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Dindi is kidnapped to be the bride of a shark... To escape she must untangle a terrible curse caused by a love and magic gone wrong.


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The Unfinished Song - This Young Adult Epic Fantasy series has sold over  70,000 copies and has 1,072 Five Star Ratings on Goodreads.

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June 24, 2015

Tara Maya’s Review: The Reluctant Concubine

Caveat—Reader Beware!

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!

Reluctant Concubine-cover

Title: Reluctant Concubine (Hardstorm Saga Book 1)

Author: Dana Marton

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Read: First Time

Style: First Person Past

Type: Kindle ebook

* * * * *

Plot Summary:

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

Hero: Batumar

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.

Personal Remarks:

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



June 17, 2015

Tara Maya’s Review: Dragon Blood by Lindsey Buroker

Caveat—Reader Beware!

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!

Dragon Blood-collection

Title: Balanced on the Blade’s Edge (Dragon Blood Collection, 1-3)

Author: Lindsey Buroker

Genre: Fantasy Romance / Steampunk Fantasy

Read: First Time

Style: Dual Third Person Past

Type: Kindle ebook

* * * * *


Buroker infuses her characters and her storylines with such sly whimsy, it’s impossible not to grin. Although set in a Second World (unique fantasy world), this series has a Steampunk feel to it because of the level of technology and culture. The series also combines strong romance plots with strong adventure plots.

Plot Summary:

Three centuries ago, the people of Iskandia turned against the magic-users known as the Referatu. In an explosion designed to crush them all of them under a collapsed mountain, the mage Sardelle protected herself with a stasis spell. She didn’t expect to be trapped there for three hundred years. When she awakens, her former fortress has been turned into a prison, most magic has been lost and technology has advanced. But one thing hasn’t changed: the Iskandians still distrust magic-users, and Iskandia is still at war with a bitter foe determined to enslave them.

Sardelle hides her magic and pretends to be one of the prisoners at the mountain. Nonetheless, she quickly comes to the attention of prison commander, Colonel Ridge Zirkander. She has to convince him she can help him mine the mystery power source the Iskandians need for the war, while she secretly finds a way to dig free her enchanted soulblade. The telepathic blade may be trapped, but she provides snarky telepathic commentary on human folly throughout the book.

Zirkander may be in charge, but he’s himself has been assigned to the prison as a punishment. His insubordinate attitude toward superiors (and protective attitude towards those who serve under him) has landed him in trouble (again). He’s suspicious of Sardelle, but also insanely attracted to her. He suspects her of being a spy. He has no idea she’s something much more dangerous…a sorceress.



Heroine / MC: Sardelle Terushan

Hero: Colonel Ridge Zirkander

Sword: A sentient soulblade named Jaxi, who provides wry commentary on the humans—whether they want it or not!

Villain: Cofah (enemy) Sorcerer in attacking airship

Villain: General Nax


There’s a growing trend to create “Second World” fantasy that has a higher level of technology than the traditional medieval settings. Lindsay Buroker’s series is a fine example. In a world where dragons have been extinct for about a millennium, there are magically powered airplanes and airships. The social organization is also more advanced than the usual feudal system; although there are still kingdoms and empires, there are also complicated systems of trade and business. Instead of warriors, the military is composed of professional soldiers.

Since the heroine is from an earlier period than the hero, we are able to see how the society has advanced (and, in some areas, regressed) over time, so there’s also a sense of how the history of this world is dynamic, not static. The geographic area of the novel is confined to a single mountain, yet we have a sense of distant, threatening empires, and even more distant lands filled with jungles, islands, shamans and more exotic forms of magic.


Although I’ve identified Sardelle as the MC (main character), it would be fair to say that Ridge was an MC in his own right as well. The novel spent equal time alternating between both heroes, who were the only PoV characters. Most chapters had two scenes, one from each perspective, although those “scenes” were actually several scenes strung together in a seamless sequence. Despite the solid world building, the plot had the feel of a Romance novel because of the contained cast and restrained movement (everything took place in the prison or on the surrounding mountainside except for the Epilogue). Conflict came primarily from the romantic tension caused by the Heroine and Hero being forced to distrust one another despite their attraction. There were three other villains: an enemy sorcerer, who both attacked the fortress and tried to entice the Heroine to betray her people (all the more tempting because her people would kill her if they discovered she was a sorceress); a stuffy, bigoted General who shows up about two thirds of the way through to cause trouble; and his gorgeous daughter, who flirts with the hero and poses as a potential romantic rival for the Heroine. Given the length of the book, a short “category” length novel, this was plenty of conflict!

Balanced on the Blade's Edge

Personal Remarks:

I have actually read the first four books in the series already, the three included in the Dragon Blood collection and the next book Patterns in the Dark. As with any Romantic Fantasy that extends into a series with repeating characters, Lindsay has to handle a specific challenge: should the romance be wrapped up at the end of the first book (giving a satisfying ending and HEA, or HEA “for now”), or should the romantic tension be extended over the series? She’s chosen to give the first book a tentative HEA. That makes the first book a satisfying read, but it creates a problem for the rest of the series. Is it not to be more like a traditional high fantasy, in which the tension will come more from the quest or mystery plot than from the romantic tension between the characters?

Lindsay Buroker makes an interesting choice. The second book introduces a new couple, who, we discover, are not unrelated to the first couple. The next book therefore also derives most of its tension from the combination of the romance plot and the escape plot. (A pirate and a captured pilot must work together to escape a jungle prison. But can they trust each other?) The next two books have all four characters embark on a quest together, with some lingering romantic issues to plague them, but most of the interest generated by solving two mysteries, one personal and one magical/military.

The series is not over, so I am curious to see how she will handle the next installment.


“It should have reassured her that she and the colonel were essentially on the same side, having both fought to defend the continent of Iskandia—even if the people called it something different now—but it sank in for the first time that he must also be the descendent of those who had blown up her mountain…annihilated her people.”


“I…believe it might be more dangerous than you think out there,” Sardelle said.


That made it seem even more unlikely that she would want to go.

“It’s just a feeling.” She shrugged. “A hunch. Don’t you ever get hunches when you’re out there flying?”

“Yes. I get hunches when dealing with inscrutable blue-eyed women too.” Ridge laid a hand on her shoulder before she could comment. “Stay here where it’s safe—“ he glanced at the mountain of snow in the fort, “—safe-ish.”

Sardelle’s eyes narrowed with…determination?


“Yes, I’ve heard magical owls are very rude.”

“That’s in the book you were quoting, eh?”

“Actually…no. I was joking. I know very little about magical owls, I’m afraid.”


“Problem?” Sardelle asked.

“Just wondering if I need to rub my dragon before enduring this.”

“Uhm, pardon?”

“You know, my little charm.” Ridge eyed her doused rag. “Or maybe you should rub my dragon.”

“Perhaps later,” she murmured.

Kindle Locations: 3272

My reading time: 4 hrs.

June 10, 2015

Tara Maya’s Book Review: The Fire Seer by Amy Raby

Caveat—Reader Beware!

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. I 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!

The Fire Seer

Title: The Fire Seer

Author: Amy Raby

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Read: First Time

Style: Third Person Past

Type: Kindle ebook

* * * * *


The Fire Seer is structured by a murder mystery, which the heroine and hero must solve together, much to the heroine’s dismay, because they have a history—and it’s not a pretty one! Honestly, the hero had done something so unforgivable to the heroine when they were both younger, that I was really on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how Amy would redeem him and make me want the heroine to forgive him, never mind love him. But Amy pulled it off.

Plot Summary:

Taya lives in a society where anyone with magic must belong to a monopolistic organization. The alternative is to drink a potion that eliminates one’s magic. Those who use magic without permission are called “jackals” and treated as criminals. Taya is on her first assignment after graduating her training, and her job is to investigate a murder and hunt down the jackal responsible.

Unfortunately, Mandir, the man assigned to protect and aid her in her mission was the same boy who tormented her in school—and even tried to kill her. Though he should have been executed or at least deprived of his magic for attempted murder, because Mandir is a prince, he was assigned only a year penance.

As Taya and Mandir work together to find the murderer, they discover that situation is rather more complex that it first appeared. Taya comes to question everything she’s been taught to believe, about her organization, her mission and her partner.


TAYA (Heroine): Most magic-users in their society are from the upper two castes, but Taya is from the lowly farmer’s caste. That made her feel self-conscious from the start… and being teased throughout her school years by popular Prince Mandir didn’t help her make friends or fit in. Her background has made her all the more determined to loyal and skilled, however. This makes it all the more difficult for her when she starts to question some aspects of her training and beliefs.

MANDIR (Hero): Mandir’s father might have been royalty, but he was also a malicious, manipulative bastard who taught his son only cruelty. Mandir has struggled to become a better person, but it’s taken harsh experience to change him. How can Mandir convince Taya that he’s not the same boorish boy who hurt her? How can he expect her to trust him? And yet, Mandir’s job is to protect her, whether she wants to believe it or not, and the danger to her is real.


I loved the culture based loosely on the ancient and mysterious Indian archeological find in Harrapa, because I am a total archeology geek. There’s a caste system and an interesting theology of Three Goddesses, which ties into the rules of magic as well as the themes of the book. The setting is well-developed and unique, not at all cookie-cutter, making it an excellent fantasy. However, the setting never overtakes the focus on the relationship between the characters.

Complexity/Series Arc:

The novel juggles the requirements of three genres: Fantasy, Mystery, and Romance. The elements of each are handled with finesse, in perfect proportion. The plot flows well, with no slow spots, and nothing hard to follow. There are enough suspects to give the mystery heft, but the mystery, like the setting, does not steal the focus from the changing relationship between the heroine and hero. There are 43 chapters, most with just one scene; 16 of 43 chapters have more than one scene, for a total of 62 scenes. Only one chapter, close to the midpoint, has 5 scenes. The Actual Midpoint = Scene 31, Chapter 24; the Story Midpoint = Scene 38, Chapter 26. This is the point when Taya’s tentatively growing trust in Mandir is shattered by a seeming betrayal.

As in a Romance novel, there are two PoV characters, Taya and Mandir. Taya’s PoV predominates, while 11 of 62 scenes from Mandir’s PoV. Nonetheless, the scenes from the hero’s PoV are critical, since they demonstrate his desire to be a better man is sincere, and brings the reader over to his side before Taya herself starts to trust him.

In addition, there are also 8 flashback scenes, covering three years (between nine and six years before the story), all brief and from Taya’s point of view. The flashback scenes are all well chosen and well positioned to caste light on the current events. They work well to add depth to the story.

Fire Seer Chapter Analysis

62 scenes

Actual Midpoint = Scene 31, Chapter 24; Story Midpoint = Scene 38, Chapter 26

16 of 43 chapters have more than one scene

1 chapter has 5 scenes

11 of 62 scenes from Hero PoV

8 flashback scenes, covering three years (between nine and six years before the story)

Code: Pink = Heroine; Green = Hero; Aqua = Heroine’s Flashback

Although apparently the first book in a series, The Fire Seer stands alone. The mystery and the romance plots both come to a satisfying conclusion.

Personal Remarks:

I have enjoyed the other Fantasy Romance series by Amy Raby, and I wasn’t disappointed by this one set in a new fantasy world. It was just what I was in the mood for. This is the first book in a new series. As of writing this review, I haven’t read the second book, The Fire Seer and Her Quradum by Amy Raby.

My reading time: 6 hrs.

Buy The Fire Seer by Amy Raby.

Buy The Fire Seer and Her Quradum by Amy Raby.

Read this month’s other Book Reviews:

Tara Maya’s Book Review: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card