December was a slow month; the holidays did not leave a lot of time for reading. Still, I got through a couple. I refuse to go a whole month without reading something. In December, I read two books, though one of them was very short. I am really happy with what I read in 2015. By my Goodreads count, I read 71 books. Some were good, some were not. I’m not sure I’ll hit that number again this year, but I hope to at least read fifty new books.
Arms and the Woman
Arms and the Woman is a delightful, if not particularly good, Ruritanian Adventure from an all but forgotten author writing around the turn of the century. I stumbled onto some of his books after reading The Prisoner of Zenda a few years ago and I have been reading them occasionally ever since. It takes Zenda’s basic plot points, like the fictional European country and royal look alike, and does things just slightly differently. What I really liked about it was how proactive, at times, the heroine was. The protagonist leaves America because his love tells him up front that she doesn’t love him. So he goes to Europe, as a reporter, and happens upon an inn with a barmaid that looks much like his love from America. He spends time there, only to discover that she is a princess in hiding. He vows to protect her, but when he is forced to accept a duel with swords, which he is not particularly adept with, she ties him up and takes his place. Not only is she a secret princess, she is also a master duelist. He falls in love with her, but she thinks he still loves the girl from America. After some adventures with her evil suitor, some misunderstandings and secret family members, they live happily ever after. It is not particularly good, but it was a lot of fun. The absurdity inherent in this sort of story just keeps snowballing here until it reaches truly terrific proportion. Considering how short it is I have no problem recommending it.
Daughter of the Forest
Oddly enough, I read this one the recommendation of my mother. She is not usually one to read fantasy and if I’m being honest her recommendations tend to not be all that great. A book about gladiators she recommended to me a couple of years ago turned out to be one of the most mean spirited things I’ve ever read. But she read this for her book club and thought it would be something I would like as well. This time, she was right.
Daughter of the Forest is set up like a fairy tale; drawing upon and playing out like folklore. In it, protagonist Sorcha, the seventh child and first daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters, must save her family from a curse. Her father is distant with the children after the death of their mother, and they grow up largely untended. When he remarries, his new wife turns out to be a witch. While trying to free their home from her dark influence, they end up cursed. Sorcha’s six brothers are turned into swans and she must sew them each a shirt to free them without ever speaking lest the curse becomes permanent.
At times the structure of the book doesn’t quite work. For instance, the book spends the first couple hundred pages introducing the brothers, but they don’t play much of a role during the rest of the book. Their connection to Sorcha is vital to how things play out, but a lot of the early parts of the book don’t really establish that connection. Also, it leaves parts of the end of the book feeling a little rushed. That is my biggest problem with this book: it left me wanting more. I wanted to know more about Red, the man that Sorcha falls in love with, and more about Lady Oonagh, the woman who curses Sorcha and her brothers. While the book does build to a conflict, it doesn’t really build to the same conflict it starts with. Still, I liked this quite a bit. It is a fast read that is much less reliant on violent struggles than most fantasy.