The Byronic Hero: My Kind of Character

Scene from The Count of Monte Cristo.

Scene from The Count of Monte Cristo.

Currently, I am in the throes of reading Alexander Dumas ‘ masterpiece The Count of Monte Cristo.  Normally, I make a point to read as many books as possible despite my sluggish reading pace.  But this novel has been different.  It’s taken me weeks to get through these 1000+ pages because, 50 pages into this story I started slowing down, savoring each and every sentence.  I haven’t been so spellbound to a story since I finished Wuthering Heights last winter, and I think I know why.

People who read a lot might find they can identify with this concept; the idea that we readers have character types we are attracted to, characters who enchant, delight, and mesmerize us more than the others in a particular novel.   For me, I subconsciously categorize  books in this way — based on character types.  I’ve noticed a trend in some of my favorite works of English literature:  the brooding, Byronic, sometimes satanical hero.

Typically this protagonist was one that emerged in 19th-century romantic literature and has roots in the poetry of Lord Byron.  The Byronic hero has transcended time and emerged in modern literature as well, though is depicted more as an anti-hero in these more recent works ( an example of this might be the Phantom from Phantom of  the Opera).  But in 19th-century romantic literature, the Byronic protagonist was the hero, not the anti-hero.  The archetype was usually male and embodied these character traits:

  • arrogant
  • cunning
  • cynical
  • intelligent
  • perceptive
  • domineering
  • tormented by their past
  • vengeful
  • mysterious
  • charismatic
  • emotionally conflicted

The British historian and essayist Lord Macaulay summarized the Byronic hero perfectly:

“… man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection”.  — Critical & Historical Essays Volume 2 by Thomas Babington Macaulay

Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester in a recent film depiction of Jane Eyre.

Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester in a recent film depiction of Jane Eyre.

I am drawn to the Byronic hero because of these multifarious character description.  For those who have read the Count of Monte Cristo, the Byronic hero is in the title.   The more I read, the more I come to realize how he is a character of infinite dimensions.  Just when he shows a friend the ultimate hospitality and generosity, he secretly reveals a vengeful, convoluted plan that will eventually disgrace and ruin them.  Just when his mannerisms seem too gentle to hurt a fly, he declares he will duel one of his compatriots to the death.  Just when I believe he is too intelligent to possess any weaknesses, he succumbs to a woman’s maternal pleas.   He is both terrible and terrific at once, and he is what makes this story so compelling and formidable.

The Count of Monte Cristo isn’t the only example of a Byronic hero I’ve come across.  Wuthering Heights, another favorite novel of mine, has its own Byronic hero — Heathcliff.   Cruel to his subordinates and obstinate to most other characters, he loved Catherine enough to let her marry another, while he let himself deteriorate with the agony of not being by her side.  From Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is another perfect example of the Byronic hero.   Though in love with Jane, he is too tormented by his past sins and dishonesty to be with her.  Only after the fire at his estate are his sins eradicated and he is able to atone for them to be happy.

Not everyone might be attracted to the intense personality of the Byronic hero.   Though it’s the character I remember the most, the one I carry away with me when the story is over.  Perhaps the Byronic hero is a reason why I believe there’s nothing more absorbing or worthwhile than writing.

 

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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

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I wish to make an ANNOUNCEMENT. He spoke this last word so loudly and suddenly that everyone sat up who still could. I regret to announce that — though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you — this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

My preparations to leave the country have prompted me to think about departures in general.  Saying goodbye, whether it be to life or loved ones or friends, is a crucial moment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Heck, even to material items.  As part of my preparations I sold my car today, my beloved 1995 Honda Civic.  I didn’t realize how attached I was to that hunk of scrap metal until it was driving away without me.   For a moment, I was resentful of the fact I had to sell it; I didn’t want to make the sacrifice.  I was consumed by that emotional, angry brooding people experience when life seems ‘unfair.’

Sacrifice at times is a necessary evil.  Human beings don’t like giving up the people or physical items which make us comfortable.  Perhaps the best example of this is when an elderly man or woman loses their spouse, their partner in everything, the person who has been at their side for years and who made life seem possible to endure.  Death is the most harrowing goodbye humans have to deal with, whether if it is a parent, spouse, child, or friend.  We don’t want to deal with it and sometimes we avoid it, a decision that can lead to regret and remorse later on.

Before I get too dismal, the purpose of this post was to discuss how goodbyes can be carried out in such a way that doesn’t make parting so distressing.  Goodbyes can be tactful, eloquent, and even memorable.  A great example to follow (in our everyday lives and for us writers) is in literature.   Here are some of my favorite closing lines from authors who knew how to said ‘adieu’ in ways that were maudlin  without being cheesy, and definitive to the point of lacking any precariousness.

Best Literary Endings

“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

“For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something.” — Arthur C. Clark, 2001: A Space Odyssey

“He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”  –Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the benign indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.  –Albert Camus, The Stranger

“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky- seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.  – Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”  – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

If I don’t want to post to go on forever, I’m going to stop here.  If you have a favorite literary farewell, I’d love to hear it.

Writers: Masters in the Art of Selfishness

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The solo traveller, the happy traveller.

Oh, I am a bad, bad blogger.  Yes, I’ll admit I’ve been neglecting my blog.  But there is a reason for it.  As I alluded to in my post ‘Finding Time To Read & Write,’ big changes are about to take place — are already taking place in my life.   As many of you may know, momentous life changes tend to disrupt one’s weekly routine.

In approximately 6 weeks, I will be moving to a town in England — specifically the southwest region — called Exeter.  Here I will begin studying towards a Master’s degree in British literature and creative writing.  Though I had been accepted to the program back in November of last year, I only decided not too long ago to enroll at the University of Exeter for my postgraduate degree.   But ever since my mind was made up, there has been much paperwork to complete, accommodation to secure, etc.  Only yesterday I finally sent out my visa application to the British Consulate after weeks of acquiring the proper documentation.  At last, this move — this major life change — feels real.  So why did it take me so long to decide?

Looking back, It’s hard to believe I brooded over this decision for eight months.  I can’t really pinpoint why it took so long; I only recall the elation I experienced on days I was leaning towards going, and the despair on days I had convinced myself this venture was too risky, to expensive…too reckless.   Today, I only wish I had decided sooner — if I had, I probably wouldn’t be scrambling around like mad trying to meet the requirements for a Tier 4 Student Visa.

But now that I definitely am going, this decision feels so right.  I have yearned for a change for quite some time.  A change in environment, lifestyle — the type of all-encompassing change that one can only get from immersion into a new country and culture.  For some people, I understand this urge to make  a drastic life change is lacking ; the thought never arises.  Perhaps it is instead viewed as a ‘disruption’ to one’s ineradicable daily routine.  For me, I know I will not be content with a linear life path — go to college, get married, move to suburbs, have kids, etc.  When I consider these generic life ‘goals’ most people share, I envision a future of such mediocrity that is terrifying enough to disrupt my sleep.

I strongly believe there is no reward without risk, nor is there success without suffering or failure.  These rules hold true for any type of profession, venture, or dream.  I am prepared for this.  And I also have to say that as a writer, one has to be selfish in some regards — one being the demand to experience the delights of the world through one’s own eyes — meaning, alone.  Writing is a solitary practice that must be devoid of disruptions.  Writers are self-involved in this way.  More than once, I have heard remarks from family, friends, and colleagues about my decision to move abroad, things like, “How could you move away from your family?” and “How are you going to survive there?”  I laugh inwardly at these questions mostly because they’re so worried while I, the one going, am not at all.

There was a recent article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Yes Please, Party of One.”  The author Andrew O’Hagan discusses the bliss of traveling solo as a writer.  He says:

“I believe that traveling alone is the last great test of who you are in a world where everyone aches to be the same.”

Yes, I am going to England to get my Master’s degree, which will probably lead to a PhD, so that I can one day teach British literature at a university in the states.  I am going because I believe a degree in British Literature from a British university as opposed to an American university will hold more weight.  I am going because it is time to do something responsible and get the wheels moving on a career.  I am going because as I mentioned before, risks must be taken to escape the monotony of life.  But above all, I am going  for the reason Mr. O’Hagan has stated above.  In my own words, I am going for self-discovery.

How Does One Find Time to Read & Write?

My natural habitat -- I've missed this!

My natural habitat — I’ve missed this!

I’ll admit it; I’ve been slacking.  My last blog post was published two weeks ago today.  When I started this blog a few months ago, I vowed to write weekly and never break that pattern.  That is, unless some dire emergency transpired — which it hasn’t.  So what’s my problem?

As lame as I feel admitting it, life has gotten in the way of my blogging.  Which still isn’t an excuse at all; I expect more of myself.  I do not work full-time, nor do I have children or any other major responsibilities.  But a lot has been happening in the past two weeks.  My sister’s senior prom, awards ceremony, graduation, other graduation parties, bridal showers, etc.  And to my credit, on top of my two part-time virtual jobs I’m now an on-call nanny which has been taking up  a significant amount of my time.  I will also shamefully admit that last Sunday I was glued to the television set for the final round of the U.S. Open at Merion.  Imagine!  I, who never watch television during the day, sitting for hours in front of the television set watching men’s golf.

Aside from these events, there have been larger life decisions looming over my head lately.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve committed to attending graduate school in the fall.  Not only that but the school is outside the US, and there is a LOT of paperwork to deal with in order to meet visa requirements.  On top of everything else, I feel terribly ill today and am about to take another couple spoonfuls of NyQuil.

My worst nightmare -- being stressed and too busy to read or write!

My worst nightmare — being stressed and too busy to read or write!

Typically, I am concurrently reading a book for pleasure and a book for review purposes.   Lately, I am barely getting my freelance writing assignments completed on time.  But at the same time, I am disappointed in myself for a) missing a week of blogging, and b) not working on my book as often as I used to.

So…. the question I will pose to my blog readers is:  when life gets in the way, how do you stay consistent?  How do you manage to blog and write regularly even when obstacles get in the way and time just won’t allow for it?  And lastly how do you manage to make time to read and write without making a drastic life change, like quitting your job (or one of them)?

I would appreciate advice from anyone out there who reads, reviews books, and writes regularly — meaning authors, book reviewers, students, or anyone with words of wisdom.  Getting in the habit of blogging regularly will be a learning process for me, a process I need to get better acquainted with.

Til next week then, I truly hope.

4 Literature-Inspired Trips

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about reading, writing, and traveling and how these three passions of mine are linked.

Sometime last year, I decided I wanted to spend a significant amount of time for the rest of my life writing.  This awareness coincided with the understanding that most (if not all) of the destinations I choose to visit while traveling are influenced by something I’ve read.

The fact is, certain books (whether fiction or non) influence me and my cognitive process to a great magnitude.  So great in fact that what I read inadvertently predicts where I travel.  This was not a terrible realization by any means; I’ve visited a great many cities because of my curiosity to see and experience either a) where the author wrote a book and how their surroundings inspired them or  b) a landmark or location where much of the story takes place.

Here are 4 literature-inspired trips I’ve taken so far:

Oxford

Eagle & Child

eagle and child

tolkien

This is the old pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis among other literary geniuses called ‘The Inklings’ met and discussed their writing.  A special room called ‘The Rabbit Room’ has a shrine dedicated to Tolkien and Lewis who were among the most famous writers to spend their after-teaching hours drinking a pint in this historical pub.  Heck, if I lived in Oxford I would write here in the hopes of feeding off the creative energy. Inspiration: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings.

Oxford Botanical Gardens

oxford tree

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You’ve probably noticed I am a huge Tolkien nerd.  If not, take a look at this photograph of me sitting underneath Tolkien’s favorite tree in Oxford. He used to grade his student’s papers here, and it’s in this very spot that he thought of the first line of The Hobbit: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

Oxford University

ocford campus 2

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I’m sure an array of books and films have been inspired by Oxford’s ancient and mystifying campus.  The dining halls were certainly used in filming some of the Potter films.

London

Ebenezer Scrooge House
 door knocker

I spent this past Christmas in London; it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  On Christmas Day along with a staggering amount of European tourists, my mother, sister and I went on the Charles Dickens Christmas Carol walking tour.  I was fascinated as the overly informative tour guide pointed out all of the locations where Dickens grew up and some of his inspirations.  One of these spots was the door knocker which supposedly inspired the scene in A Christmas Carol where Jacob Marley’s head comes to life and frightens the living daylights out of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Peter Pan Statue

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J.M. Barrie’s famous children’s book was one of my favorites growing up.  The same weekend I visited Oxford back in college, I made a point to stop in Hyde Park first to catch a glimpse.  Inspiration: Peter Pan.

Tower of London
exeution

During my Oxford weekend excursion I took the Tube to the Tower of London, only to realize I didn’t have enough time to go inside before my bus departed.  I endured the crowds this past Christmas if only to visit the execution site of Lady Jane Grey and Anne Boleyn, among many others.  Inspiration:  Innocent Traitor by Alison Weird and The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

Edinburgh

The Elephant House

elephant house

rowlings view 2

Name look familiar?

Name look familiar?

This is the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  There’s plenty of Harry Poter memorabilia inside, as well as a view of Edinburgh Castle (an inspiration for Hogwarts) and a graveyard.  In Scotland, graveyards are way cooler than in the states.  Rowling must have strolled through this particular graveyard more than once; she borrowed many of the character’s names in Harry Potter from these very gravestones.

Rome

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Two years ago, I spent Thanksgiving in Rome.  It was an enchanting city, and I was only sorry I hadn’t visited back when I was studying abroad in Amsterdam.  I’ve always had an interest in the history of the Roman Empire when Rome was at its most powerful.  After reading Rome by Robert Hughes, I knew I had to go and see the ruins for myself.

A few book-inspired trips I’d like to make in the future:

  • Alexandria, Egypt.  I’m a bit obsessed with Cleopatra and have read several of her biographies.
  • Savannah Georgia.  Ever since I read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I’ve wanted to visit the Mercer House.
  • Chatsworth.  This is one of the many stately English castles I want to tour.  It’s also where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive by Bess of Hardwick and the Earl of Shrewsbury.  Fun fact:  Chatsworth is Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate in the A&E version of Pride & Prejudice.
  • Brontë Parsonage Museum.  Former of the Brontë sisters in West Yorkshire and where most of their literary masterpieces were written.
  • Jane Austen’s House Museum.  Also known as Chawton Cottage, this is where Jane Austen spent the last 8 years of her life writing Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.

My 5 Favorite Fiction Novels…So Far

This past week I got sidetracked from my book reviewing schedule.  For several weeks now, I had been simultaneously reading Wuthering Heights along with whatever book I was supposed to be reading for a review.  While I enjoy reading new authors’ books, I always like to be reading one of the classics.  TIME Magazine has a great list of the 100  Best Novels of All Time; there’s also a site called thegreatestbooks.org I reference when perusing for the next ‘essential’ book.

There’s no way I will get through all of TIME’s 100 novels in my lifetime, and I don’t mean to.  Wuthering Heights had always been on my British lit list of must-reads, and this past week the story pulled me in.  After finishing it last night, I became inspired to make a list of my 10 favorite books of all time.  Well, so far.  Keep in mind I’m 25 now, and if I’ve left out one of your favorites, it’s very possible I haven’t gotten to it yet!

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë6185

I can only say I can’t believe I hadn’t read this sooner.  I always believed Pride & Prejudice was the quintessential love story, and yes, I am very fond of Jane Austen.  Wuthering Heights however is about a love so maddening, so powerful, it’s stronger than death.  I do not comprehend the distasteful reviews of this book on Goodreads.  Yes, the character Heathcliff is at times unlikable but I’m assuming these readers didn’t really ‘get’ this story.

2.  A Secret History by Donna Tartt29044

This is a fascinating tale about a group of rich students at an New England college.  This elite group is not only unapproachable because of their over-priveleged snob status, but also because they are knowledgable worldly Greek scholars.  When a new student is invited into the group, he uncovers the real reason these five students tend to keep to themselves.  Ancient rituals, murder, and scandal ensues.

3.  The Razor’s Edge by William Somerset Maugham31196

The fact that The Razor’s Edge is number three here is irrelevant; this is still my all-time favorite story ever since I read it freshman year of high school.  I don’t know if it’s Maugham’s prose, or the enchanting characters, or the fact that setting himself in the story as the narrator, or if all three of these aspects of the novel together make it so endearing and uniquely diverting.  The Razor’s edge is an illustrious work of writing without needing to be action-packed; I think that’s why I love it so much.

4.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald4671

This is NOT on my list because the move is soon to be released (and I love the idea of Leo as Gatsby).  Typically, I am drawn to any book set in the 1920’s Jazz Age, because I think I would have loved to live in New York during that time.  And gone to one of Gatsby’s Long Island parties.  Fitgzerald is also one my favorites; This Side of Paradise, Franny & Zooey, etc.

5.  The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien34

I am a Tolkien-ite, and though I love everything he has written related to Lord of The Rings (even the Silmarillion, the Appendices) the first book in the trilogy is my favorite.  I’m not sure why — perhaps because it’s the beginning of Frodo’s journey, and the only book in which the Fellowship is unbroken.  Maybe I just want to live in the Shire.  (That’s probably true, but unrelated to my preference for this book over the other two).

If I had to make a top 10 list, these would be the other 5:

6.  Candide by Voltaire

7.  The Odyssey by Homer

8.  A Room with A View by E. M. Forster

9.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

10.  The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Are any of these your favorites?  What other books should I include on my must-read list?

Review: The Temple by Heather Marie Adkins

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Heather Marie Adkins is a born story teller.  There’s no debating that with regards to this book.  A good balance of description, consistent action and likable characters all carry the story along agreeably.  That is, for most of the book.  What disappointments me most about reading a story is when it starts off so strongly and I’m loving every bit of it — but then something goes awry.  It gets weird.  For me, that’s what happened with The Temple.

First, I want to point out the strong points about this book.  The rising conflict is perfectly set up.  Vale Avari is a small town U.S.A. turned small town U.K. female protagonist who recently moved overseas for an unusual job — to help guard a temple dedicated to the goddess Cerridwen (worshipped by Wiccans today).  Vale has superhuman powers along with the other temple protectors, one of which she becomes romantically involved with.  The temple is protected at night from the ghost-filled gang of men and wild horses (picture the Headless Horseman).  The legend has haunted the town for centuries, and the residents blame it for the lost lives of several of its inhabitants.  While residents believe in this myth, our protagonist thinks a serial killer is in fact committing the murders and using this ‘Wild Hunt’ as a coverup.

I liked this premise.  I was into it.  Though it isn’t evident from the synopsis, the book was starting to feel like its own fun genre — a paranormal romance crime thriller.  But as the story moved on, I don’t think this premise was executed that well.  About 60% way through the book, to be specific.  At this point the two genres that were coelesced so well earlier on — crime thriller and paranormal romance — become separated.  The two concepts even get their own climaxes and resolutions.

I enjoyed the part I thought was the resolution, when I thought the ‘bad guy’ was caught.  And sometimes this works really well in literature and film — when you think the bad guy is gone, but then you realize they didn’t catch the right person because bad things are still happening.  The Temple did not succeed at the second-ending concept.  Mainly because the second climax/resolution is so bizarre, so suddenly very supernatural with a scene in the temple involving a living breathing goddess coming to life unexpectedly and solving the world’s problems.

Aside from the incongruous plot, my only other critique of this book is the neat, too-tidy of an ending.  I honestly believe the book would’ve been better without the bow-tie last chapter.  Nothing was learned about the characters at this point, and it didn’t move the plot along any further.  I don’t need to know how happy the characters are and how well they’re doing months after the conflict resolution.  The final chapter could have been left out entirely.

Don’t get me wrong — these things don’t ruin the book entirely.  There’s enough suspense with the consistent killings, the sketchy Temple employees, and the question of whether the ‘Wild Hunt’ is a hoax or not to keep you turning the pages.  My issues were with a) the last chapter and b) how the paranormal aspects of the story were not always weaved together well with the normal.  I like it to be apparent what genre book I’m reading.  I don’t think this book knows what genre it is.  If I had to categorize it, I’d have to say “crime thriller turned weird fantasy.”  If that sounds appealing to you, you may truly enjoy this book.  The seamless writing and suspense will certainly keep you entertained until the end.

Review: Prophecy of the Flame by Lynn Hardy

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The difficulty with deciding to purchase a self-published book is that you’re taking a gamble both with your money and your time (if the book was free.)  Life is short–you don’t want to spend hours reading a poorly written, dull story.  And if you, like me, have strict yet at times irritating reading principles ingrained in you then you also will hate not finishing a book.  Thankfully, my reading principles weren’t compromised with Prophecy of the Flame.

First and foremost the cover of this book caught my attention.  It’s not overly detailed, a trait I come across perusing Amazon books which shamefully will cause me to dismiss a potentially good read.  The image of a solitary, red-headed female clad in a blue-silver cloak had an air about her that screamed bad-ass warrior.  I normally am more partial to male protagonists when it comes to fantasy and sci-fi.  But from the first chapter I knew Archmage Reba, the lead in this work, was a heroine of a different flavor.
I don’t believe in giving away plot details in a book review.  All you need to know is that the plot premise is simple yet imaginative.  Five characters including Reba (Rebecca while still on earth) are initially still on earth in a hotel at a Live Action Role Playing convention.  In a flash of light, they are summoned to a parallel universe–a kingdom called Cuthburan that is in grave need of the services from these newly transformed warriors.
While Reba is the only woman among the company, she isn’t 100% warrior like her male peers.  She has a definite feminine side the author brings out, describing Reba’s inner conflict of remaining faithful to her husband who is back on earth while being immersed in a new culture where nobody gives a second thought to infidelity or promiscuity.  I believe women who enjoy fantasy/paranormal romance novels would identify with this character and her struggles that are similar to that of many women in today’s world.  Reba struggles to remain in check while being constantly pursued by a crown prince she finds physically irresistible if not personably.  All the while the crown prince’s brother provides a relief to the reader as a more likable character and match for Reba, even if she isn’t taking the bait.  At the end of Book 1 we still don’t know how this game of cat and mouse ends up, but luckily the next two books are already available on Amazon.

While I am not a religious person and usually shy away from novels with any mention of religion, the Christian undertones in this book were subtle and did not mess with the plot.  There is enough romance in this book that is enjoyable without the graphic sex scenes that can be irritating and feel out of place and sometimes take over the plot entirely.  To conclude, this book was a quick read and I found myself wanting to find out what happens next which is the ideal reading experience, I think most readers can agree.  I highly recommend this novel for fantasy readers, especially females who love a good, strong ass-kicking heroine like Archmage Reba.