My reviews are written from a writer’s perspective, with an eye to dissecting good novels to find out what makes them work. Although I try to avoid explicitly discussing book endings, I am not as careful about avoiding all spoilers as some reviewers. If find if I employ too much caution about giving away plot twists, I am not able to provide a concrete analysis of the book’s structure. And frankly, I hate vague reviews.
So… there may be spoilers. If that bothers you, read the book first. Then come back and read my analysis and let me know if you agree…or what I missed!
Title: Reluctant Concubine (Hardstorm Saga Book 1)
Author: Dana Marton
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Read: First Time
Style: First Person Past
Type: Kindle ebook
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Tera’s own father sells her into slavery to the ruthless Kadar people. The Kadar keep women in harems for the pleasure of a few feudal lords, and pride themselves on their martial prowess. Tera is purchased by the cruel first wife of a harem because Tera is supposed to be a magical healer. Unfortunately, she hasn’t come into her powers yet. When she is called on to heal the head wife’s daughter, Tera has to hide her deficiency.
Though Tera brings the daughter back from the brink of death, things only grow worse when the head wife and her daughter plot to keep Lord Gilrem, the brother of the High Lord their drugged prisoner. Lord Gilrem is a not a kind man either. When he’d first arrived at the House, his men nearly raped Tera and he did nothing to aide her. Nonetheless, her innate sense of right and wrong compels her to help him escape. The ungrateful oaf immediately reneges on his promise to help her escape as well, and leaves her to bear the punishment for helping him on her own.
It is not due to Lord Gildrem but to Tera’s reputation as a Healer that the High Lord himself arrives (in Chapter 7) and takes her as his own property. The High Lord Batumar has a fearsome scar and an even more fearsome reputation: every concubine he’s ever had has been killed. Yet the first night he has Tera, and she resists him, he tells her: “You will come to no harm from me tonight.”
On the road to his palace, Tera tames a tiger and assists (unsuccessfully) in the interrogation of a traitor. There’s an enemy warlord who threatens all the peoples, both Tera’s and the Kadar, with a conquest even more brutal than that of the Kadar.
Once at the palace, Tera is the only occupant of the harem. All the others who once lived there are dead—how? Why? She dares not ask.
At the palace, however, Tera’s healing magic finally awakens. She is able to ease some of Batumar’s old war injuries. While there, she also investigates the mystery surrounding her mother’s death, for her mother died in this very capital. As her healing powers expand, she makes herself useful to the servants of the palace, healing their ailments and illnesses. She makes an enemy, however. The Shaman Shartor distrusts her and tries to foment others to distrust her as a sorceress.
A strange aspect of the novel picks up (around Chapter 13) with the introduction of a magical “mist.” When this mystic fog rolls through the city, everyone else hides, but when Tera goes out into the mist, she encounters some old men who identify themselves as sacred Guardians. They knew her mother. They warn her that the Emperor Drakhar is the real danger.
Despite wandering off into the mist, she returns to the palace harem and to Batumar, where the romance and sexual tension continues to build. Eventually she understands the secret behind the empty harem and the tragedy in Batumar’s past. She also comes to realize he is not the man she feared and despised.
When he is imprisoned by the enemy, she risks her life to try to rescue him.
Heroine /MC: Tera daughter of Chalee
Villainess: Kumra, cruel head wife
Villain: Shartor, shaman who accuses her of being a sorceress
The setting of the novel serves to drive the relationships. As the heroine lives mostly confined to the interiors, the outside politics feels removed. This is compounded by the first person PoV, which keeps the reader’s focus confined to Tera’s personal observations. We don’t have multiple angles to see the story unfold, so the battles, for instance, remain distant. It works in this novel, but it’s one of the reasons I wonder where the rest of the series will go.
I would say that the main focus of this novel was the romance, but structurally, it’s more complex than that. The heroine doesn’t even meet the hero until Chapter 7. In Chapter 13, a subplot which ties the heroine to a more typical Fantasy “Prophecy of the Chosen One” type plot begins, and the final four chapters of the story involve the heroine in a rescue-adventure to save her beloved from the forces of the series villains. In all these respects, the reader is gently prepared for the larger scope of the series.
This is the first book in a romantic fantasy epic. The romantic tension in this book was amazing, but I’m not sure how it can be continued in the rest of the saga, since the hero and the heroine have already declared and consummated their love. Either something has to come between them—and it would have to be pretty severe to match the emotional intensity of the original romance—or they will ally together in future books against a common foe and the series will be more fantasy than romance. I enjoy fantasy of course, but the strength of this first book was the fraught emotion, sexual peril, and angst, not so much the worldbuilding; is this going to change? A third possibility is that another couple or another relationship will come to the fore. In common with other authors who combine Romantic Fantasy and Epic Fantasy, Dana Marton has an interesting challenge to maintain the tension across several books.
Then Tahar reappeared in the doorway, with Onra behind him, and I forgot to worry about my mother. Onra stood naked, her pale flesh glowing in the trembling light cast by the torches. She stayed where she stood, while Tahar, an arrogant smile on his face, seated himself amid loud cheers.
“Does this mean he keeps her?” I whispered.
“He would have sent her straight to the Pleasure Hall, then,” one of the girls answered.
My heart ached for Onra as she walked slowly across the endless room. A woman servant threw flower petals on her and thanked her for bringing good luck to the House. The warriors banged their fists on the tables, whistled, and made other rude noises.
She slowed when she walked by our window, blood smeared on her white thighs. Her head held high, she shed no tears. When she reached the outside door, her mother wrapped in her a blanket and led her into the cold night.
A young warrior stood from the end of the table.
“Tonight, she will be had by many,” the redhead next to me whispered. “Straight from the Lord’s bed, her virgin’s blood still flowing. It’s good luck for the men.”
Life without freedom runs on its own time.
I looked at the High Lord who would either take my body tonight or my freedom forever, or likely both, without a thought to my wishes.
I might have met him only that night, but I knew him all the same. He was a man who lived by his strength and probably despised compassion. He led his nation to war season after season. His people cared little about the ideals that were important to mine. I had known his Palace Guard, and I had known his brother, and what I knew about them told me a lot about the High Lord. I had despised him before I ever set eyes on him, and now that he owned me, I despised him more.
Strong anger in a man with a weak spirit was a dangerous thing.
Kindle Locations: 4364
My reading time: 5 hrs