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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Before the Storm by Marian Perera

Before the Storm by Marian Perera
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (249 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 Books
Reviewed by Holly

Whore…gift…and unexpected ally.

Eden Trilogy, Book 1

In Dagran society, Alex is the lowest of the low—a “mare”, an object to be used by the nobility. When her owner, Stephen Garnath, gifts her to his greatest rival, she begins plotting her path to freedom. Nothing and no one will ever control her again. Not her degrading past, and certainly not her growing attraction to a man reputed to be an even crueler master than Garnath.

Robert Demeresna is instantly suspicious of such a generous gift. Yet she comes to him armed with only her sharp mind—a potent weapon he can use to defend his people from the enemy. And underneath, an unbreakable spirit that besieges the walls of his heart.

Slowly, Robert chips away at Alex’s defenses, striking sparks that make her begin to believe even a lowly whore like her could be worthy of him. Until Garnath springs a trap so cleverly hidden, war is unleashed before either of them sees it coming. A new kind of war fought with steam engines, explosives—and magic with a killing edge…

Lowest of the low. That is Alexis Khayne’s status in Dagran society. As a “mare”, the polite term for a woman who is used for sexual gratification, Alex has spent eleven years in servitude to Stephen Garnath. No one in more shocked than she is when Stephen suddenly gives her to his greatest rival, The Bloody Baron, Robert Demeresna.

The Baron suspects a trick, thinking Alex is a spy. But there is much more at risk. Stephen employs an Iternan sorcerer, and this evil has placed a trap in Alex’s mind, set to eliminate the one threat standing between Stephen and control of the kingdom of Dagre. Robert also has an Iternan, his head of the army. Can Alex survive the Bloody Baron, and escape with her life? Will the trap be sprung, or will they find a way to stop Stephen at his own game? More than that, can Robert learn to trust the woman who has been used as a weapon against him?

I will be honest-the first few chapters of this were heavy reading. I believe, because this is the first book of a trilogy, Ms. Perera had to build her unique world and all the intrigues it entailed. But once I really got into it, I found that I enjoyed the action and political intrigue a lot. The story was well written, with an undercurrent of suspense, and the feeling of tense expectation for when the trap would be sprung. Woven into this was the slow and steady growth of feelings between Robert and Alex, not as master and mare, but as a man who grows to respect and then love this woman thrust upon him.

The characters are wonderful: Robert is a man who values honor and truth, but allows people to believe the worst of him in order to keep enemies unsettled. Stephen is evil, and you see this over and over, with each of his tricks. The two mysterious Iternans are fascinating. Ohallox is Stephen's sorcerer, and believes in himself implicitly, certain he will prevail.

Mayerd is the Captain of Robert’s guard, and is as strong and honest as Robert. But the character I enjoyed the most was Alex: watching her go from The Black Mare, Stephen’s most favored “servant” to a strong, independent woman who finds the first real desire she has ever felt with Robert. While at first she schemes to gain her freedom, she discovers that she has a keen mind, and learns quickly to make the most of what life has thrown at her.

This could probably be classified as “steampunk” employing the first use of steam machines in the battle for the kingdom. The era is right, but the fictional location makes that questionable.

Is there a happy ever after for Robert and Alex? After several false starts and misunderstandings, they get what they deserve. I enjoyed the banter and conversations between the two main characters, and I would recommend this to anyone who likes their romance slow and steadily growing.