Adventurer Lance Desmond needs to produce a fortune before his arch-rival collects the bounty on his head. He risks an ancient curse to retrieve treasure hidden within icebound Castle Cavanaugh, only to become trapped inside. Not with the gold he so desperately needs, but with medieval Princess Marigold who's been cooling her heels since... well, medieval times.
The lonely princess refuses to acknowledge the blossoming attraction between them. Not just because she deserves a better future than a penniless rogue. But because at midnight, he'll vanish like all her other would-be heroes. And the evergreen in the parlor will have one more figurine hanging from its boughs...
Based on the cover art and book blurb, I expected a short and light holiday-themed fantasy type story with a medieval knight and some magic. So it wasn’t surprising that I was totally confused right from the start of the book when things like planes and skyscrapers were mentioned. The whole beginning of the book was a mishmash of disparate elements that just didn’t connect well. I started to question exactly where and when this story was taking place. After about 10% into the story I had to restart it to try and make sense of what was happening. Well, the second time through was still confusing but I finally determined it was taking place in a modern world. I think the author must have been trying to create her own quirky little alternate fantasy world that mixes modern world technology with magic. Nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t done well and turned out to be a fail for me. Even when you create your own world, it has to make some sense to be believable, especially when you use a lot of real-life names, cultural references, events, etc. So here are some examples of why I felt the world building was a hot mess.
- As noted at the beginning, I went into this story thinking it was a medieval historical type fantasy story only to promptly have my expectations come crashing down. The cover art and blurb can really set the tone of the story, and in this case it is the wrong tone.
- The very first sentence mentions Lance’s sword, which cemented by expectation of a medieval story. Then the next sentence mentions planes and skyscrapers. Huh?
- Lance lives above a “hovel of ill repute” called the Pawn & Potion. Well, a house of ill repute, is generally a euphemism for a brothel, but Pawn & Potion sounds like a magic shop, which is what it is. Apparently it caters to “all walks of life” but nothing happens to give the sense of that atmosphere and most certainly wasn't a brothel.
- The story mentions that it is Christmas Eve. There is also a mention of going to midnight mass and churches with the best choirs. Yet at the same time he mentions “gods”. What’s wrong with this picture? For example:
It was three o’clock in the morning, Christmas Eve. And if the gods were with him, maybe he could sleep straight through to the new year….
The gods it seemed, were not with him.
- There is a bounty on Lance's head put there by the rajah. Wait, rajah? When did we go to India? Where is this story set? I assumed with castles and a Christmas celebrating society we were in some old world European setting.
- Oh, but wait… the rajah’s name is Ivan Radko. Ookay then, a Russian rajah?
- The bounty on Lance’s head is 10,000 drachmas. So now we have a rajah with an eastern European sounding name asking for a bounty in Greek currency. Did I already ask where this story takes place?
- Lance had the money to pay off the bounty (null and void for 100,000 drachmas) but he spent it on a pirate ship (yes, I said pirate ship), so he decides to go after a mythical treasure hidden in the cursed Castle Cavanaugh.
- At the end of the book there is a mention of coming back at Thanksgiving, a distinctly North American holiday. As far as I know there are no medieval castles in North America. So again I ask… where da fuq does this book take place?
Note: the majority of the above happens within the first 2-3% into the book.
- Besides all of the above, the book is riddled throughout with a number of cultural references and brand names, such as: Ritalin, night-vision goggles, e-readers, Batsuit, Facebook, infomercial, Slim Jim, Play-Doh, Mario, Candy Crush, Andy Warhol, Snickers bars, twerk, hip-hop booty dance, smartphones, Groundhog Day, Curious George, Houdini, and Jedi. Phew! I’m sure I missed a few.
A very strange and confusing world indeed.
So I persevered through this confusing mess of a beginning and once Lance got trapped in the castle, it started to be a little less confusing. This is where the story starts to turn more towards the light holiday fairy tale I was expecting. Lance turned out to be quite attentive and considerate to Marigold as they try to find a way to escape the castle before he turns into a Christmas ornament at midnight like all the other adventurers before him.
One point of contention with this part of the story I had (and this is one of my book pet peeves) was that it was made clear that Marigold was virgin but when it got to the sex scene between them, it was totally glossed over. Neither Lance nor Marigold or the scene itself makes any reference to it. Considering how attentive and considerate Lance was being to Marigold, it felt out of character for him not to show any concern.
So overall, the world-building was a confusing mess, but I was able to finish the story and liked it enough for the most part once Lance got to the castle. It ended up being a sweet little holiday fairy tale, though nothing exceptional, once I got past the beginning. However, the problems with the beginning and the story not matching some minimal expectation based on the cover and blurb kind of killed the story for me. If the world building had been better, and made more sense, I would probably have given this novella a higher rating.
Heat Level: Sensual with light spice – a couple of brief scenes that do not fade to black but are not overly explicit.
Word Count: approx. 34,180 (including back matter) - Novella
Print Length: approx. 180 pgs
Kindle Locations: 1597 (1710 with back matter)
Story text ends at 93%
Includes Table of Contents
Source: LibraryThing Giveaway