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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

SPFBO Finalist review: Reign & Ruin by J.D. Evans


Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: J. D. Evans writes fantasy and science fiction romance. After earning her degree in linguistics, J. D. served a decade as an army officer. She once spent her hours putting together briefings for helicopter pilots and generals. Now she writes stories, tends to two unreasonable tiny humans, knits, sews badly, gardens, and cultivates Pinterest Fails. After a stint in Beirut, J. D. fell in love with the Levant, which inspired the setting for her debut series, Mages of the Wheel.

Originally hailing from Montana, J. D. now resides in North Carolina with her husband, two attempts at mini-clones gone rogue, and too many stories in her head.

Publication Date: January 23, 2020 Publisher: Whippoorwill Press LLC Page Count: 422  Cover art: Tatiana Anor Formats: ebook, paperback



JENNIFER

The Sabri family has ruled Tamar for generations but now with her father’s health deteriorating, the plans that they had made to set Naime upon the throne are in jeopardy.

I read this very quickly. It’s a nice engaging read that combines a lot of my favourite things- political power plays, romance, hateful villains, elemental-type magic, great leads, and enough world details the characters don’t feel like they live in a bubble.


This was a very neat world that’s quite tied to the magic. I liked that there was as much time spent on setting-up the world and politics, as there was the relationship because sometimes in romance/fantasy, the world-building suffers a little in favour of the romance.

Balance is a big theme in the book. With worries of the Republic and their armies invading- Naime’s main goal is to ‘stand the wheel’ therefore balancing the power of their nations. 

Naime, and her father, believe that by reuniting with the neighboring Sarkum, they can achieve this goal. The two countries had once been unified before the Sundering War split them apart. The world, magic, and the wheel, tie nicely together with this yin-yang kind of idea of power, as Tamar has a lot of high-class house mages and Sarkum, in the meantime, became stronger in their military because they were weaker in the magic. 

The houses represent different abilities of magic and the elements they can use says where they sit on the wheel to their counter-house. There are different strengths in the types of spellcasters with the Charrah’s being the strongest of the mages (and few and far between) and the ones who would take their place on the wheel closing the circle that would unite the people and the magic.

 I probably didn’t explain that well, its a lot more involved and way more interesting than I am making it sound, so just take my word for it- it’s pretty cool. 

I enjoyed the two lead characters Naime and Makram a lot. There was a nice push and pull to their relationship and they had some great scenes together. I wanted them to succeed, and be together. 

The characters have similarities in circumstances that help them to find common ground as both Naime and Makram, want alliances for their countries but despite the loftiness of their titles, both are hindered by others more powerful than themselves.  

There are clear boundaries on both sides with obvious and established villains. You know right away who is going to be a huge obstacle to their goals and their love. Which always makes for a lot of fun seeing how they’re going to go about solving their problems, or if they even will. 

For me, when I am reading romance, and am 99% percent certain it will end well for the couple, being able to keep that niggling doubt running in the back of my mind is something I look for and appreciate, in the genre. 

I thought the story was paced well and the only time I felt a blip in my interest was towards the end, just before things get rolling plot-wise again. But I can’t say if that was a pacing issue, or if it was a ‘me’ issue. The inevitable romance break-up trope after getting together, as eye-roll worthy as I find it sometimes, is there for people like me, who prefer the chase, and whose interest drops-off completely after a couple gets together. In this case it was a short break-up and apologies abounded in short order, but it was just enough time to keep me interested in them, and the story until I reached the point in the book where the grand-finale was set into motion.

Other notes-

Makram unleashing his magic was freaking cool. 

Spoilers-----

What I liked even more though than Makram releasing his magic, was how her magic which was so tightly-controlled, was kind of held in reserve and was quite unexpectedly amazing when it was unleashed. 

His was such a big secret (to everyone but us) and once revealed, it and him, were so openly-feared throughout that story you kind of forget to wonder about hers. Well-played. That was one of my favourite parts of the book.

I picked up the next book already. I am looking forward to continuing on with this series.


JONATHAN

Reign tells the story of Naime, the daughter of a sultan whose mind is slipping and whose one wish to keep her kingdom safe from the ravages of the Republic; and Makram, the young brother of the ruler of a neighboring kingdom, who wants an alliance with Naime’s kingdom in the face of his brother—and liege’s—opposition.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. The point-of-view swaps between the two main characters, so the reader gets a really good sense of both. I found both of them to be likable and relatable. They are strong-willed, determined, anxious in the face of threats (internal and external) to their nation. And, there is some attraction here. This is a romantic fantasy, to be sure. The couple have a good on-page chemistry and the romantic angle is played up in a well-written slow-burn manner.

Even with the romance angle, Reign is still fantasy at its heart. The world-building is intriguing, taking a heavy influence from the Syrian-Levant style of culture. There is well-fleshed out magic system of various elemental houses and powers, including a specific brand of magic that has been banished from Naime’s realm. Of course, Makram is a mage of that style, which lends an extra level of tension to his ambassadorship. Naime is no magical slouch herself, and neither is the Vizier, the chief counselor to the Sultan, who also has his eye on the throne and is Naime and Makram’s main antagonist. There is much political wheeling and dealing and the entire plot (eventually) builds to an effective climax.

I will say the pace, especially early, could have been a little tighter. There is a contest of sorts, in the middle of the book that while exciting and fun to read, was a little silly given the stakes involved. However, these are basically minor quibbles and didn’t detract from my enjoyment enough for to put it aside or even slow down reading.

Reign is a fun read, with likable protagonists. Anyone who enjoys romantic fantasy should check this one out.


ŁUKASZ

I’ll keep it short. I rarely read romance novels. I was worried that Reign & Ruin would be at a disadvantage simply because I was the wrong reader. And yet, I ended up enjoying the story. J.D. Evans has combined romance with political intrigue and character development with good results.

Both protagonists, Naime and Makram, are intelligent, lively, and likable. However, they are also a bit cliché - two specimens with perfect physiques, sharp intellects, and fancy powers/abilities who fall in love. Their relationship is passionate and not devoid of steamy moments, and initially based on the fact that they are both “hot.” The romance is important, but it never overshadows (except for the steamy moments) the interesting plot and political intrigue.

To my surprise, I ended up really enjoying the story. I am sure romance readers will be thrilled with it, and fans of political intrigue will appreciate it as well.

OFFICIAL SPFBO RATING



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