Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Recent Reading: Magic’s Poison by Gillian Bradshaw

Okay, yes, I liked this book quite a bit, and yes, it was nice to read a fantasy novel. It’s just contemporary romances and other books with very familiar settings are so easy to get into when I’m really busy with my own projects.

This one was easy to get into, though, and not too overwhelmingly distracting, and quite good. Recognizably a Bradshaw, though I’m not sure I would have realized it was hers if I hadn’t known it up front.

Here’s part of the description from Amazon:

Marin had never expected to be in the middle of the biggest magical crisis for two centuries. A peasant by birth, she was uncomfortable enough with her noble status as a Guardian, charged with policing the use of magic—even though her district, the White River, was a mere backwater. However, a renegade sorcerer in that same backwater district somehow obtained a supply of a notorious magical poison—the venom of a race of serpent-people who’d been believed extinct—and it’s up to Marin to stop him. It obviously won’t be easy: the last people to use that poison ended up ruling the world.

Have you read this? I want to ask something very elliptically in case you haven’t. If you’ve read this book, did you realize The Big Secret right from the beginning?

My take on The Big Secret went like this:

Meet a specific character for the first time. Almost immediately think: Hmm

Later, think: YES, FOR SURE.

Later, think: Oh, well, I guess not. Too bad! I would have totally put this plot twist in the story!

Almost immediately after that: Oh, how about that, I was right! How does Bradshaw justify this???

And then she semi-plausibly justifies it.

This was a neat twist, but what I wonder is, does everybody else suspect it almost immediately?

Now, real comments about the novel:

It took a while for me to actually get interested. For me, Marin is kind of a ho-hum protagonist. In fact, I never was that interested in Marin. She’s fine. Nice young woman, likes horses, sensible, but honestly, not very interesting. I did not really get into the book until I met Estevan and Jarritt and a handful of other characters. The duke is just the sort of male lead I like best, in fact, and if he’d been the protagonist, I might have got into the story faster. But for various excellent reasons, he couldn’t take the pov.

Things get moving better after we meet the ophidian character, not just because of the ophidian, but because the story comes together at that point. Tension ratchets sharply upward, problems look potentially unresolvable, and various startling plot twists occur. I don’t mean The Big Secret, I mean other things. I do appreciate a really intelligent character.

So if you start this one, you might consider going on with it a bit even if your response to the beginning, like mine, is sort of lackluster.

The ending is, like the beginning, sort of lackluster. Not bad. But the main tension is resolved well before that and the ending qua ending feels more like an epilogue . . . maybe because there’s a lot of tell-don’t-show, but that can be fine sometimes. I suspect it’s actually because the ending is once more focused very much on Marin, and I just don’t find her that engaging. I mean, sure, nice. But not very compelling.

Okay, so, ranking Gillian Bradshaw’s books, where does this one fit?

Right at the top, these five, in this order:

Beacon at Alexandria

Island of Ghosts

The Sand-Reckoner

Cleopatra’s Heir

Render Unto Caesar

Then a notch or two below those, these four, in this order:

Wolf Hunt

Bearkeeper’s Daughter

The Sun’s Bride

Alchemy of Fire

Then, a notch or two below those:

Dark North

And waaaay at the bottom:

Horses of Heaven

The Arthurian trilogy.

Agree? Disagree? I realize some of you may shuffle the order of all these around, but surely everyone puts Beacon somewhere near the top and Horses of Heaven somewhere near the bottom? I know for sure I had already accepted Mary Stewart’s Arthurian quadrilogy as definitive long before I read Bradshaw’s, so that probably influenced my feeling about those.

Also, I have read all but Horses of Heaven and the Arthurian trilogy several times minimum, so it’s not like I think Dark North is bad. Just not as good as her others.

Now, where would I put Magic’s Poison in this list? I’m thinking . . . maybe right above Alchemy of Fire. It’s not bad. I liked it. But the disinterest I felt toward the protagonist makes me slot it in fairly low, even though the much higher interest I developed toward some of the secondary characters — one in particular — means that it winds up in the middle of the list, far above Horses of Heaven or the Arthurian trilogy.

Okay, now I’m going to go start the second book in the series. It’s a four-book series, incidentally: Magic’s Poison, The Enchanted Archive, The Duke’s Murder, and The Iron Cage.

I gather the first two feature the same characters and stand as a duology, then the third is set several years later and the fourth a decade after that. They’re all cheap on Amazon, so I’ve picked them all up.

Incidentally, I note that I bought Magic’s Poison four and a half years ago. Sheesh. Glad I finally got to it.

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Recent Reading: Truly by Ruthie Knox

He wasn’t the kind of guy a woman wanted to pin her hope and dreams on.

Of course, he turns out to be exactly the kind of guy a woman might pin her hopes and dreams on, because this is a romance.

Let me describe the setup as briefly as possible.

May, a young woman from the Wisconsin, is involved with a Packers quarterback. He proposes in front of a huge crowd in a way that makes it crystal clear to May that he values her because she doesn’t distract him from really important things like football, she rejects him in a dramatic manner, walks out, has her purse stolen, and winds up in NYC, on her own, with five bucks and no phone or ID.  That’s the immediate backstory.

Awkward situation, you will agree.

So she asks this guy for help, and he happens to be feeling like he really needs to practice playing the role of the white knight, so that’s how this story gets off the ground.

I liked this novel a lot, partly because of the great descriptions of food – Ben is a chef, or was until recently – and partly because it’s a pretty darn good book. Characters are good. There’s lots of great relationship stuff besides the romance part: May and her sister, May and her mother, the sister and her fiancée, Ben and his father. Lots of the relationships are screwed up; getting (nearly) everybody to a better place is a big part of the story. Breaking off a relationship that’s not working is almost as important as getting a new relationship off the ground and counts as getting everybody to a better place.

The writing is very good, very smooth, lots of nice moments like this:

“The thing is, May said, “I’m not as sad as I should be. And that makes me sad, because it makes me realize I was being a dope. And then I wonder what’s wrong with me, and then I go into this whole mental spiral, and that’s no good.”


She turned her head sideways, resting it on her knee. All wrapped around herself, gold hair and red sweater, long legs and black boots. She looked gorgeous and disappointed. He wanted to fix her, but he was the wrong person. Ten times more broken than May was.

“I have a suspicion that I’m in the middle of one of those really important life lessons,” she said. “I’m just not sure what the lesson is yet.”

Pretty good, right? This is a great look at a moment that feels absolutely real, with bonus great description. I can picture May perfectly in this scene.

I like Ben a lot. He’s got real problems – anger issues – and he hates it and he’s trying to find other ways to deal with things. Very nicely handled, because you get these layers: a good guy underneath, and then the angry guy over that, and then the pose of the white knight over that, and then on top of that a realization that when you play the role of the white knight, you don’t get to stop:

There was simply no way he could go now. Not if it meant leaving her here to deal with this – her sister’s wedding, her mother’s expectations, Dan – when she seemed so ill-equipped to handle it.

Christ. Evidently you couldn’t just play at being a white knight. Once you put on the armor, you had to carry the fucking lance.

All these great, important moments as they both sort out their lives, or start to. Important life lessons, definitely. I like how Ben is angry and May tells him that’s okay. I like how she sets limits and sticks to them. I like how he stops being so self-protective and starts being able to reach out.

This is the third Ruthie Knox romance I’ve read, and by far my favorite. Partly the story itself and partly, yes, the fantastic descriptions of food. I wouldn’t have minded toning down the sex scenes a bit. Though that’s usually the case for romances, and in this case I didn’t actually skip them, quite.

This is quite the romance year for me, so far, though of course it’s early days yet. Still, at this rate, by the end of the year, I’ll have to write a post sorting out my top ten romance authors. Sure wouldn’t have seen that coming ten years ago, or even five.

Next up, will be a fantasy, though: I’m in the middle of Magic’s Poison by Gillian Bradshaw.

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Yet another type of scam

Hey, did any of you know about this one?

Step 1: Author (or maybe plagiarist, I don’t know) produces a book and self-publishes it.

Step 2: The book enjoys a certain number of sales, which tale off.

Step 3: As the sales decline, the author sells the rights to another person.

Step 4: This person changes the character names, puts on a different cover, puts her name on the book, and re-publishes it as though it’s a different book that she wrote herself.

Thanks to yet another post by Nora Roberts, I now know about this.


Such creativity! Maybe these people should try applying that creativity toward writing their own books. Granted, that would take longer and be more difficult.

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Must-read Regencies


As you may have noticed, I don’t always wind up agreeing with Book Riot posts about, well, many things. In particular, I clicked through to this post with a deep, deep interest in seeing whether the author might possibly declare that of all Regencies in the world, the one you must not miss is Watership Down.

However, I am somewhat reassured to see that actually, all the choices here are in fact real Regency Romances, or at least they look like that to me.

The author of this post, Namera Tanjeem, has this to say about Regencies:

Officially it occupies only the narrow slot between 1811 and 1820, when King George IV was Prince Regent. Enterprising authors have, however, managed to make it stretch from roughly 1800 to the 1830s (until Victoria comes along in 1837).

Which, yes, and I certainly contribute to the stretching phenomenon because I really can’t remember from moment to moment exactly when George IV was regent. Nor, for that matter, do I care particularly whether a romance is set in this short period or somewhere a tinch outside it.

Now, I would definitely think first of Georgette Heyer and secondarily of Courtney Milan, because I’ve liked some of hers and have several on my TBR pile right now.

And Sherwood Smith, actually, because I read Rondo Allegra pretty recently, so it’s on my mind now, along with her fantasy novels.

So, let’s see who Tanjeem has picked out as Must Reads for this genre:

Okay, yes, here’s Georgette Heyer. She’s got first and second place on this list, for Arabella (I haven’t read it) and The Corinthian (I sure have, and really liked it).

Already I’m more in tune with this list than the Urban Fantasy one with Watership Down on it. Okay, I see now that Tanjeem is listing her entries in order from cleanest to most explicit — that’s actually very helpful, thank you, Tanjeem — and this is why Heyer is at the top. Next in line:


I’ve spent YEARS trying to find an author like Heyer. Lejeune is the one who comes closest. Her novels are just as clean, just as funny, and very nearly as witty.

Well, now, that sounds promising. The title Tanjeem recommends isn’t available for Kindle, but I see a different one is, for 99c. Sure, I’ll try it.

Several others, and then, yes, here’s Courtney Milan:


The dyslexic hero is this one is AMAZING and the prose is gorgeous.

Oh, that does sound interesting. I might very well like that. I have at least two of Milan’s on my TBR pile, don’t need to add another one right now, but this title sounds good.

Next is Tessa Dara, a name I’ve certainly heard of, but I don’t believe I’ve read any of hers.


Dare has long been a household name when it comes to the regency romance, but this one is by far her best. The banter between the protagonists is second to none, and their romance is sweet as sugar.

Bookish, science-obsessed spinster Minerva Highwood needs to be in Edinburgh for a geology symposium. (They don’t exactly know she’s a woman…but she’ll deal with that when she gets there). Meanwhile, the rakish Colin, Lord Payne has decided to accompany her out of purely altruistic motives. (And also a very small desire to see her naked). The two of them proceed to engage in the regency version of a road trip all across the country – yet it’s incredible how many scrapes two innocent people on an innocent fake elopement can get into.

Certainly sounds like the right Tessa Dare for me to try. Regency geology road trip; that’s different.

And various others …. hmm, some look like I might check them out, no one else I’ve heard of offhand.

Okay, one author Tanjeem doesn’t mention whose books I do like is Theresa Romain. I have particularly liked some of her Christmas-themed Regency Romances, and I’ve meant to pick up something else by her … you know what sounds good? This one:

Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies appears exclusive and respectable, a place for daughters of the gentry to glean the accomplishments that will win them suitable husbands.

But the academy is not what it seems. It’s more.

Alongside every lesson in French or dancing or mathematics, the students learn the skills they’ll need to survive in a man’s world. They forge; they fight; they change their accents to blend into a world apart.

The above appears to be a set of two novellas, one by Theresa Romain and one by, let’s see, Shana Galen. I like the idea, I know I like Romain, sure, let’s try that one.

Another author who’s missing: Carla Kelly. I know some of hers are set during the Napoleonic Wars because I read this one, for example, and it is, so as far as I’m concerned she’s a Regency writer.

My favorite of hers is Softly Falling. Not quite sure when that was set, but since it’s set in Wyoming, it doesn’t count as a Regency anyway — but certainly a Historical Romance, and a good one. Oh, yes, I see Kelly definitely has a somewhat expanded period; here’s one set in 1912. Maybe that’s why Tanjeem doesn’t count her as a Regency author.

Now: a little pause to appreciate the absence of Watership Down — or any other wildly unsuitable choice — on the linked list. For the rest of my life, I’m going to look with bated breath at Book Riot lists to see if Watership Down has somehow morphed into Gothic Romance or Space Opera or heaven knows what.

If you read Regencies — or historical romances at all — what authors do you particularly like (other than Georgette Heyer)?

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Invisible writers

Here is Janet Reid, hitting an emotional reaction that took her by surprise:

I finished a terrific book recently and wanted to reach out to the author to say “wow, I really liked your book!” Maybe boost the signal a bit with a mention of the book on Twitter.

Went to the author’s website.
No contact info at all. No social media links at all.

Ok. So, the author doesn’t like all that folderol. I get that. You just want to write books and be left alone.

Ok. I’ll leave you alone. I won’t write you a note about how much I liked your book. And I won’t mention you on Twitter. And I won’t use your book as a contest prize.

Harumph harumph harumph.

That was my first (not very adult or thought out) reaction …

I realized after some thinking, that this kind of annoyance is a very recent thing. Twenty years ago, when I read a book I liked, I told my friends. And maybe yammered to my publicity clients, or bookstore event planners. It never dawned on me to write a letter to the author’s publisher (the only way you could contact authors back in the Paper Era.)

Now with instant communication and everyone hanging out at the CyberSpace Bar and Grill, it’s expected we’re all reachable. And want to be reached.

Well, clearly, no. …

It’s a good book.

And then she shows it to her blog readers: Bearskin by McLaughlan, which looks possibly pretty good. A thriller involving poaching in Appalachia, I gather.

But this is an interesting reaction!

Now, when I finish a book I really loved by a new-to-me author, I do sometimes search for that author on Twitter and say I really liked it. Or if I write a review (very likely for any book I love), then I send them a @ on Twitter to let them know.

But if the author isn’t on Twitter, that’s it. I don’t feel annoyed because the author is unreachable, because (a) a glance at Twitter is the full extent of my efforts to locate the author; and (b) it has never occurred to me to be offended if an author is a little difficult to track down.

Is this because I’m a little older and also clearly remember the days when the only way to contact an author was to write to the publisher?

Or because I’m just so introverted that it doesn’t occur to me to make a big effort to track someone down, far less feel offended if they’re not readily contactable?

I’m now curious: do you routinely feel like you ought to contact the author of a great book at all? And would you feel even momentarily annoyed if that author was not easily locatable on social media?

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Nora Roberts is completely right about everything

…At least, everything to do with this plagiarism thing. She’s got multiple posts up about this on her blog now; the most recent addresses comments she’s been getting from people who want her to take a stand against plagiarism, but not a very strong stand.

Blowback’s inevitable when you go public–especially on social media–about any issue.

With this one, I’m finding (unsurprisingly) people who object, complain, or smack at me and others tend to be protecting their own interests.

It’s all, yes! Fix this, fight this, go after the crooks and scammers, make the system fair. But don’t talk about or criticize or upset my personal apple cart…

And then she addresses the sorts of comments she’s been getting.

I think she’s right in exactly 100% of her comments.

She’s really mad, too. Check this out:

To those publishing ‘books’ using these tactics, whether it’s hiring ghosts then slapping your name on a book, whether it’s stealing work someone else sweated over, you’re thieves and liars. Every one of you. And none of you will ever be a writer.

You know who you are.

Enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s now my mission to turn over the rocks you hide under, then stomp you deep in the muck you breed in.

To the black hats who exploit, steal, tutor others to do the same, your day of reckoning’s coming.

I swear I’ll do whatever I can, use whatever resources, connections, clout, megaphone I have to out every damn one of you.

Wow. Good for her, and this would be a great time for RWA to really give Amazon a push. There have to be ways to lock down some of this plagiarism and theft. If TurnItIn could spot this stuff — and it could — then where’s Amazon? Nora Roberts has a high profile and a big following, so maybe she can get somewhere.

Also: I had no idea about ghostfarms. Or clickfarms. Good heavens above, people. I thought book stuffing was the absolute nadir, and I can’t see why Amazon can’t develop an algorithm or two to check for that. Then this hack-and-slash plagiarism that TurnItIn could catch in a heartbeat, but I guess Amazon can’t? And now ghostfarms and clickfarms.

I can’t even imagine what scammers will come up with next.

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Wow, plagiarism scandal

I saw this at Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog first:

…this week, historical romance writer and lawyer (who specializes in intellectual property) Courtney Milan discovered—thanks to some eagle-eyed readers—that some “writer” named Cristiane Serruya plagiarized her novel The Duchess War.

I found out a few days ago, and had to deal with some things in my own life, and by the time I returned to Twitter, I discovered this scandal had mushroomed…

It’s quite something. Serruya apparently hired ghostwriters to churn out books with her name on them, these books involved extensive plagiarism, when this was discovered she blamed the ghostwriters, they say she cobbled together the manuscripts and their job was just to smooth them out … either way, of course, it’s all on Serruya, as she’s the one who put her name on the books.

Tactical tip for plagiarists: it’s not wise to target Courtney Milan or Nora Roberts. The former is a lawyer and the latter has quite a reputation for going after plagiarists with everything she’s got. (And good for her.)

But this is the part that gets me:

Courtney Milan says:

Can I just talk about this for a second? Robert’s yearning for family–and specifically, to be a part of Oliver, his half brother’s, family–is a theme in The Duchess War that stretches across the entire series, up through the point in The Suffragette Scandal when Free ends up on his doorstep thinking that she’s imposing. It is something that meant a lot to me when writing it, and to have someone take this scene–the one where Robert feels he simply just doesn’t get to have anyone love him because of who his father was–and to have them rewrite it, while taking out the bones of what made the scene tick–it just makes me feel awful.

And there you have the emotional problem with plagiarism, aside from financial and moral considerations. This is really terrible for Courtney Milan, and for every other plagiarized author. It would be really terrible even if there were no repercussions other than the emotional ones of seeing someone else take your baby and do this hack-and-slash job on it.

Kristine’s post is mostly about ghostwriting, and when ghostwriting turns into the process of faking books together to game Amazon’s algorithms.

The situation with Serruya’s plagiarism is not really the point of Kristine’s post, but it’s the part with the emotional fallout, so it’s the part that caught my attention. Hard to believe someone would be stupid enough to plagiarize extensively from some of the very best known, best selling romance authors out there. Yet she got away with it long enough to plagiarize dozens of books and authors.

Good post about this at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

And then there’s the ridiculousness of lifting so much from so many places to assemble into one book. Imagine the work that goes into creating a new document, then taking portions of others, fitting them into the skeleton of some kind of narrative, and finding others to add in as well. Forget the mathematical calculations of how many tabs that would be in a browser. Why would someone do that? It seems like an astonishing amount of really, really dumb work and, as always, you’ll get caught.

It seems both clever, in a way — all that splicing must take such a lot of effort — and deeply, deeply stupid in a very obvious way; and I don’t understand why Serruya thought she could get away with this kind of massive plagiarism of so many extremely well-known authors. What can possibly be in the mind of someone who does this?

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One of my favorite Cruxshadows songs:

Today seems like a fine day to just mention one of my favorite songs by Cruxshadows, the group that, as you may recall, I fell in love with last year. I love their epic fantasy songs, but I love this one too, which they sing with great passion:

Roll out of bed, look in the mirror, and wonder who you are.
Another year has come and gone.
Today is your birthday, but it might be the last day of your life.
What will you do if tomorrow it’s all gone?

You won’t be young forever, 
It’s only a fraction to the sum.
You won’t be young forever, 
Nor will anyone.

So look at your life: who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, and what do you want to do?
So look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, you haven’t got forever.

And tell me what really matters, is it the money and the fame?
Or how many people might eventually know your name?
But maybe you touch one life, and the world becomes a better place to be.
Maybe you give their dreams another day, another chance to be free.

You won’t be young forever, 
It’s only a fraction to the sum.
You won’t be young forever, 
Nor will anyone.

So look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, and what do you want to do.
So look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, it all comes back to you.

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday!

You won’t be young forever, 
It’s only a fraction to the sum.
You won’t be young forever, 
Nor will anyone.

So look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, and what do you want to do.
So look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, it all comes back to you.

Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, what do you want to do?
Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, you haven’t got forever.

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Books covers that stand out amid the darkling crowd

Just got curious and browsed through a reasonable proportion of the 500+ covers of “2018 fantasy novels” at Goodreads. Huge percentage are dark, as expected, but a handful do stand out for being bright and featuring artwork rather than a clipart kind of look. Here are some that caught my eye:

I rather like it. Kind of a dreamy aura to it, appropriate for the title. I never have tried the Green Rider series. I see the first book is $2.99 for a Kindle copy. You know, why not. Sure, add it to the TBR pile.

Not so much a Tad Williams fan . . . probably I shouldn’t say that because I only ever read one book of his, so how should I know? It was Tailchaser’s Song and it fell flat for me because the cats were too much like furry little humans with claws; not remotely like actual cats as, for example, the rabbits in Watership Down read like actual rabbits.

I’ve never read anything else by him, so what do you all think of his books? Either way, this is a lovely cover.

I love this cover. Still haven’t read the novella, though. I read the first tiny bit and liked it. I wouldn’t mind having this in paper so I could turn it face out on the shelves and admire it. Lovely.

Great cover! I would pick this up in a heartbeat if I saw it in a store, even though it really kind of looks like it might be horror-tinged. Who did this cover? … Ah, it’s from DAW. Well, great job, DAW.

Let me see, here’s the description from Amazon:

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

Her siblings—a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia—will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?

That’s a very long, detailed description! But certainly I gather this is a novel with the flavors of Classical Rome, and maybe the shattered-tile look of the cover refers to the shattering of Rome itself. I mean Aven. Whatever. Looks like this book is the first in a trilogy.

Hmm, all right, here’s a quote from Kate Elliot: “‘Rome with magic’ turns out to be exactly the novel I wanted to read. The magic cleverly intertwines with religion, politics, and daily life. The characters appeal, especially the loving portrait of three loyal sisters. There are battles (of course), a budding love story of the illicit kind, some remarkably topical political maneuvering, an awareness of diverse layers of class and ethnicity, and a love of place that shines on the page.”

Now, the long description kind of gives me a maybe, maybe not kind of feeling, but this quote from Elliot makes me want to give it a try. I would probably wind up comparing everything about it to Gillian Bradshaw; as far as I’m concerned Bradshaw is the one to beat when it comes to Classical settings.

Okay, Amazon, send me a sample and we’ll see. This is another one I would be tempted to buy in paper so I could see the cover on my shelves.

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