The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
House of the Four Winds was a holiday read for me whilst I was recently away in Amsterdam and as such it worked well. A lighthearted nautical adventure with piracy, sea monsters and a pirate ship graveyard thrown in for good measure. I can’t say this brings anything new to fantasy and I’m not going to go overboard looking at all the elements – for me, this was fun more than anything else and I think that’s the way the book should be approached.
The story starts with Clarice – one of twelve Princesses from Swansgaarde. The Princesses are each expected to go out and make their own way in life – basically, the duchy can’t sustain such a large family and more importantly the dowries they will require. I must admit I liked that the Princesses were expected to do something useful and not be reliant on others. For Clarice the choice is easy – the one thing she excels at is swordfighting and she wants to set up in that area tutoring would-be students. However, she needs to get a few adventures under her belt before anyone will take her seriously so she sets off to find excitement with her tricornered hat placed firmly! Having decided to go adventuring Clarice dresses as a boy – I can understand the necessity of this as she would have been unable to book passage on most ships otherwise. So, off Clarence sets for the new world. Of course, she ends up having a larger dose of fantasy than she ever anticipated (but let’s face it – there wouldn’t be much of a book otherwise!)
The main characters of the story are Clarice – henceforth known as Clarence, who spins her tale (keeping it as dangerously close to the truth as possible). Dominick – the rather good looking navigator of Ship Asesino, Captained by Samuel Sprunt. There are of course other supporting characters such as the ship’s doctor and minor roles for some of the other crew members and we are introduced to Shamal – is she a pirate, a ruler, a sorceress??
The story is primarily sea based so get ready for a lot of nautical comings and goings as the crew become more and more infuriated by the treatment and conditions meted out by Captain Spruce leading up to eventual mutiny and from there the course of the story changes. I won’t go into more plot details.
I guess what I enjoyed about this book was it’s easy reading quality. The plot is decently paced – it starts off with a story tale feel, almost, ‘once upon a time there was a land called Swansgaarde where 12 princesses …..etc, etc’ in fact I wondered at the outset if this was going to be based on the fairytale of the 12 dancing princesses. It isn’t of course (I don’t think) but that was the general feeling that it impressed me with at the beginning. We then move onto the adventure which is quite fast paced and holds your attention due to two things – one, you’re constantly wondering if Clarence will have her true identity uncovered – possibly in the most embarrassing way and two, there is a little bit of intrigue about what is really going on aboard the ship and why the men are all being stirred up.
Of course I had a couple of criticisms. You could be forgiven for rolling your eyes and wondering about how Clarence managed to keep her identify concealed so well. I think, given her natural talent in swordfighting I expected a bit more of that to be on display whereas it was contained to one fairly brief encounter and I thought the eventual reveal and whole romantic encounter with Dominick was a bit convenient, a bit neatly wrapped up and a little bit rushed. But, in spite of those criticisms I did find this was good fun. It’s really not intended to be a deeply serious and thought provoking read and in that respect it works. Well, that’s my take on it anyway! Plus, it’s not always easy to find a light hearted summer read in the world of fantasy so this fits the bill. Although, I wouldn’t have minded (for once) a bit more of a saucy romp!!!
I received a copy of this from the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.