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This review is also available on my blog, Bows & Bullets Reviews
Serena's blood is powerful....more powerful than they expected and that means marriage is inevitable. It was always inevitable, but now it will come more swiftly. All this really means is that her ownership will shift from her father to whatever man is willing to pay the highest price for the chance to have powerful sons, and that she will no longer be home to shield her sisters from her father's wrath. It also means she must obey her new husband in all things, no matter how superficial or cruel, or she will be tarnish, a fate many consider worse than death. Then a barbarian wins her in a tournament and she is even more terrified. Marriage to one of her fellow countryman, even though he was a mean bastard, would have been tolerable, but marriage to someone from the more barbaric nation? It's unthinkable....until she notices something. Her new master is kind. Not only is he kind, but he doesn't seem to desire to punish her, no matter how she acts out. Is her new life too good to be true or does the barbarian mean the things he says?
Serena is a character I was a bit on the fence about. On one hand, it's hard not to empathize with any woman in this world, who must deal with being owned and abused. Women here aren't considered citizens, merely the property of men. Men can do whatever they wish to their property, including beating them, mentally abusing them, forcing them to do things they don't want to do, and then beating them some more when they don't do those things satisfactory. You can read more about how that irritates me in my review of the prequel, <a href="http://bowsandbulletsreviews.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/review_janeal_falor_mine_to_tarnish/">Mine To Tarnish</a>. Not that I'm saying the novel is awful or Janeal is terrible, just that the situation she has created is a bit appalling. It does make you think though. Anyway, I do empathize with Serena, but I wanted to slap her at the same time. She continually does things she knows will anger her father or her fiance and will be cause for punishment and then laments being punished. I'm not condoning that behavior in the least, but damn, woman, do you have no survival instincts? If you know touching the fire will burn you, shouldn't you avoid touching the fire? Once her engagement to Zade (the barbarian) becomes official, she acts out even more because he does not punish her, but she shrivels up in his presence waiting for the retribution for doing things no one approves of. And it takes her forever to realize that Zade really has no intentions of ever punishing her, that he finds the way they treat women appalling.
Speaking of Zade, I loved him. I think he should have laid out his intentions a little earlier on so Serena didn't have to walk on eggshells as much, but he's the perfect hero. I loved the idea that the clan thought to be the most barbaric is actually the closest to what we are like now, allowing women all the rights of men and so on. He's so kind to Serena and so considerate of her that it's impossible not to love him. It's difficult to realize why it took so long for her to love him. He's the sweetest guy with a determination to protect her at all costs.
I enjoyed seeing Katherine again, who is the heroine in Mine To Tarnish. I'm glad to see her flourishing in her new role, though I wish I could have caught a glimpse of Charles and how their relationship is progressing. The two kind of stole my heart before. What I really loved about this was the ending, which I really can't gush about without spoilers, but it was perfect. It ends with the hope that things will improve not only for Serena and her sisters, but for everyone. The characters are working towards something big, a major change that will help women, all women. The ending is absolutely perfect, seriously. I wouldn't change a thing about it.
This novel is a little slow to start. The beginning is interesting, but a bit dull. Once you get to the part when Zade enters the picture, it's impossible to stop reading. I kept going because I had to know when Serena would finally realize that Zade would never hurt her or allow any harm to come to her while she was under his protection. I kept going because seeing Serena break the rules was mesmerizing, seeing her challenge the edicts of the Woman's Canon (a literal rulebook for women) without outright breaking them was beyond entertaining. Mostly I kept going because I wanted to see if and when Serena finally realizes her feelings for Zade and if he returns them. What can I say? I love the love story.
Falor does a wonderful job of keeping you enraptured in the story, even when you aren't quite sure where it's going. Her writing style is amazing, with the perfect level of world building that keeps you in the moment and aware of the character's surroundings without giving us pages upon pages of room descriptions. I really enjoyed it and I am adding the next book to my list....even though it's about Cynthia...maybe I'll learn to love her more. ;)
****Thank you to Janeal Falor for providing me with a digital copy in exchange for an honest review****