Okay. So this is a cheat; in the interest of getting the blog fired up after a few weeks of hiatus. I’m still writing. And writing. And writing. And somehow, the effort of doing the “maintain an online presence” thing lost its shine.
Anyway, a few days ago, my muse runs off, refuses to take my calls, and generally acts like an asshole. He does that–the bastard. (Yes, muse is a he. “That’s Mr. Muse, to you, ” he snipes.) In order to entice him back, I pulled a few of my keepers from the bookshelf. One, Emma Bull’s, War for the Oaks, which never fails to inspire. Next to it, I found Wheel of Dreams by Salinda Tyson, which is the topic of today’s post.
The cheating part is because most of this is a review I posted at Goodreads several months ago. But Wheel of Dreams is one of the best romantic fantasy novels I’ve ever read. Sadly, it’s the only book the author ever wrote and I think it slid into obscurity about five minutes after it was published. Maybe it was the uglier than the back end of a garbage truck cover that doomed it, but Wheel of Dreams definitely make a case for don’t judge a book by its cover.
I read Wheel of Dreams several years ago. I remember being captivated by the characters, but I never got around to reading it again. Then a few years later, I let my husband put it in the “to be donated box.” Fast forward a few more years, when I start thinking about the story. This lead to a rather amusing adventure in Google-Fu, as I tried to locate a book without benefit of stuff like title, author, character names, publisher or publication date.
The million dollar phrase turned out to be “father sells her to a mercenary,” which describes the novel’s inciting incident. Kiera Danio is a young woman who lives in a highly patriarchal society. Basically, it’s the kind of miserable, repressive society that you’d expect when fundamentalist religious nutjobs are involved. Women are one step above cattle (maybe). Anything contrary to god’s will–like science and medicine–is heresy. One could say that the only sport in the land is witch hanging.
Kiera knows that it’s just a matter of time before someone discovers her prescient dreams and her ability to leave her body and enter the body of others. Her dreams have grown harder to control in the months following her mother’s death. Coincidentally, her father has grown more abusive, especially since Kiera refused to marry the man he chose for her.
Then one evening her father plays host to a group of travelers, including a priest, a page and his son, and a soldier. Though Kiera, who is expected to serve the meal, tries to remain as invisible as possible, she is fascinated by the soldier. Judging by his dark hair and skin and beardless face, he hails from the coasts to the north.
Eventually, her father notices her and, fueled in part by too much liquor, offers her up for sale. Kiera leaves before the bidding is done, but as she waits in her room, she finds she is hoping the soldier will win the bid. Not that it matters, because she has a plan. Her only hope is to flee whoever she marries and go north to the city of the witches, who can teach her to control her abilities.
Nikka Roshannon isn’t normally the kind of man who buys a wife, so he is baffled by his impulse to put up the winning bid for the girl. His is a culture that treats women as equals, and having spent time among the southlanders, he finds their approach to life joyless and oppressive. He is nevertheless drawn to Kiera and even more baffled by the fact that, after their wedding night, she has fled.
Kiera doesn’t really expect the soldier to pursue her. Although she stole some of his clothes and a dagger, she left him several jewels to essentially buy herself back. She soon realizes that Roshannon isn’t just another soldier, but a lord from the north. Worse yet, he seems to share her ability and the two are bonded, able to feel the emotions of the other. Despite their link, she fears him and is determined not to let him catch her.
Their game of cat and mouse is sidetracked by the escalating war between the witches of the north and the religious zealots of the south, particularly when the conflict spills into Roshannon’s native land.
What I liked about their relationship is that Roshannon, despite his status as a veteran warrior, isn’t emotionally unavailable. In fact, he has a pretty healthy attitude toward romance and love. As the story progresses, he displays an admirable sensitivity in dealing with his reluctant bride. Kiera, on the other hand, has been shaped by a society where men are the aggressors and oppressors. In fact, even when she learns that Roshannon isn’t cruel like the men in her past, she still fears what he might represent–the loss of the freedom that she has tasted. The two do get their happy ending, but it is definitely hard won.
A satisfying romance set against a backdrop of war and religious oppression. The book is out of print, but inexpensive copies can be found at various online retailers. I think I paid two bucks for mine.