Note: This is a late review from my 2010 book log, posting as I’m trying to get caught up. The 2011 book log will commence once the 2010 reviews are up to date!
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Of Zoe Archer’s highly enjoyable Blades of the Rose series, Book 3, Rebel, turned out to be my least favorite thus far. This is not actually because Rebel is bad; it’s not. It’s got a lot of the same elements to it that I enjoy in the others. But other elements just didn’t click with me as well.
This time around we’ve got a heroine, Astrid, who’s a rarity in the romance novels I’ve read: a widow who’s a widow of a genuine, love-based marriage. (As opposed to, say, a husband who never slept with her, or a husband who abused her, or any number of excuses as to why the heroine hasn’t ever actually had sex before she lays eyes on the hero.) Her husband was slain by the Heirs of Albion, and in grief over his passing, Astrid’s fled into the remote Canadian wilderness. There she meets Nathan, our hero, who’s another rarity: a Native American who’s been brought up in white society and who is employed as an attorney. Thing is, Astrid discovers he’s got magical gifts–and that he may be the only thing standing between the Heirs and their acquisition of new Sources hidden by Nathan’s people.
I really liked both Nathan’s and Astrid’s backstories. Nathan in particular though played for me oddly as a character; on the one hand, he had an awesome history, and he’s an excellent retort to a lot of old-school romance novels where a Native American hero is fulfilling the “noble savage” stereotype that will make modern readers want to bang the book against the wall. On the other hand, the revelation of his magical ability played for me just a bit too easily. Not only is he a shapechanger, he’s a special shapechanger, with gifts that are just a bit too easily matched to the challenge of protecting three magical totems from acquisition by the Heirs. (Which is all I’ll say about that, lest I venture too far into spoiler territory.)
Astrid is an excellent match for him, nonetheless. Archer does a nice job making you think she may be about to head into the “oh noez! the Heroine will nurse the poor Hero back to health” trope, only to shoot that down very quickly–and from there, Astrid proceeds to be interestingly prickly all throughout the story, as she wrestles with her growing affection for Nathan and guilt over loving another man so soon after her husband’s death. She’s believably competent as a woman who’s a former Blade and who’s been looking after herself in the remote wilderness for a few years should be.
And, a good bit of Astrid’s character arc actually depends less on her relationship with Nathan and more with Catullus Graves, who gets significant camera time in this book. He’s been on camera before in the series, but only briefly. Here, he’s coming to Canada in search of Astrid, and he joins forces quite effectively with her and Nathan in the fight against the Heirs. I found the resolution of old conflict between him and Astrid almost more emotionally satisfying than the emotional resolution between her and Nathan, just because it was that much of a nice change of pace to see a heroine with a genuine friendship with a guy who’s not the hero.
(Plus, up until this book in the series, you get a lot of talk about how awesome Catullus is and how much brilliant invention he does for the Blades. In this story, though, you actually get to see him seriously deliver. This made Catullus quite a bit more awesome for me than Nathan, which was unfair to Nathan as it’s supposed to be his book, but hey!)
The villains are still pretty much Evil Because It’s Their Plot Function to be Evil, but as of this point in the series, we’re at least getting a particular bad guy who’s screwed up by events earlier in the series and is out for revenge because of them. This helps bump up his creepiness factor, and gives him a bit more substance to his motives beyond just “FOR THE GLORY OF BRITAIN!” Points for that, overall, and points to the series for continuing to entertain. Four stars.