I’ve been trying to read some shorter fiction lately and have really been digging novellas and novelettes. Sometimes you just want something more bite sized that you can dive into for a day instead of reading over week’s time. Today I’m talking about two SFF romance novellas from two of my new (to me) favorite authors writing in these blended genres.
The Art of Deception by Stephanie Burgis
Niko Hrabanic was once a famous swordsman. But after a scandal-laden departure from his last job at a royal court, he’s now hiding out in a rural inn, making himself useful to his attractive landlady in all sorts of ways that don’t actually involve paying rent…
…until a summons from the mysterious and dangerous White Library shakes up his life all over again. His landlady, it turns out, has secrets of her own. Now Hrabanic and Julia will have to confront both of their pasts – and if they’re going to have any hope of survival, they’ll need both Hrabanic’s sword arm and Julia’s magical training.
It’s time for them to become experts at the art of deception.
I think everyone knows by now that Stephanie Burgis has become one of my favorite authors recently. Ever since reading Snowspelled at the end of last year, I’ve been hooked. This is a short fantasy romance novella/novelette (not sure what the cut off is, but it’s only about 50 or so pages), centered around Hrabanic, a sort of maybe retired famous swordsman, and Julia–his landlady. Or supposed landlady. This short book once again proves why I love Burgis so much as a writer. Here she’s taken the word deception, and used it in multiple ways. It’s about the swordplay. But it’s also about the infamous White Library, because apparently everything there is not as it seems. And every one is not who they seem, either. I love the way she plays with this concept again and again throughout the story, adding in a layer of complexity to an otherwise simple story.
The characters here are a lot of fun and their relationship and interactions with each other reminded me a bit of the main characters in T. Kingfisher’s Swordheart, so if you liked that, you’ll probably like this as well. I think Burgis’ strength is her characters–she has a knack for getting you to care about them in no time at all, which is great for her short fiction. I also love that the characters were already in a relationship, of sorts, before the start of the story, and they just have to figure out what they feel about each other. Nothing like a little bit of conflict and peril to help those revelations along. What else can I say about this except that it’s a short, quick, fun read and I loved it. 4.5/5 stars.
The Queen’s Gambit by Jessie Mihalik
When the Quint Confederacy and the Kos Empire went to war—again—young Queen Samara wisely kept her Rogue Coalition out of the conflict. But staying neutral in a galactic war doesn’t pay the bills, not when both sides refuse to trade with neutral sectors.
With her people on the brink of starvation, Samara hatches a daring plan to snatch the kidnapped Kos Emperor from the Quint mercenaries holding him. The Kos Empire will pay a fortune for their emperor’s return, enough to feed the Coalition’s citizens while they wait for the return to a begrudging peace.
But when her plan goes sideways, Samara finds herself evading Quint mercenaries with the very man she intends to capture. And the more time she spends with Valentin Kos, the more she realizes that he’s not the coldly indifferent villain she imagined. Torn between duty and desire, Samara must decide if saving her people is worth giving up the one thing she’s always wanted.
I’m a huge fan of Polaris Rising, so I had to check out this space opera romance novella by Jessie Mihalik as well. This was a fun book, and I loved the concept. I’m always for the girl having to go on and rescue the guy, even if she’s technically also kidnapping him. As far as the romance aspect of things, there’s an instant attraction, but the romance itself is a bit more slow burn. I love that they didn’t just jump right into a relationship which, politically, might be tough anyway given their respective positions as leaders of two different factions. I also loved that Valentin is NOT a typical alpha male love interest. I mean, he’s clearly not a beta type either, but he’s not an ‘I’m in charge, I need to be in charge all the time, let me protect you my way and be all upper handed about it because you clearly can’t take care of yourself as a woman’ type of character. As a romance reader, well, you don’t know how much I appreciate that. 🙂
As for the space opera aspect, well this was just a fun ride. I love the future tech, like neural networks, blasters, stunners, and tough little spaceships that get you out of jams when you need them to. I love the idea of warring empires, and a neutral territory caught in between. There seems to be some political intrigue on the horizon, probably in the next book, having to deal with Valentin and his position as leader of the Kos Empire. We get a little bit of it here, but it’s not fleshed out yet because most of this book is spent dealing with Samara a) securing funds for her people and b) getting the Quints off their asses. I do think she’ll have to think of a long term solution (maybe branch out to a planet that can produce resources for sustainability) because piracy is not a good look and kidnappings for ransoms seems really short sighted for someone who seems like she has a really good head on her shoulders. I do like Samara, but I hope she moves on from doing what she has to do to fix and immediate problem to thinking about the far future. Overall, really enjoyed this one. 4/5 stars, already pre-ordered the next one.