Review: The Crimson Outlaw by Alex Beecroft

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Crimson Outlaw coverVali Florescu, heir to a powerful local boyar, is determined that his beloved sister will not have to marry the much older, scarred man their father has betrothed her to.  So he hatches a plan to upset the wedding, but everything goes awry, leaving Vali imprisoned by an enraged father.  Escaping, Vali flees instead of his sister, hoping to see the world.  But that plan too fails when he is captured by Mihai Roscat, the fearsome Crimson Outlaw.

Vali finds his captivity surprisingly wonderful, falling quickly for the outlaw.  But Vali also finds that his father is far more cruel than he ever expected.  The villages and their inhabitants on his father’s land have been subjected to raids from his father’s soldiers, raids that saw villages burned to the  ground, women and children killed over something so small as an imagined slight.  Soon Vali is feeling ashamed to be a prince and his father’s son, vowing to changed his peoples lives for the better.

Mihai Roscat came from highly regarded, wealthy family himself.  But that family came up against the power and evil of Wadim Florescu, Vali’s father.  Almost all were slaughtered, leaving only 3 sons alive.  Mihal has vowed vengeance upon the Florescus and thought to punish the son for the  father’s deeds.  But Vali is nothing like Mihai expected, and when Vali helps Mihai defend a village against his father’s soldiers, Mihai’s affection turns into love. Together, Vali and Mihai vow to overthrow Wadim Floriescu once and for all.  Will they succeed or lose everything in trying?

Hard to believe that Alex Beecroft jammed such a sweeping tale into 131 pages.  Set in Carpathian forests of Romania, Beecroft’s story conjuers up visions of boyers, and Vlad the Impaler.  Specifically it is 1720 – Harghita County, Transylvania when the story opens up and the Florescu family preparations for the wedding of Stela Florescu to Ionescu, a war-hardened old warrior and important ally of Wadin Florescu.  From the vivid descriptions of the wedding finery to the dialog of the soldiers closest to Vali, Beecroft brings this time and place alive before us.  This is the start of the wedding procession:

It was the grimmest of weddings. Even the weather agreed, rain lashing down from a glowering sky, turning the red tiles of the turrets the colour of blood, gushing over all the balconies, and churning the moat to a froth.

Vali, with a sodden sheepskin clutched around his silken hat, escaped his father’s scrutiny long enough to dash through the puddles of the courtyard and catch up with his sister and her maidens before she entered the castle church. The girls gave him sour looks for stopping them outside in this downpour, but he didn’t care overmuch that the spun-sugar delicacy of their headdresses were drooping and darkening with the wet, and that their heavy gold-and-silver-laced bodices, their globes of shimmering skirts were sopping up water with every second.

They were uncomfortable. Well, so they should be, since his sister’s face was anguished and her eyes red with weeping. She had met her husband-to-be for the very first time yesterday, at a feast thrown for that purpose, and although she had concealed her horror fairly successfully at the time, it was clear to see she had not spent a peaceful night. Even encased as she was in so many layers of cloth-of-gold she might be a martyr’s mummy, he could see her shaking, and he was furious to know she was as frightened as she was miserable. Her voice was as raw as her eyes. “You shouldn’t be here. If Father sees you . . . Go back to the men’s side before you’re missed.”

Beecroft sets the scene beautifully for all that is to follow.  Laid upon these vibrant primal setting are characters that are perfect for the time period. Vali, the young impetuous prince, comes across as the thoughtless, yet well meaning young man that he is.  His is also a character who grows up as the story progresses.  I really liked Vali.   Stela, Wadim and other members of the court are harder to pin down and perhaps that is as the author intended.  Because the other characters that really come to life are the villagers that Vali meets once he is away from the castle.  They are more vibrant then the gray denizens we met at the wedding.  Again, I felt as though that was intentional.  The villages and the inhabitants need to be lifelike if we are to believe in Vali’s transformation from spoiled, naive child to realistic young warrior ready to overthrow his father.

The only issue I had with this story is the instant love that sprang up between the outlaw and the prince.  It was such a short time between capture and enrapture, and the prince’s sexual kinks aside, their romance needed much longer to percolate in order for it to be believable.  Vali’s affection for his horse seemed far more realistic than his love for  Mihai.   The reader must accept this instantaneous love affair for the book to really work.  Some of the readers will, others won’t.  That will affect how much enjoyment and satisfaction they will get from reading The Crimson Outlaw.

For myself, I loved Beecroft’s settings and descriptions.  Romania is steeped in tradition and legends.  Beecroft makes the most of both with descriptions as lush and layered as the land itself.  That alone made this story for me.  I love Alex Beecroft’s stories and look forward with anticipation to each new one that is released.  Add this to your to be read pile and enjoy your journey to the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania and romance.

Cover Art by Simoné, http://www.dreamarian.com.  This is the most amazing cover.  It is as gorgeous and vibrant as Alex Beecroft’s descriptions of the land and people.  One of the best covers of 2013.  Just outstanding in every way.

Book Details:

ebook, 131 pages
Published August 12th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN13 9781626490536
edition language English

Review: A Gentleman’s Agreement by J. Roman

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Rating: 3.75 stars

A Gentleman's AgreementThomas Derrik is about to have the worst Christmas of his life. Three days before the holiday, he finds out the father he doesn’t get along with is arriving on Christmas Eve, his ex-lover and new brother-in-law will be staying at his estate until the New Year, and his beloved brother, Edmund, has died.

Luckily, Edmund’s last holiday scheme may well save Thomas’s Christmas: Henry Appleby, a young lord fresh from the Continent, has arranged to court Thomas. But the family tragedy and jealous exes may put an end to the romance before it begins.

I really liked the tone and characters of this book from the beginning. J. Roman gives us a credible character in the grieving Thomas Derrick. Thomas is facing so many major losses only 3 days from Christmas.  His beloved younger brother has been killed in battle, the  man he has loved since childhood has married his sister, supposedly to remain close to him but a more bitter betrayal Thomas has never felt.  And finally, his father who disapproves of his heir, is returning to the family home, just in time to pressure Thomas to marry and make his life even more miserable than it already is.

I have not read anything by J. Roman before, but the author has a wonderful way with characters.  Thomas’ grief is palpable. The author manages to make the reader feel both Thomas’ stress and pain as well as the fact that losing his brother has left Thomas unable to deal with Darrow, the man he has been having an affair with since they were young.  Darrow has married Thomas’ sister but continues his pursuit of Thomas.  There are so many complications in Thomas’ life that it almost renders him unable to react. J. Roman captures the  time and period beautifully and kept me engaged right up to the time this story ran completely off the rails and into fantasyland.

A Gentleman’s Agreement had me enthralled and all the historic elements were detailed and precise, then Roman asks the reader to suspend their belief to accept the fact that Edmund, Thomas’ brother, had planned to send a male suitor to his brother as well as the man’s sister with the intent that Thomas marries the sister but in turn really takes on the brother as his mate.  And do you know?  I could accept that.  Edmund is supposedly a master planner and manipulator, so I could see that happening.  But then, it turns out His Lordship, Thomas’ father accepts that as well.  Part of the agreement is that the sister may take whomever as a lover and that Thomas would raise the children as his own.  Acceptable except that it would mean the title would be passed down to someone not of their linage and I could never see that ever being acceptable to Thomas’ father.  And from there it gets increasingly strange and unbelievable.  True, all the events that pass are unbelievable in a lovely Christmas  miracle kind of way but still not plausible outside of a fairy tale.

So you have a wonderful historic Christmas tale that quickly devolves into a fantasy that takes place in the past.  It is still kind of lovely, but only in that novelty sort of way.  But there is so much promise in this tale that I am off to discover what else J. Roman has written.  So if you want your history and fantasy too, you will enjoy this.

Catt Ford was the artist for this amazing cover.