Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Synopsis: Brash, cocky, and unbeatable with a sword (well, almost), Sam of Haywood is the most promising Paladin trainee in the kingdom of Thule… and knows it. The only problem is that Sam is really Lady Samantha, daughter of the seventeenth Duke of Haywood, and if her father has his way, she’ll be marrying a Paladin, not becoming one. But Sam has never held much interest in playing damsel-in-distress, and so she rescues herself from a lifetime of boredom and matrimonial drudgery. Disguised as a boy, Sam leaves home behind to fight demons–the most dangerous monsters in Thule–alongside the kingdom’s elite warriors. Pity that Tristan Lyons, the Paladin assigned to train her, is none other than the hero of her childhood. He hasn’t recognized her-yet-but if he does, he’ll take away her sword and send her packing. Sam is not the only trainee hiding secrets: Braeden is a half-demon with a dark past that might be unforgivable. Whether he can be trusted is anyone’s guess, including his. As demons wreak havoc across the land, rebellion stirs in the West, led by a rival faction of warriors. A war between men is coming, and Sam must pick a side. Will saving the kingdom cost her life-or just her heart?
Review: This book can best be described as Mulan with a twist- instead of the Hun there are demons. Like Mulan, Samantha or Sam, lives in a sexist society where women are expected to adhere to propriety and marry young. However, Sam has other desires and decides to take charge of her destiny by cutting off her hair, pretending to be a man, and joining the Paladins- an elite group of warriors dedicated to protecting the country from demons. It is a cliché, but most stories these days are. What ultimately matters is how these familiar storylines are executed.
As far as the execution- overall, this book is easy to read and enjoyable. The story is interesting; there’s action, romance, suspense, and some twists (albeit very predictable ones.) The main characters, Sam, Braedon, and Tristan are likeable and have a good dynamic. Sam is a good female role model and I appreciate the feminist undertones. She’s confident in her abilities, embraces danger, and professes that she doesn’t need anyone to protect or save her- she can do that herself. And there’s no contradiction in this as with most similar stories. When she does develop romantic feelings she doesn’t sacrifice her own desires and goals for him or suddenly try to act more feminine. Also, I find something very endearing about a girl who bites people.
Despite these admirable traits, I do have several criticisms with this book. First of all, while I did feel some connection to Sam and Braedon, I would have liked to feel more. As it was, I was interested in their storyline and what would happen to them, but not really emotionally invested. And Tristan- he was a walking stereotype and completely one-dimensional, as were all of the secondary characters (although the Commander was intriguing). I attribute some of this lack of connection to the main characters to the writing style. Based on the synopsis you would expect Sam to be the protagonist. However, it’s written more narrative than point of view with the focus being on Sam, Braedon, and Tristan. This is a mistake as you don’t really get a good sense of any of the characters, their feelings, or their motivations. Some of their history is recounted- but it’s rather contrived. I especially didn’t like the prologue where Sam’s mother was killed. I imagine the author did this in an attempt to provide motive behind Sam’s desire to join the Paladins. However, the author didn’t pay it enough page time to really develop that period of Sam’s life and provide depth. It would have been better as a flashback.
Also, this book had some missed opportunities to address topics related to gender identity and non-normative sexuality. I originally decided to read this because I was curious how it would handle the romance that was alluded to in the summary,
given that Sam is pretending to be male and assuming (like most books) the characters would be heterosexual (they are). This book had an opportunity to either break this particular norm and/or incorporate some elements of sexual fluidity. Unsurprising- it didn’t. As you can infer from the synopsis, there is a love triangle. As expected, when one of the characters finds out Sam is a female, he instantly decides he wants to marry her- despite not previously having romantic feelings for her when she was a ‘male’ and even previously thinking she was annoying. The other romantic story arc is more palatable. This particular character found out Sam’s true identity earlier in the book, and the resulting feelings seemed more genuine.
The final thing I want to briefly address is the world building. If you are the type who craves world-building, then this novel is not for you. Personally, it’s not a deal-breaker for me. I can accept magic or demons or whatever in the novel-verse. I don’t need to know where things come from, the mythology, and/or history of that particular world. This is a universe full of demons and it is briefly mentioned they come from some place called the “Afterlife.” That’s it. No other information is provided. Maybe it will be addressed in book 2, Uriel.
Despite the above criticisms, this is a good book. Over the last week I started about 5 others that I just couldn’t finish. I wanted to finish this one so that speaks high of it and I defintely will be reading the sequel.
Reviewed by: Pamela J.
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