She is a beautiful mercenary girl with supernatural skill with a sword and a hatred of magic. He is a prince and arch-mage, responsible for the spells that protect his brother’s kingdom. Can these two crazy kids ever make it work?
Apparently not. At least, by the end of Lynn Kurland’s Star of the Morning, not yet. Morgan is recovering from a deadly dose of poison, and Miach is back at his brother Adhemar’s castle, putting duty ahead of his growing feelings for Morgan and trying to solve the mystery of the dark magic seeping into the kingdom.
Kurland is an established romance writer whose books often contain ghost lovers or time travel. Star of the Morning, first of the NINE KINGDOMS series, is a foray into a traditional fantasy setting, and the romance actually takes a back seat to the magical quest. Kurland is a capable writer who is able to give the reader needed information, create amusing and dramatic dialogue, and, mostly, move a story along.
Kurland has given some thought to her magical system here and even though it’s not fully developed it is plausible and internally consistent. The book was a pleasant read that fell just short of making me want to read more.
In the kingdom of Neroche, the king’s magical sword has suddenly lost its magic, just as the king and his party are attacked by evil creatures that are not human. King Adhemar returns to his castle to consult with his younger brother Miach, the arch-mage. Miach is concerned, especially because he has sensed a weakening in the powerful spells of protection that line the kingdom’s borders. Both suspect the work of Lothar, a dark wizard who has been the enemy of the kingdom for a long time. Miach tells the king that it is time to find a person who can wield the kingdom’s other magical sword, the sword of Angesand, forged by a powerful mage-queen. Adhemar sets off. Adhemar, spoiled and petulant, has all the grace and charm of a large bull in a tiny curio shop, so we do not expect his quest to go well.
On an island hundreds of miles away, Morgan, an orphan, comes to visit her old mentor Nicholas. Nicholas took her in from the mercenary band who found her when she was a little girl, wandering in a woods that was drenched with the sense of evil. She does not know anything about her parents or her early life. She only knows that she hates magic. Nicholas gives her a quest; take an elegant dagger to the king of Neroche. The dagger is enchanted, and its magic calls to her. Deeply unsettled, Morgan lets her loyalty to Nicholas win out and reluctantly agrees to this quest, but not before pausing to read half a page in one of Nicholas’s books, a story about another dark mage named Gair of Ceangail, that conveniently provides us with needed information.
On the road she meets the disguised Adhemar and a group of her mercenary friends who decide to tag along. Miach joins the group later because he is worried about how long Adhemar has been gone. One of the mercenaries has recognized Adhemar but is wisely keeping quiet about it; Miach tells Morgan and the others that Adhemar is a wealthy landholder, and that he is a pig farmer who has a little bit of magic ability.
The two main characters are well-developed without being overly complex or nuanced, and they are very sweet. Adhemar is the character you love to hate. Secondary characters do not fare so well; a couple of the mercenaries are given interesting quirks or good lines, but one is so undeveloped I can only assume that we will find out in later books that he is a spy or the villain is disguise. I often forgot he was there.
Surprisingly, it is the romance that is given short shrift here. The quest proceeds at a pretty slow pace. There is the occasional attack of evil creatures, easily fended off by Morgan’s swordplay and, if necessary, Miach’s spells, but lots of time is spent walking, riding or camping. This should be the perfect opportunity to develop the relationship between our two principals but it doesn’t happen. She thinks that he is comfortable, like a pair of well-broken-in boots. He decides, for no apparent reason, that because she is obviously meant to be the sword-wielder, Adhemar will fall in love with her. In one scene, he brushes her hair, and once in a while they hold hands, but in this book they don’t even kiss. I felt cheated.
Kurland’s structural choices gave me some problems as well. Because we already know who Adhemar and Miach are, Morgan looks increasingly stupid as the book progresses. Miach is a mere pig farmer with a “little bit of magic,” who can create an invisibility spell, heal Morgan’s broken leg in a day, and conjure a sword from out of thin air. (“I found it on the ground,” he tells her.) Just how dense can she be? Miach, on the other hand, deduces almost instantly that she must be the sword-wielder, and, within a day or two of that, intuits the secret of her parentage.
Also disappointing is the lack of description. Battle scenes read like this: “They cut through the enemy easily, soon leaving the ground littered with the bodies of the fallen.” The book is a romance, so I wouldn’t expect gory descriptions of battles, but here is a description of a patrician woman:
The woman was, put simply, the most beautiful creature Morgan had ever seen. She was perfectly coiffed, perfectly dressed, perfectly mannered. She even spoke with perfect crispness, as if she could not have permitted anything less.
That’s quite funny, but I wonder what she looks like.
I think fans of a milder type of romance novel will thoroughly enjoy this book. There is a good magical story here. The book created an enjoyable few hours for me, but I like a romance that has more spark and is grounded in real conflicts, and I would have liked the quest to be a little harder. This series is not for me, but I will have no problem offering it to my romance-reading friends who want to expand their horizons with a traditional fantasy.