Ana: Growing up I read a lot of Fantasy & Science Fiction but it has been years since I’ve read a romance-driven Fantasy novel. About a month ago I invited Elisabeth Lane of “Cooking Up Romance” to read a Grace Draven novel with me. Due to some miscommunication (I failed to specify which Grace Draven novel I meant) we ended up reading two Grace Draven novels. We read Radiance and Entreat Me.
Radiance is the first book in a new Fantasy Romance series set in a world where magical Elder Races and upstart Human nations are in competition for land and resources. In order to secure an important treaty the Kai, a magical and nocturnal people whose power is in decline agree to marriage between one of their princes and a noblewoman from Gaur, one of the human kingdoms. Despite finding each other physically repugnant Brishen & Ildiko, find first companionship and then love against a backdrop of political and diplomatic intrigue.
Entreat Me is rich and surprising retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. Ballard was ambitious land-obsessed warlord, who foils his betrothed’s elopement with a rival, earning his wife’s everlasting enmity and curse on his lands and son. Louvaen is young widow dedicated to protecting her father and beautiful younger sister Cinnia from an unscrupulous trader who covets. When Cinnia runs away with Gavin, her newest suitor & Ballard’s son, she pursues them to ensure Cinnia is not going to end up in a worst situation. What she finds when she reaches Ketach Tor is both better and worst than she could have imagined. It is a story of sacrifice & choice.
Elisabeth: Ha! I’m not sure you failed to specify which book we were supposed to be reading together. I think I might have just been confused. Wouldn’t be the first time. I definitely liked one better than the other though, which is unusual for me. I tend to either like or dislike authors’ works wholesale, but I had very mixed reactions to these two books.
Ana: ooh, I am eager to find out which you liked more. Elisabeth do you have a preference about which novel we discuss first?
Elisabeth: Can we can start with Radiance?
Ana: I really wanted to read Radiance because I had seen lots of talk about it on Twitter in the last few months. I was intrigued by the idea of a cross-species romance. I really enjoyed reading the Last Hour of Gann last year and was looking for something similar. What did you think of it?
Elisabeth: I loved that the cross-species romance dynamic in the book. The descriptions of humans from an outside perspective made me laugh several times. Unfortunately, that was kind of the highlight for me. There wasn’t a whole lot else to it. Though it seems like the entire series is going to follow this one couple and their conflicts with the outside world so we may get increased action and depth as the series progresses. What did you think?
Ana: I am not usually a marriage of convenience person, but surprisingly as marriage of convenience romance it really worked for me, but I agree that we didn’t get enough development of the larger fantasy plot. I liked their growth as couple, but I wanted more action/interaction with the major players of that world. It really felt like a setup book.
Elisabeth: Yes. I read a lot of fantasy and it strikes me that there are conventions that fantasy readers accept that romance readers might not and vice versa. I mean, the idea of a 900 page book isn’t really all that daunting to a fantasy reader, but a romance reader might balk. I really found myself wishing this had been a single book instead of a series spread between three books. The pacing--and like you say--the action was really concentrated in like the last 50 pages.
Ana: There was so much going on then! I felt I lost track of some of it in my rush to read to the end. I hadn’t realized it was book one of a series when I started reading it.
Elisabeth: Right. It didn’t have a cliffhanger exactly, but it was very clearly not the end of the story. Brishen and Ildiko were clearly a happy, safe couple at the end. But the epilogue set up what seemed to be a totally separate, larger plot that is barely hinted at in this book.
Ana: Yes, I think as a romance reader I would have been pretty satisfied with it as it was. The Epilogue recentered the conflict somewhere else. Up to that point, I think I expected the 2nd book to feature a different couple. (my romance expectations once again!).
Elisabeth: Definitely. I expected us to move on to [Brishen’s second-in-command] Anhuset and [Brishen’s neighbor] Serovek’s romance in the second book. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. So that’s what we thought could have used some improvement. What did you like about it?
Ana: We did that backwards a bit! I really liked Ildiko and Brishen’s initial meeting and how that set the tone for their romance. They make a commitment to good humor, honesty and loyalty. I really liked how despite outward appearances they both have similar life outlooks. They are both trying so hard to make things work.
Elisabeth: The conflict between them is a very quiet one to be sure. I like that they make this very adult decision to be civil to each other (in their amusingly insulting way). The one remaining obstacle seemed to be their attraction to each other. And that was a nice slow burn, which I always really enjoy. After all, they’re complete strangers with little in common. It makes sense that it would take them a while to warm up to one another.
Ana: It really felt that it was a story about two people learning about each other’s needs and wants in a somewhat sedate way. I was frankly surprised how quickly we left the Court.
Elisabeth: Yes, the pacing felt off. And there were some nominal editing errors as well. Honestly, I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the other one we read, Entreat Me.
Ana: Yes, let’s talk about Entreat Me! You read this first right? You love Beauty and the Beast retellings, and this is one.
Elisabeth: I do. I’m kind of obsessed really.
Ana: What did you like about it?
Elisabeth: This book just really worked for me from start to finish. The first time we met Louvaen, I could tell that she was going to be my kind of heroine. She’s not terribly pretty, but she’s smart, dedicated to her family and fairly ruthless. I just respected everything about her and couldn’t wait to see what kind of hero she’d be paired with.
Ana: I really liked her too. I particularly liked that she is a rare romance widow who just loved her first husband. She wasn’t abused or mistreated by him. He was a good man, but he is dead. I am always a big fan of heroes and heroines who have prior positive relationships.
Elisabeth: I also loved that her previous relationship left her in a totally sex positive place. Her marital experience was just entirely good and she didn’t have any shame about that.
Ana: I loved that she could feel that way and still be zealous guardian of her sister. I like practical smart heroines and she is certainly one. The story though is really about both sisters. What did you think of Cinnia?
Elisabeth: I loved Cinnia just as much as Louvaen. I was prepared to find her the bratty, helpless, beautiful younger sister and I loved that she defied the fairytale stereotype. She’s not quite as fearsome as Louvaen, but just because she’s pretty, that doesn’t mean she’s dependent and unintelligent.
Ana: I really liked that Draven had both sisters be aware of the double edged blade that incredible beauty is. It is both an asset and a curse for Cinnia and that plays into Louvaen’s feelings of responsibility for her.
Elisabeth: So what did you think of the heroes?
Ana: haha, I love a dark tortured lover, so I loved Ballard. I loved his dark backstory and the fact that he was a pretty horrible ruthless guy back in the day. He valued land over people, and paid for it quite dramatically. His son Gavin I felt was the least developed character in the book. I liked his gallantness, but I don’t feel we got to know him as well as we did everyone else including Ambrose and Magda. [Ballard’s sorcerer and cook, respectively].
Elisabeth: Yes, despite the fact that he’s a full-grown adult, Gavin functioned as a bit of plot moppet. He was there to be tortured for his father and be the gorgeous suitor for Cinnia. But that didn’t really bother me. There was more than enough going on with the other characters.
Ana: Yes, plot moppet is about right. It is not a huge deal, just felt liked a bit of missed opportunity. I really liked that we had all the flashbacks to Ballard’s first wife and everything that led to the curse but I wished we had a few flashbacks to Ballard and Gavin’s life together. The love Ballard had for him was so absolute despite all the reasons he could have had for hating him.
Elisabeth: That love and devotion to family really provides a point of commonality between Ballard and Louvaen too. Both of them have sacrificed for the people they love. Though Ballard has been at it just a wee bit longer and has the wisdom and experience to guide Louvaen in that regard. I always enjoy in a fantasy/paranormal/etc. setting when one character is dramatically older than another (like hundreds or thousands of years) and they actually act like it. I get frustrated when ancient beings seem not to have learned ANYTHING in all that intervening time.
Ana: Yes, I loved that. I loved that Magda, Ambrose and Ballard had that going for them. Even if they have been confined in the castle for so much of that time, they still have a great pool of life experience to drawn on. I also loved the theme of lost parents, bad parents & replacement parents in the story. There was a richness to the depictions. It just wasn’t one kind of lost parent. Louvaen lost her mother as a baby, and tries to reject her magical heritage because it isn’t part of her day to day life, she loved Cinnia’s mother, and tries to take Cinnia’s mother’s place when she dies. Unlike both her mothers she has to learn to let her “child” go. Ballard on the other hand becomes a father to a child his wife meant to deny to him. He loves him, instead of destroying him like she meant for him to do. It is just much more complex than your usual step-mother/foster mother depictions.
Elisabeth: I’d definitely agree with that. In general, I thought there was really a delicious richness to the entire story. I kept feeling like, “Well, of COURSE that’s what the roses in all the Beauty and the Beast tales were there for” and “Yes, it makes sense that the Beast wouldn’t have just been a bad guy hanging out in the castle all by himself.” It really developed the Beauty and the Beast mythology in a new, interesting and unusual way, which I feel like it can be hard to do after centuries of telling and retelling that same basic story over and over in different ways.
Ana: Anything not work for you?
Elisabeth: Honestly? Not really. I was totally caught up in this story. I thought everything from the characterizations to the world-building to the plot was top notch. It’s one of the best things I’ve read this year.
Ana: And I feel like we have only touched on a few things that were great about the book. There are just so many things going on relationally and plot wise. I’m glad to have read it, because I probably wouldn’t have, dismissing it as “just another fairy-tale retelling”.
Elisabeth: And I’m very glad I read it before reading Radiance. Otherwise I might not have been so eager to try another book by Draven. It wasn’t that I hated Radiance, not at all. I just didn’t adore it the way I did Entreat Me.
Ana: For me, I came out of reading Radiance thinking, hey that was a pretty good marriage of convenience rom in a fantasy setting. But Entreat Me showed me how rich her books can be, so I will be looking to read more books by Draven in the future.
Elisabeth: For sure. There is so little amazing Fantasy Romance out there that I think I’ll be sticking with the Wraith Kings series too just to see where it ends up.
Ana: I will too. Although I do hope we get something about Anhuset and Serovek in the other books because I really liked them both.
Elisabeth: I did too. And it will probably clarify some things thematically if a human and a Kai actually end up choosing each other instead of being forced upon on other at some point in the series. So any closing thoughts about either of these books?
Ana: I think we covered it! Thanks for reading not just one book with me this month but two!
Elisabeth: Well, they were both languishing on my TBR pile so it’s not like it was a chore! I enjoyed it very much as always. Thanks for inviting me to chat with you about them!
If by any chance you are not reading Elisabeth Lane’s blog, do it. You will find thoughtful reviews and recipes inspired by romance novels she reads. We are planning to do this again sometime in the summer, maybe something Historical languishing in our TBRs.
I live in the Washington, DC suburbs with my husband and our dog. I spent nearly 15 years in marketing before quitting to become a full-time housewife. I match the romance novels I read with a recipe from my personal archives or just make up a new one. I post a couple times a week, most often a book review with a recipe, but sometimes just my thoughts on a particular romance topic. I love to experiment in the kitchen, go ballroom dancing and spend lots of time in thrift stores looking for mid-century modern pottery to add to my collection.
Read more about me and my adventures pairing romance novels with food at cooking-up-romance.com.