the house of the four winds

The first time I had a look at the cover of Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s The House of the Four Winds, I thought it wasn’t my sort of book.  I mean, I read seafaring and swashbuckling tales with relish in my younger years, but it’s not my usual cup of tea these days.  Then the kind folks at Tor sent over a note about its release, and I always try to give my email an honest read before answering it, so I did more than skim the description.  Lo and behold, this was a fantasy (I should have known – Lackey and all!), with a cross-dressing princess of a heroine, and the blurb promised ROMANCE.  Well, who was I to say no to that?!  It sounded like good fun.

the house of the four winds by mercedes lackey and james mallory book cover
Mercedes Lackey is the New York Times bestselling author of the Valdemar series and romantic fantasies like Beauty and the Werewolf and The Fairy Godmother. James Mallory and Lackey have collaborated on six novels. Nowthese New York Times and USA Today bestselling collaborators bring romance to the fore with The House of Four Winds.

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.  

Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.

Clarice is the oldest of an enormous brood of daughters (and one son) born to the ruler of a tiny principality in the mountains.  Her parents can’t afford dowries for their daughters without beggaring their kingdom, so each daughter is expected to go off and seek her fortune.  Clarice is determined to ply her trade as a swordsmaster, but she must earn a reputation first, and that requires travel.  Disguising herself as “Clarence Swann,” she takes passage on a merchant vessel bound for the New World, and quickly becomes fast friends with the ship’s navigator, Dominick.  When sinister events and adventures threaten her life, Clarice/Clarence must use all of her resources (and rely on her heart) to come through the storm.

The first thing you should know about The House of the Four Winds is that my first judgment after a 5-second perusal of the cover art did not fail me.  It’s 90% about life on a boat filled with men, plus some violence.  The other 10% of the book is split between Clarice’s (somewhat boring) backstory and a magical mystery at the very end of the book.  The second thing you should know is that this book didn’t do anything for me.  I generally like Mercedes Lackey’s books (see: Elemental Masters series), but I didn’t like another co-written book of hers, so perhaps that is to blame.  The third thing?  The official summary contains ALL OF THE SPOILERS.  *le sigh*

Shall I catalog my disappointments?  The sooner I do, the sooner I can dwell on this book’s good points (and ideal readers).  Number one: lack of female characters. Clarice’s female-heavy family not-withstanding (and they really are off-stage, as she leaves them immediately), the female characters present in the story are: Clarice, a virtuous white woman who is determined to look, think and act like a man at all times, and Shamal, a non-white seductive evil sorceress.  Commentary: depressingly obvious.  Number two: believability.  Clarice’s sex is NEVER discovered on a ship, over weeks worth of time.  She is also an incredibly wise (but naïve in all the ways that count!) eighteen year old with no faults to speak of.  Excuse me while I laugh my head off over here in the corner.

Number three (and this may well be my biggest disappointment): what love story?!  I was promised a magical romp heavy on romance!  It’s all very much ship life, and officer/crew heierarchy, what-are-we-going-to-do-about-the-pirates?! until the last second.  And then the "romance" is lightly sprinkled on at the very end.  UNSATISFACTORY.  Also, only one swordfight worth mentioning.  Travesty, I tell you! 

Finally, the worldbuilding was spotty. The magical system isn’t given any depth or character, the main characters (except the villain) don’t do any magic themselves, and the whole thing feels like a big cliché.  It would be one thing if there was a bit of humor to lighten the tone of the story and turn it into a romp (I suppose I wouldn’t mind weak worldbuilding so much then), but there’s not.  Instead, there’s death, tragedy, uncertainty, and a lot of loose ends.

So, who WOULD enjoy this book, and/or what were its good points?  I’d say anyone who picked it up for the cover won’t be disappointed.  There’s a lot of sailing and pirating involved.  Clarice’s introduction to the nuances of shipboard life brought Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Jean Lee Latham’s Carry On, Mr. Bowditch to mind. I also think fans of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise will find much of the familiar in this tale.  What I mean is, it’s clichéd, and it wasn’t for me, but I can see how it would be fun reading if you want a sea adventure and don’t mind a fantasy without much magic.  It is also a good candidate for a YA crossover title, as the romance is quite clean and the heroine has just turned eighteen.

All in all?  The book’s cross-dressing heroine and promise of romance did not fulfill my expectations, but the story will likely please others.

Recommended for: anyone who has been searching for The Pirates of the Caribbean in book form.

The House of the Four Winds will be released by Tor (Macmillan) on August 5, 2014.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book for free for review from the publisher.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.


carol said...

Hmmm - I do have a 14 year old who loves Pirates of the Caribbean, likes fantasy, and isn't into romance yet. I'll have to keep this one in mind.

Liviania said...

I've actually never been a Lackey fan. I went through a bit of a phase with her Companions series, but I've always found her worldbuilding a bit light.

Anonymous said...

Great review! I remember liking some of Lackey's (singly written) books when I was younger however I think she might be another author I've outgrown. (Sometimes--though not here I guess?--her books were too sexy for me too. IE too much romance not enough everything else.)

Unknown said...

That is a very interesting cover! Great review!

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

I need to read this asap!!! thanks for the great review, i love the cover!

Ryan said...

Her none Valdemar books tend to be hit or miss for me. I like a few of them, and I'm pretty sure this wouldn't be one of them.

Nishita said...

I like the cover and I don't think I have outgrown swashbuckling reads as yet, so I think I'd like this book.

Thanks very much for the review :)

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