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Review: Grabbed by Vicious by Lolita Lopez

Published July 17, 2014 by Shannon

Grabbed by Vicious (Grabbed, #1)

There’s something that captivates me about alien captive romances. They appeal to me in a visceral way that I know is extremely problematic. Nine times out of ten, I will read a book with this premise, and either give up in disgust (Hello, Sharon Green, with your book that had an exchange like, “[Warrior dude] rolled me over and raped me. Then we ate breakfast.”) or I read to the bitter end and deeply, deeply regret doing so.
So when I learned that one of my trusted reader friends read and loved all of the Grabbed series by Lolita Lopez, I was cautiously optimistic. My friend and I had a Twitter exchange that went something like:

Me: “Should I read these?

Her: “Totally. The first book is as nonconsensual as it gets. And there are female friendships.”

So, because I am nothing if not a sucker for cracky ebooks, I bought the first one, Grabbed by Vicious and started it with some misgivings.

Here’s the blurb:

Hallie has never run so fast in her life. One of the frightening sky warriors from the warship Valiant is hot on her heels and intent on capturing her as his bride. He takes her down, places his collar around her neck. With one word, he claims her.

Mine.

Born and bred for the military, Vicious has spent years rising through the ranks. Hallie is his reward, the beautiful sprite ensnaring him with a glance.

Despite her fear of Vicious, Hallie surrenders under his skillful hands and mouth. If she’ll submit, he promises pleasure and comfort. After a lifetime of hardship, his offer tempts her greatly.

One night with Hallie and Vicious feels his protective instincts flaring. He’ll do anything to make her happy and keep her safe, even if that means surrendering his heart. Though he intended to master her, Vicious realizes it may be his sweet Hallie who masters him.

Inside Scoop: Our heroine endures trials and violence with strength equal to that of her warrior mate. (She also witnesses F/F play, and endures a collar and light BDSM. Fortunately she likes that part.)

After that huge setup, it will not surprise you if I tell you that I loved this book. It’s not perfect (the pace slows down a lot and I’m not sure it needed to be quite so long), but I feel like it was meant for a reader like me.

First of all, this is a heroine-centric story. In many ways, Vicious is less interesting than Hallie. He’s got a typical romance-hero past, and is basically a giant teddy bear. He is a walking male fantasy, a care-giving alpha who protects Hallie and wants to make sure she’s always happy. A few side characters remark that he’s awfully whipped, and he kind of is. But he’s the kind of female fantasy that works for me, even with the J. R. Ward-esque name.

Hallie, though? She reacts the way heroines usually don’t in this kind of book. Oh, she tries to avoid being captured, but once it happens, she tries to make the best of it. She’s on a giant space ship. It’s not like she can go anywhere, and after Vicious seduces her, she quickly learns he won’t harm her. There were no ham-handed attempts to escape, nor were there shrieking hysterics. Also, her reaction mirrored mine when she learns Vicious’s name. She actually has the “… huh? WTF,dude?” reaction that I experience every time I read a speculative romance with silly names.

Hallie’s a sweet, domestic goddess sort of woman. She also has a past that is much more colorful than Vicious’s. And she’s interested in social justice. She wants to make life better for the women that have also been captured by Vicious’s people. I love that the times she actually gets herself into trouble were because she did something for other people.

There is BDSM play in this book, although not much of it. The first few scenes do flirt a little with dubious consent, but by the time Hallie has her first orgasm, it’s made explicit in the text that she wants everything to happen. I never got hit with the whiplash of wondering where the hell her enjoyment was coming from. I was never made uncomfortable by the text, and I thought Lopez explored some interesting dynamics in the bedroom.

This is the kind of story where the heroine may be submissive in the bedroom, but outside of it she has her own agency. She and Vicious are also fairly vanilla, with a little kinkier play thrown in to spice things up every now and then. The next book plays with more explicit BDSM themes, and as I’m reading it now I’m appreciating that Lopez is writing about very different people with very different kinks. At least this way I know the formula won’t be dull or repetitive.

As I said, the book isn’t perfect. The writing feels very contemporary, and some of the phrasing is repetitive, and Lopez loves to make sure lots of verbs have their little adverb friends to play with. There’s also a big misunderstanding that occurs toward the end of the book that made me sigh and roll my eyes. Mostly, I thought the romantic conflict was over too quickly as well, though I don’t really know what I’d have wanted instead.

For all that, though, this is some delicious book crack. It worked extremely well for me, and I was sad to see the book ending. I’ve begun reading the second book in the series, and it’s started out very well. If things continue, Lolita Lopez is definitely going to be an author to watch.

Final Grade: B

Another reading goal not met

Published June 25, 2014 by Shannon

So I read five out of Andrew Lang’s twelve fairy tale books, but I have to throw in the towel at book 6. On the one hand, The Grey Fairy Book draws from wider cultures than the standard European. On the other hand, a lot of the stories are rambling and I encountered a nice dollop of outright racism and antisemitism. Since I’d like to spend time not hating the entire fairy tale genre, it’s time to pack this one in.

Still not rifting

Published June 23, 2014 by Shannon

So last week I went to Boston and had a great time at a work conference. This weekend I mostly relaxed and read the Internet, but was feeling fine. Then today my body remembered it had breathed circulated air and sent me flashing neon signs that I was going to get sick. I wanted to catch up on work, though, so I did go into work. This was not one of my finer plans, because now I feel even worse.

TLDR: No Rifter post today. I’m going to try to write one sometime this week, but if I don’t, it’ll be because I was laid out flat with a cold.

In which I drop the Ball

Published June 5, 2014 by Shannon

The first of our Rifter book club posts was supposed to go out tomorrow. I did some reflecting, and realized this is a thing that will not happen. I’m going to try to get it up on Monday, so all of you procrastinators can have a few more days to read.
Incidentally, what little I’ve read I’ve liked. I just need more time in my days.

Announcing the Rifter Book club

Published May 24, 2014 by Shannon

The other day I was thinking aloud, on Twitter, as one does, about how I’d like to do some kind of book club posts on my blog. Immediately Liz Mc2 and Sonoma Lass jumped on board, so this is happening.

Our first project is to read all of The Rifter by Ginn Hale. I picked this one because one fine day Liz Mc2 and I bought the whole 10-part serial and its sheer size is somewhat intimidating. Plus, unlike the last time I tried something like this, I fully expect I’ll enjoy the book, because I like epic fantasy, I like people-from-our-world-go-to-another sorts of stories, I like M/M books, and I like the thought of serial fiction, particularly when it’s all completed.

Here is the synopsis of the first book, to let you know what this is all about:

When John opens a letter addressed to his missing roommate, Kyle, he expects to find a house key, but instead he is swept into a strange realm of magic, mysticism, revolutionaries and assassins. Though he struggles to escape, John is drawn steadily closer to a fate he share with Kyle—to wake the destroyer god, the Rifter, and shatter a world.

My plan is to post a reaction post on every Friday starting June 6 for each of the parts of the serial. I understand the serials clock in at about 100-150 pages each, so I think that should be reasonable. After that, I’ll leave the comments open for discussion.

Each of the parts runs about $2.99, but the whole thing is available at a discount if you click on the Blind Eye books website above. I wish I’d done that instead of buying my copies through All Romance Ebooks, since their ebook buck program seems unnecessarily byzantine.

Anyway, I hope this experiment turns out to be fun. I hope you’ll all join me on the 6th!

Series Fatigue

Published May 17, 2014 by Shannon

Recently, I finished the fifth book in Michael Grant’s YA dystopian Gone series, Fear. I’d begun reading the series a couple of years ago, and found the first few books to be compelling horror/thrill rides. There was also lots of room in the world for fanfic, which I wish I wrote more of.

But this last book was kind of a slog. The writing is intense and dark, and I finished it, but I realized afterwords that I hadn’t enjoyed the experience. The last book in the series is already out, and part of me thought I should just read it and get it over with, for the sake of completeness, but a larger part insisted that I didn’t want another book to read where I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

I love long-running series, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of reading them. Eventually I get stuck because I get so far behind. I’m not good at reading a series from start to finish, one book directly following on another. I wish I were. I used to be, but my TBR pile was much less massive then.

My other issue is that, while I love angst in certain situations–being a teenager when I discovered Mercedes Lackey gave me an intense love for a good hurt/comfort scene–after a while it gets to be too much. This is why I gave up on George R. R. Martin. I read through four books, at the end of which everybody I liked was either dead, well on their way toward psychopathy, whining about where whores went, or probably going to get dead in due course. There was also no indication that Martin had any idea where he was going to go. I already have to spend enough time being driven around by people who have no idea where they’re going. The literary equivalent has no appeal. But it seemed like Martin was going to flail around torturing his characters willy-nilly, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay around for it. (And I have to say that all the rape apologia coming from his fans has not helped weaken this resolve.)

The Gone series at least has a finishing point. After the last book, I do not have to watch those characters be tortured any more. More importantly, I no longer have to read gross descriptions of people being eaten by mutant parasitic worms while I’m trying to eat lunch. That is why I probably will get around to reading it eventually, whereas the jury is still out as to whether or not I’m done with Martin. I need for series to have a definite end in sight. If they seem like they’ll just go on and on forever, eventually I wonder why I should care.

What about you all? Do you ever get series fatigue? What causes it? And what series are you thoroughly done with?

#Readathon mid-event survey

Published April 26, 2014 by Shannon

My first post was getting way too long. I thought we were due for another one.
I just finished Deenie by Judy Blume. i’m not sure what’s on tap next. I have only one more Judy Blume book on my stack. Maybe I will switch it up and read Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three, which I had on my TBR stack already.

Anyway, here’s the mid-event survey.

Mid-Event Survey
1. What are you reading right now?

I’m in between books and haven’t picked my next read.
2. How many books have you read so far?

Four that I read today and one that I finished which I’d started yesterday.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

Since I’ve run out of my stack, the only one I’d really planned on reading was Tiger Eyes, also by Judy Blume, so… that one?
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Not really. I was supposed to get a hair cut this afternoon, but I forgot to make arrangements with paratransit, so I’m going to pretend like I did that on purpose.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Not especially. I’ve taken frequent breaks, but I live alone, so nobody is here to interrupt me.
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

I love the community spirit. I really didn’t think I was going to do the first couple of hours. And, really, I didn’t, but I at least poked my head in.
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Not that I can think of. Seems like pretty smooth sailing here!
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?

Pick more books to have on hand. Find shorter adult novellas that could count.
9. Are you getting tired yet?

A little. But I’ve been trying to pace myself by taking frequent Twitter breaks.
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?

Children’s books are perfect. They make you feel accomplished. Considering that reading two books a week is rare for me these days, knowing I’ll read probably 7 today is pretty fantastic. Also, the sense of competition with myself is fun, because there’s no way I can lose!

Back to reading. I may update this post again later. And thanks to the cheerleaders who have stopped by. Team Wordsworth is pretty rocking!

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It’s now 6:33 PST. I’m about halfway through The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. The fact that ten-year-old me adored, say, Dorothy Gayle and not Eilonwy is a shame for which I won’t be able to forgive my parents for at least the next five minutes.

Anyway, I’m back to do a mini challenge. The idea is to put your name in titles of books you have. How hard can this be? Ha. Who am I kidding?

  • Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn
  • Heart of Myrial by Maggie Furey
  • At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
  • The Night Drifter by Susan Carroll
  • Nine Tenths of the Law by L. A. Witt
  • OCD Love Story by Cory Ann Hadu
  • Nos4a2 by Joe Hill

Holy Hannah, that was really hard. i have all kinds of books with titles starting with P or M, but the n’s were hard to come by.

********************

8:40 PST: I have slowed down a lot. I did finish another book, The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. I liked it a lot, and was delighted to read all the positive comments about it from my Twitter followers. I think I need to read The Black Cauldron. I was, however, a little sad I listened to this on audio, because I have no idea how to spell all those Welsh names. (I can barely spell English competently.) So if I said my favorite character was the half-man, half-dog-like creature with all his moanings and groanings that will suffice. And Eilonwy, whose name I only know how to spell because I used to follow someone on LJ who had that as her user name. Also, she is undiluted awesome sauce.

Anyway. My plan is to try for my last Judy Blume, and then call it a night. I have stuff to do tomorrow that requires some semblance of coherence, but I’m pretty proud of making it this far.

**********************

12:02: This is it. i made it roughly 20 hours into the Readathon and finished seven books, of which six were ones I’d already been reading. My last book for the evening was Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, which seems like an under appreciated gem of hers. (My favorite part was the distinct lack of romance and that the potential love interest, even though it went nowhere, was someone who was sad in a sweet way rather than a bad-boy hiding-my-man-pain-behind-a-facade-of-assholery way.)

Anyway, I’ve got things to do tomorrow which require me being awake, so sleep is in the offing. But thanks for stopping by and thanks for reading.

State of the Shannon: Readathon, Hugo Awards, and a recent DNF

Published April 21, 2014 by Shannon

Sorry for the double post. I suppose I should let this go up tomorrow, but lazy blogger is lazy.

First of all, I signed up for the Dewey’s Readathon. It takes place this weekend, and I will probably make a few posts to let y’all know about my progress. I can’t do all 24 hours, because I do not love Internet fun events enough to get up at 5 A.M. on a day when I don’t have to. Also I have to get a hair cut, which I’ve been putting off. So I may do some reading on the road, or over lunch.

My plan is to put a couple of short books on the slate so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I know for sure that i want to reread Sarah, Plain and Tall because on audio it is barely an hour long and also there is a mail order bride. I’m also thinking about Double Indemnity because it clocks in at about three hours. And I’m sure I can find some smutty novellas to round out the slate. I’m definitely excited, and will need to make sure I have plenty of snacks for the weekend.

********************

So there were the Hugo Award nominations this weekend. I am actually considering buying a supporting membership to World Con so I can see how accessible the Hugos are to vote if you’re, you know, me. But then, I also considered actually tackling the Wheel of Time books, even though my wise and beloved Meka thinks this is a phenomenally bad idea that will result in me making rage faces at the Internet. She is probably right. That said, maybe this is the impetus I need to read Ancillary Justice and something by Mira Grant. Both of these things seem like they are bound to hit my sweet spots.
Also, the next World Science Fiction Convention is in Spokane. I want to go, seeing as it’s so close. I have to figure out how to make this work, though. Largely, this will involve finding con buddies, because there is no way I would make it through a whole entire convention center packed with people all by myself. I barely survive our convention of the Washington Council of the Blind without needing to curl up in bed and cry for my mommy by the end of the day because my introvert soul is screaming for SPACE! I need it! And that convention is a tenth the size of WorldCon.

The Hugo Awards weren’t without their controversy. I’m afraid I can’t separate artist from work when it comes to people who have been proven to spew racist vitriol over the Internet where anyone can read it. Some author behaving badly drama I can ignore, and generally an author’s place on my shit list or my “will never read this ever” list is malleable, depending largely on my mood. But I can remember why I’m not interested in reading Vox Day or Larry Koreia
rather vividly, and seeing comments left by their fans over the past few days have reinforced that this is a life choice I can live with. Besides, I like the kind of SF they don’t, so I’m sure they are not weeping overmuch into their beer at not getting to bask in my potential fandom, even though I am pretty awesome.
.**********************
I had to DNF a book today. I haven’t been noting DNF’s on the blog unless they were terrible, (see: this post.) But the other day I read Memory’s excellent review of Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen. I had that book on my TBR, and I tend to agree with Memory’s tastes.

I made it to 20 percent or so, before reaching a scene that I couldn’t get past. It’s not that anything was horrible. The writing is fine. Not particularly awesome, but it gets the job done. The premise was fascinating–girl gets kidnapped and has to marry the troll prince to fulfill a prophecy, except it doesn’t work–and the hero brought the swoon. I just didn’t like the heroine. I’m not sure I could tell you why, either. She is everything I supposedly want in my fantasy heroines–strong-willed, determined and fierce. Yet I didn’t warm up to her, and after the point where she starts throwing a temper tantrum, I was done. I wanted more of her backstory. I wanted her to stop and think and be devious and clever. She wasn’t. She was shrill and reactive. I totally understood her motivations for her behavior, but I still didn’t care to read it.

I have no idea what I’m reading next. I have been trying to delve into my TBR pile more and dig out older books, but nothing is really demanding that I read it. Except maybe the first volume of the Wheel of Time, just to see if it’s really that bad, though I suspect that it might well be.

Feel free to rec me awesome books in the comments. Or tell me what you’ve been reading lately.

State of the Shannon: The High on Cold Meds Edition

Published April 15, 2014 by Shannon

It’s spring here in the lovely Pacific Northwest, which I thought meant I was out of the woods as far as getting sick. Unfortunately, I thought wrong, and have spent the weekend in various states of comatose and/or highly medicated. I went back to work today, and took my boss up on her suggestion that I leave a little early and get a little more rest. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so I’m writing a blog post instead.

Here are a few things that are on my mind recently:

  • There have been a couple of fascinating blog posts on the subject of whether or not romance novels should come with content warnings. I’m in the comments of the first post, and apparently I made sense there because there’s a link to my comment in the second post, which gave me a warm fuzzy. Anyway, the comment threads of both blog posts are worth reading. Ultimately, I think if anyone can avoid being triggered however that needs to happen, everyone’s life will be easier–the author of the potentially triggering book, the person who might be potentially triggered, and even just other people.

    I don’t have many triggers, if any. The closest I can think of is that I quit reading the Virgin River books at the one where Mel decides she’s getting fat because of all of Preacher’s cooking and it looked like she was going to blow a fucking gasket about it for the whole book. I wouldn’t say I was triggered exactly, but the whole thing looked to be badly handled because on the one hand you’ve got a woman being ridiculous about her body, but you’ve also got her husband being all, “Oh sweetie. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about anything.” I thought both characters were awful, it was also not even remotely their book, and I have refused to read another word of that series, because you know where I don’t need people preaching condescendingly about weight? My romance novels.

    I did appreciate the warnings on Heidi Cullinan’s latest book. She warns for hardcore BDSM, including water sports. I think if I’d been reading along and come to a scene of someone peeing on someone else, my happy id feelings would vanish really fast. Since she warned me to expect that, I’ll know not to be surprised, and I won’t feel betrayed because the author went down a darker path than I’m willing to go.

  • I do want to write sometime about consent in romance novels in general and my feelings on same. Surprisingly, they’re complicated and I feel like I’ve been wrestling with thoughts on those issues for years. I do know that I am one of the minority of women who would say that she doesn’t have rape fantasies of any kind, although with an author I trust I can enjoy the occasional, “My heart is saying no, but my body’s saying let’s go!” type scenarios. Also, I won’t lie. Sex pollen, we-have-to-fuck-or-the-world-will-end, or even Aliens Made them Do It scenarios get a pass from me. I also find slave scenarios really fascinating. But I have to keep all of them in the right perspective. I can suspend my disbelief for a master and slave falling in love in generic fantasy land, or a couple getting together because if they don’t, the world will literally end, but give me a book where the hero kidnaps the heroine and forces her to go on a journey of debauched shenanigans involving drugs, actual real-world sexual slavery, or whatever, then I can’t handle it. So I guess for me the key word in “dubious consent fantasies” is the “fantasy”.
  • Sunita’s post also makes me want to write more on disability in fiction. I don’t quite know how I want to frame that post, because I’ve written about my issues with disability tropes enough here that I’m sure you could all play Shannon’s Post mad libs and come to the right conclusions. I think the only thing I really want to say is that even though a lot of disability is handled so abysmally in fiction, we still need more of it, because eventually, someone is going to write stories with disabled protagonists who are neither fetishized nor used as pillars of inspiration. This has to happen, right? On the theory that if an infinite number of monkeys bang out at an infinite number of laptops, one of them is bound to write a disabled character I can personally identify with, right?
  • In completely unrelated news, I’ve been listening to podcasts over the last few days, because they don’t require the same amount of emotional investment as actual books. One of the things I ended up discovering was PRX Remix. They hand-curate segments from various podcasts and you can hear them at random. It’s so interesting, and has convinced me that my decision to subscribe to the Snap Judgment podcast was a good one. (The other reason is that the host of that show has a voice I could roll around in all day… a sentiment I have never thought about Ira Glass.)
  • One of my friends, also named Shannon, has begun doing audiobook reviews in various places. Her first review for All About Romance is here. She does an excellent job, and I’m proud of her, since as I’ve said, group reviewing projects don’t seem to work very well for me.)
  • Right now I’m reading Stephen Cjboski’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I know it’s a YA classic, and I should probably give up, because it’s been an exercise in me being unable to care at all about this kid long enough to keep going with the story. I also find myself annoyed that this is a YA classic, but if it had been about a girl navigating the waters of high school, first crushes and dealing with various related issues, it would have vanished into mid list obscurity. Which is where this book belongs, unless something changes in the next three hours of audio reading.

Review: The Steerswoman’s Road by Rosemary Kirstein

Published February 1, 2014 by Shannon

The Steerswoman's Road

I’m glad I don’t enforce the reading goals I make for myself. I had some vague idea I would read some of the books I’ve had on the TBR pile for years. Which is a worthy goal, except for the part where there are always new and shiny books to distract me.

I had been aware of the existence of the Steerswoman books by Rosemary Kirstein, but only in a vague “That’s not accessible to me. That sucks. I might like that” sort of way. It was only after a chance mention in one of Natalie’s linkspam posts that I finally tracked down an accessible copy of The Steerswoman’s Road, which is an omnibus collection of the first two books in the series. I have since learned that omnibus collections are a good way to make me read a series to completion–or at least to the end of the omnibus. It’s an endurance test if nothing else. Anyway, once I read the blurb, I knew I had to read this series. Right now.

A Steerswoman must reply. A steerswoman will speak only the truth to you, as long as she knows it- and you must do the same for her. And so, across the centuries, the steerswomen-questioning, searching, investigating- have slowly learned more and more about the world through which they wander. All knowledge the steerswomen possess is given freely to those who ask. But there is one kind of knowledge that has always been denied them: Magic. When the steerswoman Rowan discovers a lovely blue jewel of obvious magical origin, her innocent questions lead to secret after startling secret, each more dangerous than the last-and suddenly Rowan must flee or fight for her life. Or worse, she must lie. As every wizard in the world searches for her, Rowan finds unexpected assistance. A chance-met traveler turned friend, Bel is a warrior-poet, an Outskirter, and a member of a barbaric and violent people. Or so it would seem. For Bel, unknowing, possesses secrets of her own: secrets embedded in her culture, in her people, in the very soil of her homeland. From the Inland Sea to the deadly Outskirts, surrounded by danger and deceit, Rowan and Bel uncover more and more of the wizards’ hidden knowledge. As the new truths accumulate, the two women edge closer to the single truth that lies at the center, the most unexpected secret of them all. . . .

Adventure? Fantasy? Buddy road trip quests with two women? I was sold. Fortunately, the book lived up to my unreasonably high expectations, and after a few chapters, I realized I wasn’t reading straight fantasy. I was reading hard SF cosplaying as fantasy. (Usually the science fantasy I read is the other way around… fantasy with fake science to support, say, the inclusion of dragons. But I digress.) This was a feature, not a bug. In the third chapter, Rowan, our titular Steerswoman, trots out a graph. She regularly applies the scientific method to make sense of the world around her, a world with dragons and gnomes and goblins. I cannot express with enough superlatives just how cool I found this idea.

Of course, even cool ideas suffer if characterization is lacking. Luckily, Kirstein doesn’t stint on that, either. Rowan and Bel are perfect foils for each other, both bright, competent women who are allowed to be strong and awesome without the text needing to dwell on what strong female characters they are. In fact, the whole society that Bel and Rowan live in is egalitarian, with women participating in various traditionally masculine activities as much as the men.

People looking for romance are going to be disappointed. Maybe there will be a future love interest for Rowan or Bel, but thus far Kirstein seems to be using the trope of the lone traveler with her characters. Rowan or Bel ending up in a romance doesn’t fit where they end up in their lives, and that’s OK, because they both get to swan around with random men as their whims dictate. That kind of thing happens all the time in books that are centered around men, but for women? That is rare, and even if women do love ’em and leave ’em, the resulting slut-shaming usually means they’ll die horribly or turn evil. To have heroines who are allowed to not settle for the first cute boy they encounter is a refreshing change, even for this lover of romances.

As to the plot, it’s meandering, but methodical. Each event follows on the heels of its predecessor, and I never felt, as I was reading, that Kirstein was showing her authorial hand in order to keep the story going. The one complaint I’ve read about the second book is that it has an open ending, and readers wondered if the whole plot arc even served any purpose. I thought it did, though I have no idea what that purpose is. And even if the second book is one long digression, it was worth it to me because I loved in that book especially how the reader guesses at things that Rowan, though intelligent, has no frame of reference for. To give an innocuous example, I figured out early on that “wood gnomes” were chimpanzees. As Rowan makes further discoveries about her world, the reader is left to fill in her own theories about what’s gone down, and I’m fascinated to figure out if I’m right or not.

Kirstein’s written four books in this series. Now that I’ve read the first two, it won’t be long before I read The Lost Steersman. This is an underrated series, and I want more people to read it so we can gush about it together. Without a doubt, The Steerswoman’s Road will be on my top ten reads of 2014.

Final Grade: A.