Tuesday, November 29, 2022

No Man Can Tame (Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1) by Miranda Honfleur

This was a book recommendation from another of my favourite fantasy romance authors Grace Draven, and I can see why I was right in picking it up. No Man Can Tame by Miranda Honfleur riffs on the time-honoured odd couple trope in a way that is utterly delightful if you are in the mood for some heart-warming, feel-good fluff as a palate cleanser. I will admit it straight up for you, my gentle readers, I make no apologies about occasionally indulging in this genre. Life is already absurdly GrimDark as it is, and sometimes a gal just has to enjoy dashing dark elf princes sweeping somewhat reluctant human princesses off their slippered feet.

That's not to say that No Man Can Tame doesn't have a meta plot that touches on topical issues such as intolerance – because we see lands ravaged by conflict, some of it caused by humans and some by magical beasts that have settled in human lands. Referred to as Immortali, these creatures include unicorns and other creatures, and also, of course, our immortal dark elves who live in their subterranean kingdoms. 

Princess Alessandra has been promised to the dark-elf Prince Veron. Somehow, these two, need to help heal the breach between their people and help foster lasting peace – a tall order, considering that there is a group of humans hellbent on destroying all Immortali. Aless is at first resentful of the fact that her father has essentially used her as a political bargaining chip, thereby scuppering the dreams she's had of establishing a library in her mother's memory. Now she has to journey to the realm of her soon-to-be-husband's people, who are also not wholly on board with this union. Veron himself has his doubts, but it's clear quite soon that these two complement each other perfectly: headstrong, intelligent Aless, and brave and loyal Veron.

Honfleur strikes just the right balance in her writing so that the romance elements don't overshadow actual plot, which is why I enjoyed this story so much and immediately downloaded book 2 so that it's queued up on my Kindle. If you're looking for an Italian-flavoured setting filled with magic, true love, and intrigue, with a side order of adventure, then this will hit the mark.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Field Guide to the Amaryllis Family of Southern Africa & Surrounding Territories

Before we kick off with this review, I'll have you know that my mom named me after a bleeding flower. So before you ask, yes, I know. Though I prefer to tell people I was named after one of the god Poseidon's daughters.

The Amaryllis family of southern Africa has many, many more species in it than I expected. Actually, I wasn't sure what to expect when the Field Guide for the Amaryllis Family of Southern Africa & Surrounding Territories by Graham Duncan, Barbara Jeppe, and Leigh Voigt landed on my review pile. 

For a smallish, compact field guide, this is a huge book, and there's a part of me that wishes I could own a coffee table version of it because its size means that the absolutely amazing illustrations and photographs are so small. But then again, most of us aren't about to go hiking into the veld armed with a coffee table book big enough to fell a charging bull elephant, so here we are.

Barbara Jeppe, I must add, is a legend. I first encountered her lovely botanical illustrations in her South African Aloes, so to see so many of her illustrations of amaryllids here is an absolute treat. And it is fitting that this book is dedicated to her and her staggering contribution to botany.

Something I hadn't realised when I picked up this book was that there were so many species of Amaryllis in the drier parts of the country. In fact, in my not-so-humble opinion, Namibia and the Northern Cape totally lucked out when it comes to the sheer beauty and diversity of its species.

The field guide is divided into several sections, primarily looking at the different vegetative biomes, from desert, Nama Karoo, Fynbos, forest, and Albany thicket, to savanna, grassland, Zambezian grassland/dry forest, and widespread distribution. Each species will, where possible, have its locations pinpointed on a map, have a photo or two, and perhaps even an illustration. Due to the nature of this book, we can't expect a deep dive, but we will have a brief description, names, flowering period, a brief history, similar species, distribution, habitat, and life cycle, pollination, conservation status, and possible notes on cultivation. So all in all, really useful information for those who, like me, are of a habit to wander into the veld to see what strange plants might be hiding in plain sight, so to speak.

Whether you have a love of the showy Brunsvigia or Haemanthus, or, ahem, are a fan of the graceful Nerines or Clivias, you are bound to have a thorough introduction to the sheer variety of species found in our region. Perhaps sobering for me, however, was realising how many of these beautiful plants are threatened by agriculture, mining, or any other human-driven actions. Some species we simply don't know the full extent of their status, and many are threatened or critically endangered – highlighting the need for us to take better care of our environment.

All in all, this book is a stunning keeper, and if you don't already love southern Africa's abundant flora, then this will most certainly make you pay more attention to the often delicate blooms that are so easy to overlook.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Dragon Blood: Omnibus by Lindsay Buroker

This was another one of those 'included in your subscription' books I decided to give a spin on Audible. Dragon Blood: Omnibus by Lindsay Buroker contains the first three books in her series, and I'll say straight up that I was hooked from the get go. If gunpowder fantasy and aircraft with a side order of romance is your jam, then these novels will no doubt hit the mark. And I admit freely that I am quite fond of well-written fantasy romance. Actually, scratch that, it's my not-so-guilty pleasure.

Book 1 is Balanced on the Blade's Edge and introduces us to the rather roguish Iskandian Colonel Ridge Zirkander, the devil-may-care pilot who has annoyed his superiors one time too many – he essentially gets his wings clipped when he's put in charge of a prison in an isolated mountain fastness. Which sets him up to cross paths with the sorceress Sardelle Terushan and her somewhat snarky talking soulblade (!!!) after she's spent 300 years in stasis. The only complication is that magic is a wee bit infra dig. Nah, scratch that, if anyone with even a scrap of magical ability crops up, they're as good as dead. But the two need to work together, because an evil empire (of course) wants to lay its grubby mitts on Iskandia.

Book 2 is Death Maker, in which we encounter Lieutenant Caslin Ahn, who's been captured by the Cofah Empire and is facing a wee bit of a tight spot in a prison. But her fortunes change when she runs into the notorious pirate Tolemek "Deathmaker" Targoson, who also has beef with the empire. Not only must this unlikely pair escape prison, but they need to figure out what to do about a rather nefarious plot. More than this, I won't say for fear of spoilers.

Book 3 is Blood Charged, and it brings us full circle back to Ridge and Sardelle, and other familiar faces, as they embark on a quest to find out how the Cofah empire's scientists have laid hands on a secret ingredient that might give them the upper hand in an ever-escalating war.

I don't want to spoil anything so I'll steer clear of particulars when it comes to plot points. Overall, this is a fun, pulpy offering of fantasy that often made me think of the dynamics I encountered in the Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean movies – these are not books to take too seriously. They're fun, filled with adventure and action, and the romance elements don't overpower the narrative, which in my mind is a perfect blend. I've seen SomeDude™ kvetch in the reviews that 'no adult male would want to read this'. Well, that comment says more about him than it does the stories. 

Okay, so maybe I *am* the demographic (adult female), and I thoroughly enjoyed these stories for what they are: good, escapist fun. Also, I'm carrying on because DRAGONS! Yes, I am not ashamed to say that I love stories that have dragons in them. And I have my Suspicions and Many Thoughts about where this series is going, and if the author intended books 1-3 as loss leaders on Audible, she definitely has me invested enough to sink my fangs into the rest of them when they pop up on my TBR list.