A ROMANCE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN!
EQUAL PARTS FANTASY AND ROMANCE THIS MUST READ TALE SKILLFULLY BLENDS EVERYTHING THAT’S GOOD ABOUT BOTH GENRES
Master Of Crows
(Master Of Crows, Book 1)
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Publisher: Self-Published (Createspace)
Format: Paperback, 392 Pages
Date: 30th June 2014 (First Published 2009)
There has long been a stigma attached to self-published books. It is generally assumed that such works are of poor quality, and of lesser merit for lacking the validation of a publishing house behind them. In other words, a self-published author is a writer who wasn’t good enough to get an agent let alone a publishing contract. This attitude isn’t entirely unjustified. There is an abundance of material out there that isn’t fit to be published, and the advent of the ereader and the associated ebook marketplaces (most notably Amazon’s Kindle Store) has exacerbated the quantity of dreck available. However, the automatic assumption that self-published books are less worthwhile has started to shift. An increasing number of self-published gems are being unearthed by readers prepared to look, and among them is Master Of Crows.
It takes a talented author to pen a novel that has just as great an appeal to readers outside that book’s natural target audience as those inside it. With this exquisite debut Fantasy Romance, independent author Grace Draven pulls off this feat with aplomb; and it should be noted that this is in no way a fluke. Though the book unquestionably targets the sensibilities of romance readers (and accomplishes that objective), Draven does not neglect the fantasy half of the equation. On the contrary, it’s readily apparent from beginning to end that the author dedicated just as much time and effort, if not more, into the fantastical elements of her story. This care and attention not only results in a novel that can be enjoyed by fantasy readers with little or no interest in the romance at the heart of the story, it also makes Master Of Crows a genuinely engaging, must read book.
For anyone wanting a synopsis of the tale told within the pages of this novel, it would be possible to condense the summary to, “Boy meets girl; they slowly fall for each other in spite of themselves; and they overcome insurmountable odds to be together.” But such a description would be doing a great disservice to both the book and the author. The two protagonists are never reduced to being merely archetypal romance clichés; both Silhara and Martise are very compelling, well developed characters, given intriguing backstories by the author which contributes so much to helping the reader establish a connection to the pair, as well as eliciting sympathy for the plight of each.
Silhara is a reclusive, powerful mage (dismissively reviled as the Master Of Crows) who lives out his days on a rundown country estate, tending to his orange groves. By night he is tormented by the god known as Corruption who tempts Silhara with the promise of immortality and the power to not only rule the world but also destroy his enemies―the religious order he once belonged to called Conclave. This ongoing trial is a concerted effort by Corruption to seduce Silhara into willingly become the physical vessel by which the god can return to the world.
Martise on the other hand is an educated slave, owned by Silhara’s arch-nemesis―a high ranking priest of Conclave―who offers her the opportunity to earn her freedom by becoming a spy within Silhara’s household. All she must do is find incontrovertible proof that Silhara is engaged in heresies for which he can be put to death by Conclave.
It would in no way be a spoiler to mention that the plight of both characters is complicated by their eventual falling for each other. Master Of Crows is a romance novel at its core, after all, so it should be taken for granted the protagonists will become embroiled in a torrid relationship. And for readers who are bothered by such things, once the entanglement commences there are a handful of graphic sex scenes between the pair; whether these scenes are gratuitous or not will depend on the sensibilities of the individual reader.
As an aside, it’s probably worth making the following disclosure. I’m a reader who usually hates the inclusion of romance in fiction, though this dislike isn’t because I’m opposed to it in principle. My problem is that I invariably find myself unable to suspend my disbelief at the way romances are depicted by almost every author I’ve ever read. The manner in which they tackle the subject just isn’t believable to me, which has the unfortunate effect of detracting from the reading experience, leaving me unable to buy into the story being told and making it near impossible for me to immerse myself in the narrative.
With the above being the case, the biggest compliment I can pay Grace Draven is to praise her for making me believe in every aspect of the romance between Silhara and Martise. There’s no “love” at first sight nonsense here; the relationship is built up slowly from an initial position of mutual mistrust, to the reluctant realisation of a physical attraction, to the gradual acceptance of an emotional connection. The relationship subsequently develops in such a way that makes it very easy to believe the sacrifices the couple are prepared to make for each other. That is quite an accomplishment
Beyond how convincingly the romance is handled by the author, what really elevates the book, making it a fantastic read, is just how well written and engaging Draven’s narrative is, particularly in relation to the fantasy elements of the story. Master Of Crows isn’t merely a romance tale taking place against the backdrop of an inconsequential fantasy setting. The intriguing world building is absolutely an integral part of the story, thanks in no small part to just how well conceived Draven’s ideas are. It’s so obvious that much thought was put into the development of the setting, its peoples, histories, cultures and magic etc. And what makes this all the more impressive is how much the setting and world building contributes to making Master Of Crows a real page turner, given that it’s by no means an action driven tale.
To conclude, very few books reviewed on this blog get a 5 star rating; faults are always looked for to justify not awarding a perfect score. But it wasn’t possible to identify a genuine flaw with Master Of Crows. It is a thoroughly engaging read, and such an accomplished piece of writing, few would guess it is a self-published book. It should go without saying that this is highly recommended to readers who appreciate romance. But if you are a fantasy reader who would normally shy away from reading a book with a heavy emphasis on romance, please don’t view this one as a romance novel masquerading as a fantasy. Master Of Crows is a legitimate fantasy tale, one with a compelling romance at its heart.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.