepting of the situation. So your mileage may vary.
The second issue I had, and a much more troubling one, was the serious plot derailment at the end. The crew is sent after the lost artifact, find out how to get to it, almost get to it… and then in overthrowing the pirate-sorceress Shamal who forced them into it in the first place, end up elsewhere all of a sudden, away from the relic and with no resolution to the plot that drove the most of the last half of the novel, and the rest of the book is the crew fixing the ship, looting a ship graveyard, and heading back to land. To say that this was disappointing is an understatement. It felt sloppy, like the authors had written themselves into a corner and didn’t want to deal with what they had created, so they employed deus ex machina to solve the problem.
That being said, the rest of the book was fine. Better than fine. It was a great fantasy adventure on the high seas, set in a world that’s based upon (or was simply just meant to be) an alternate Earth, with a good narrative, detailed descriptions, and characters that feel bright and shiny and new, even if a good number of them lack depth or development. It’s the kind of fantasy you read when you want your world to have black-and-white morality, when you want a light adventure that’s easy on the mind but that will still provide you with hours of fun as you go along. Despite the problems I had with it, I still enjoyed reading it, and I’m already looking forward to seeing how the series will continue.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)