Pull up a chair, for an adventurous novel with a lovely fantasy feel. Skyships, blunderbusses and gale cutters give this the perfect pinch of steampunk, but doesn't get in the way of the narrative. Though the fine-print on the cover says this is a companion novel, you don't have to have read ILL-FATED for it to make sense - but afterward, you'll be eager to read it, and happy to find it comes in paperback, too.
This novel reminds me of Shannon Hale's THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, with shades of other tales of adventurous girls - and, for some reason, Patricia McKillip books (though there is neither Sorcery nor Cecelia. I think it's the touch of steampunk which reminds me of enchanted chocolate pots? Anyway). This book is not yet in paperback, but apparently in time, it'll get there. Meanwhile, for those of you who frequent Smashwords or Amazon, it's available as an ebook. And now, on with the story.Summary: Fifteen year old Belin Vaulatrix is the only daughter of the earl of Ivorydeep, in the kingdom of Shalendorf. The Kingdom is ancient and vast and filled with myriad people wealthier and more royal than the Vaulatrix family, yet Belin is the only daughter of prominence invited to attend the royal family at court. To Belin's horror, instead of having to endure the traditional month at Casterwick with the other ruling families, she's being invited to Casterwick Castle all summer, and she's invited down early...and alone... which means she's been selected specially. Belin soon discovers she is to be the wife of Prince Edmon, whom she uncharitably calls the King Larken's "sausage of a son."
Eeugh. Bleck. NO.
Though she attempts to console herself with the gossipy, amusing letters from her cousin, Chloe and ranting to her young soldier friend, Sender, the truth is that Belin is not a pleasant, pliable princess type. She is opinionated and feisty and snarky. She cannot force herself to marry someone she disrespects, not even for the honor it will entail, not even for the wealth and pampering that will be hers. The "honor" of dancing attendance on Edmon Casterwick and being "trained up" to be a queen is an honor that the family cannot refuse -- and Belin knows it. In an act of desperation, Belin makes a half-baked plan to run away to a distant cousin -- one which will exile her from her parents and the comfort of home, but it's all she can do -- she doesn't love the lazy, whiny prince, and doesn't think she ever will. Carefully drugging her maid, Dilsey, with a stockpiled headache soporific, Belin exchanges most of their clothes, gives up her signet ring, and shoves her hair beneath the starched maid's cap. At last Belin thinks she's thought of the grand plan to fix everything.
Well, sure she did. Except, she forgot about the recent unrest in the kingdom, and the number of people disappearing. If only she'd saved space in her plan for the coach being highjacked by highwaymen, her being mistaken for a maid, and being... dragged off by the biggest, darkest, scariest giant-dude she's ever seen.
It's not a little bump in the road, no, but it does mean Belin's not summering at the castle. Now, if she can just survive working in the Grendel mines... make a few friends...figure out where she's been taken, and what her captors are looking for, and work out how to get home, she just might have a chance to survive...
The Peaks: Evelyn Ink - a pseudonym, no doubt - is an accomplished writer of dialogue and her deft characterization of Belin and her family makes this an easy novel to jump into. Better, the disaster-per-page, breakneck pacing is the perfect touch for an adventure - you feel dragged along into Belin's next scrape, as the silver-tongued girl does her best to talk her way out of trouble. There is abundant, subtle humor which leaves you smirking as Belin nosily pries her way into one dark corner after another. And there are surprises all along the way -- twists that I didn't see coming. Belin has many of the traits for which females are criticized - she's "nosy" and "dramatic," but those traits come in handy, though her many ill-fated expeditions. It's not all cake, but even when Belin is down, she's never out. Ever.
There is steampunk and industry, yes, but the bedrock of Shalendorf is its history, which is tied up in legend and mysterious stories of magical beings. I liked that there are people of another "race" in the novel; the Grendel, whom the Shalendorfians have made out to be villains and killers. There just may be another story lurking, if people would open their minds, and their eyes.
This novel is something of a mystery - for Belin anyway - the reader won't know enough of the politics or history of Shalendorf to do anything more than hang on for the ride as Belin plies her considerable powers of observation and deduction to figure out who the heck her captors are - what they're up to - and how she can stop them. This is a fun ride, from start to finish.
The Valleys: There are very few issues with this story at all for me - though the man who takes Belin is described as big and dark, somewhat underscoring the stereotype of the dark, villainous person of color, he is clearly othered by the people with him, and Belin herself is somewhat "othered," in that her coloring is different from her family's, and from the other captives - so much so that it makes her recognizable. These differences are quietly explored, in the person of Aeolus, with his serpentine eyes, who Belin is forced to trust. In the end, Belin is in a position to rescue someone different, the reasons she does it work better than they could have, and the reader is left with the idea that these tiny steps may be the beginning of saving their society.
This novel doesn't struggle with many of the formatting issues many self-published novels do; the author points out that she has no copy-editing minions, so there are a couple of typos which will probably get fixed next incarnation, but even they are minor your/you're blunders, and "revere" when the word "reverence" was intended. Readers won't be thrown out of the story by clunky phrasing or egregious word misuse, which makes for a swift, fun read.
A solid adventure, and a splendid new author, whose work could surely attract the attention of the Cybils team. Happy summer reading - this one you will thoroughly enjoy!
You can find SILVER TONGUE by Evelyn Ink online at Amazon, Smashwords, or other ebook retailers!