Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0681-7
Historical Fantasy Romance, 2010
Rebel is the standalone third book in Zoë Archer’s series The Blades of the Rose. You don’t have to read previous books in this series to figure out what is happening in this book, but take it from me: if you like swashbuckling action-paced romps with romance, danger, and mayhem with a dash of alternate reality magic, Zoë Archer is pretty much the go-to gal of the moment. At any rate, read my review of the first book Warrior if you are new to the series so that you can get a good idea of what I’d be talking about in this review.
It is 1875, although do bear in mind that this story takes place in an alternate reality. It’s not steampunk as there is more magic than machinery here, but the same principle applies: historical accuracy may not apply. This time around, we move to Team Jacob territory – the untamed wilderness of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Astrid Bramfield, a former Blade of the Rose, has made this region her home for the last few years. She lost her will to keep the fight going after her husband Michael died in her arms, killed by the Heirs of the Albion during a sojourn in Africa, and eventually she all but completely severs her ties with her past to live in isolation. But her past will soon catch up with her.
It all begins innocently. Astrid stumbles upon a dead trapper in the snow. The dead man turns out to be an actually wealthy city guy who for some reason came down to Victoria to play in the wild. Nathan Lesperance, a lawyer at the firm who represents the family of this man, comes down to Victoria to collect the man’s belongings. He meets Astrid, and while there is an instant attraction between them, things only intensify when the Heirs show up.
Nathan has no idea what is happening, but he soon falls into the clutches of the Heirs. Astrid discovers him, naked and bloodied with injuries, at her doorstep. She has no idea what is going on, but she knows that the Heirs have somehow discovered that Nathan is no ordinary human and they want him as well as the Source that they must be searching in this region. When the Heirs knock on her door, she and Nathan set out to discover the Source as well as to learn more of Nathan’s hitherto hidden legacy. What is this legacy, you ask? Well, I dropped a very blatant clue in the second paragraph of my review, although there are some major differences between Nathan and a certain Jacob Black.
Like the previous books in this series, Rebel is not your average angst-ridden story of leather-clad emo people. Perhaps this is the most obvious problem with this story. Nathan is a mixed native who, as a child, was forcibly removed from his family in a practice that eventually became known as the Sixties Scoop in the twentieth century. He was forcibly educated and assimilated into the white culture, but as you can imagine, he is never fully accepted by them even as he lose all connection to his people. He eventually fought his way to become the first native attorney. And, in this story, he learns that he is Jacob Black’s great-great grandfather and that magic exists in this world at the same time that he discovers that there are people out to get him, people who use magic. His reaction is to shrug the whole thing off and tell the heroine that he will now seek out his people, the Earth Spirits, and launch his own crusade against the people that tortured him. Angst? What angst? Line those buggers up and he’ll knock ’em down!
I don’t mind this admittedly implausible cheery never-say-die attitude of Nathan because this story is more about the adventure than the character introspection. Think of how Indiana Jones didn’t blink an eye when he discovered that he was seeking the Holy Grail. This is exactly the kind of hero Nathan is.
Astrid is the more emo character since she has closed her heart off after losing her husband, but she also pretty quickly moves on as she correctly understands that there are greater things at stake here than her heart should the Source fall into the hands of the Heirs. One really good thing about Astrid here is that she is a genuine woman of action. She is not someone who is just pretending to be kick-ass – she more than holds her own in the story. Initially I thought Ms Archer would do what most authors would do in her shoes: the villains have a female with them, so I assumed Astrid would have the token girl-on-girl fight with her while the brawny men whoop the Big Bad Villain. Much to my delight, Ms Archer spares no concessions for Astrid. She ends up meeting the Big Bad to settle an old score, and boy, does she make sure that all her chips are cashed in at the end of the day. Astrid kicks ass here.
And while there is not much angst here, there is however plenty of beautifully melodramatic passion and romance. Astrid and Nathan initially have a pretty predictable mate-mate-mate thing, but their relationship soon moves beyond that. Both characters realize that they have much in common, and not only that, by the last page, they are both willing to die for each other and, more importantly, willing to let each other go, even if temporarily, to save the world. It is easy to want to die for love, but it’s harder to trust and let go in the name of love. If that is the message Ms Archer is aiming for here, she has succeeded wonderfully.
The pacing of the story is fine, although the pace sags a little bit in the middle parts of the story. But boy, things heat up fabulously in the late third of the story as our main characters are swept up in the action. I actually lose track of the world around me by that point and I am so caught up in the excitement of the moment. While I may consider some developments late in the story as deus ex machina galore in another story, here Ms Archer sells me the whole premise wholesale with ease. I buy everything willingly and I want more, because I am having a total blast and I don’t want the party to end. Being on Team Jacob is never this enjoyable, I tell you.
The villains could be more menacing or capable, but like I’ve said, Ms Archer makes it so easy for me to buy everything she is selling. Are there flaws in this story? Oh yes. But do I care? Ask me again when my blood slows down to a more steady rate.
I also have to hand it to Ms Archer – I know I am being baited into waiting for the next book, which should be at my doorstep later this month thanks to Book Depository, but I don’t care. The hero of the next book is an unusual kind of action hero-cum-nerd that is just my type, and I can’t wait for his story.
Back to Rebel, it is simply so much fun to read that a part of me wonders whether it is illegal for a book to be this entertaining. At any rate, if you like non-stop action, action hero and heroines who love dramatically and passionately even as they laugh in the face of danger, and more, take a look at this one. And take a look at the two books that came before this one as well. Seriously, you know me, I don’t praise things this effusively on a daily basis, so when I get this worked up, there is definitely something wicked fabulous about this book as well as the series up to this point.