Let's cut to the chase: If you want to see how to do romance and excellent fantasy worldbuilding, you want Elizabeth Vaughan's "Chronicles of the Warlands" or her "Epic of Palins" series. Those books have excellent worldbuilding, making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, while keeping everything consistent and the story compelling.
As an aside to my pagan friends: Yeah, if you haven't already guessed, just keep walking.
I was asked to review this book by a friend, who, to his credit, forewarned me. If he hadn't, the rather long author's note on the Amazon page defending the book would have. And if I ignored both of those, the cover's WordArt style lettering would have. It's not quite Lousy Book Covers level, but definitely not the work of someone who has done a lot of graphic design.
If it seems like I'm spending a lot of time on the cover, that's because I could only make it five chapters into this hot mess of a book. The freaking thing starts with a seventy-nine word long sentence. And what's worse, it's exposition. We get lots of irrelevant details about how our protagonist bought this house, and a completely trite comparison between "Valarie" and "Valkyria".
So, worldbuilding. We establish early on that Val knows geography, and her friend doesn't. Yet Val doesn't blink an eye at her friend's suggestion that they vacation in a location that Val has never heard of. And of course, they only have air service from Oslo, Reykjavik, and Miami.
Yeah, you fans of Norse religions, you caught that spelling of Valar in our protagonist's name, but for some freaking reason they're headed to somewhere in the Bahamas. Or Bermuda Triangle.
As our protagonist boards the plane, she gets hints that clothes are not exactly a welcome thing in Valkyria (which would, of course, surprise both the Valar and the Valkyries), and that men are at best second class citizens.
There's five things that bother me about this bit (which seriously takes up chapters two through the beginning of five):
1. It's stated that men tried to have a revolution a while back. If you have a mystically isolated area (like, oh, Avalon), the idea that this escaped the notice of Fox News and the MRA/men's rights asshats makes sense. If, instead, you set up an active tourism industry, there'd be fedora-wearing jerks complaining all the time about the restrictions to men.... which would have brought all of this to Val's attention.
2. As is revealed by chapter five, all these women are exceptionally old, but look young. But nobody notices. The biggest problem interacting with the mundane world is that the naked passengers on the plane have to cover up in Miami. Again, there's apparently diplomatic relations, because our protagonist has to get a passport and the like. Sooooooooooooooo... what the hell? Nobody in the mundane world clued in to that?
3. Val is repeatedly shocked - SHOCKED I tell you - that there's nudity. It got kind of old kind of quick. Nudity in the brochure! Oh my! Nudity on the plane! Oh dear! Nudity of the woman in front of me! My stars! ::eyeroll::
4. Apparently the best way the whole place of Valkyria could figure out to deal with the "men's uprising" was to make it law that everyone doesn't wear pants and expose their genitals. We will come back to this.
5. It is freaking infuriating that it's not only implied but expressly written into the plot that naked women means lots of lesbian sex. While I can suspend disbelief enough to get by an individual's awakening of sexual urges they never admitted before, this is that fantasy writ large to encompass (apparently) all women. It's just... it reads like a straight person who is titillated by the idea of being bi-curious trying to write erotica. Sexual orientation just doesn't work like that, and even writing erotica that pretends otherwise is frustrating at best.
Again, this book - or at least as far as I could tolerate reading it - sounds like the writings of a straight person who has never actually talked to LGBT people, let alone been in a LGBT relationship. Further, the bits about the "men's uprising" is not only sexist, it's out-and-out anti-feminist and definitely anti-trans. To quote:
While the bulk of these laws restricted the freedoms of men, they in turn would have the greatest impact on the women of Valkyria by technically being the opposite of restrictive. In order to make sure that men would never again be able to dress up as women in public to carry out their nefarious plans, the Mandatory Public Exposure Laws were enacted.Yes, that's right, women. You're free by being forced to leave your genitals exposed. (Hint: SocImages has a post for you)
All women may no longer restrict visual sight of their Blessings of Womanhood. The blessed wombs and supple breasts that clearly separate women from men may no longer be concealed in public by any means, be they by clothing, hair, contraption, or otherwise.Did I not mention that? Oh, yeah, you totally have to shave your nethers. And if you're not clearly identified as a female, I guess you're the second-class citizen that is "male", even if you're trans, intersexed, and so on.
Again, do I have anything against a bit of erotica where a person experiences an "awakening" of their latent but repressed urges, regardless what those urges are? Hell no.
Do I have a problem with a book that is casually homophobic, transphobic, anti-feminist, and just does a horrible job of world-building in service of a typically straight sexual fantasy?
Maybe, somehow, this book manages to correct course after I stopped reading it. I'm simply glad that it was discounted to free; that way I'm only out the time I spent reading as far as I could.