The GenreAdventure, magic, steampunk
The PlotFrom Amazon:
“Richly inventive and breathlessly paced, this variation on the old "around the world" race theme surpasses Volsky's earlier acclaimed fantasy The White Tribunal in deft characterizations and sly, wry wit. Tottering on the brink of war, the Vonahr republic watches uneasily as Grewzland's "vainglorious mystic" imperior Ogron blitzes his unprepared neighbors. The traditionally neutral Low Herz, however, ruled by Ogron's womanizing dilettante cousin, Miltzin IX, possesses a fantastic new magical weapon with a mind of its ownDthe green Sentient Masterfire. When Miltzin decrees an international race called "The Grand Ellipse" for the wealth and status of a Herzian barony, luscious Vonahrish bluestocking Luzelle Devaire accepts her government's secret commission: win the race, convince the lascivious Miltzin to sell Masterfire to Vonahr, and thus annihilate Grewzland's militaristic threat for good. She also hopes to escape the life of genteel wifely servitude that her domineering father has arranged for her. As feisty and resourceful as her Victorian ancestors, Luzelle finds herself drawn to her two chief rivals, the elegant Vonahrish ex-Marquis Girays v'Alisante, her former fianc , and the noble Grewzian Overcommander Karsler Stornzof, product of the mystical Promontory, where honor counts more than life's blood itself. Although Volsky's well-crafted novel uses the traditional quest format common in fantasies, Luzelle and her admirers provide thrilling entertainment for readers of all genres as they hurtle from one narrow escape to another. Brimming with vibrant, exotic settings and Volsky's knack for utterly convincing dialogue (impeded only slightly by contorted consonants in proper names), this lively adventure makes for unflagging reading enjoyment that should appeal to a wide swath of SF and fantasy fans.”
The ReviewTo try and cut it short, the synopsis. This is a world MUCH like during the Victorian era except there are magic and other things you wouldn't find at the time. The world here is also at war, one that resembles WWI & II.
Luzelle, the heroine, comes from the nation of Vonahr [this would be your England] and she is most def a bluestocking. She lectures, she goes on adventures, she writes books. The shock! Her father is a prominent member of the society and is dead against this. In fact, he disowns her because she refuses to "act like a proper lady", stop doing what she wants and marry.
At this time, the government approaches her because the nation of Grewzland [Germany, duh, lol] is slowly but surely taking over the world and is close to declaring war on them as well. Their only hope is a new weapon developed by the king of Low Herz. The problem is that the nation has always been neutral [Switzerland] and they will have nothing to do with anyone. The king, in fact, is preoccupied with his Grand Ellipse, a race round the world, so to speak.
The government wants Luzelle to enter the Grand Ellipse and win at all costs because the winner gets an audience with the king, something that doesn't happen often. The reason for sending a woman is that the king is a womanizer and Luzelle is very good looking.
At first she is shocked and wants to object but her money will run out in less than half a year and then she will have to go back to her father and get married. Not wanting to give up her independence she accepts.
Now, the book focuses mostly on the race, which is very much a type of Around the World in 80 Days except, IMO, much better. To say that this book was enthralling is the understatement of the year. I couldn't put it down as the racers go from one heart-stopping adventure to the next. There is much action because the world IS at war so there is danger lurking everywhere. Not to mention the fact that someone is trying, and succeeding, to take out the competition one by one. Oh and, one of the best things about the book, the characters are simply delightful.
One of the best things about this book is the writing. If this is any indication of most of Mrs. Volsky's work then I am awe because the woman has a way with words. Everything is lush and so well described you feel you are right there smack in the middle of it all. Her world building is amazing, and her characters are to die for and some of the best ever!
First of all there are two heroes. One is another Vonahrian like Luzelle, non other than the very elegant, very debonair Marquis Girays v'Alisante, who happens to be her ex-fiancé. Mehehehe.
The other, and my favorite of the two by far, is the Grewzian Overcommander Karsler Stornzof.
Karsler is just larger than life but so well depicted you do believe he is very much real. Paula outdid herself with this one.
Karsler is a young [around Luzelle's age which would be 25] Overcommander who is more like a hero or a god even among the enemies of the Grewzian Imperium. His sense of honor, his deportment in battle, his courage, the way he just exudes a quiet confidence, his very presence is the stuff legends are made of. He is a hero in his own nation since he has led his troops to victory more times than anyone cares to count. He has a strict code of honor that even his enemies can't deny. In war, or out of it, he plays fair and by the rules. He takes no pride in defeating others. In fact, everything he does he takes as his duty and simply something he must do.
It also helps that; in a nation of white, blonde blue-eyed people he seems to be the most gorgeous thing ever. He also is completely unaware of the fact and the effect he has on people, male or female. Basically he doesn't understand what the fuss is all about. After all, and unlike what everyone says, he is human.
You wouldn't know it because the man is damn near perfect and you don't get tired of hearing that he is like a god, or a hero, or the countless other things everyone talks about him.
Why? Because Paula makes it work. His actions speak so much louder than words you can't help but root for the man even if you like the Marquis, who does have his own merits, better. Karsler, without so much as even trying, blows the competition right out of the water.
Marquis Girays v'Alisante is also another character which very much impressed me. I was expecting some cocky, self-righteous prick [as nobles are bound to be] but I was pleased this wasn't so. At first this is somewhat the idea you get but the more you see of Girays the more you understand him. He is also very honorable and he is very much a nobleman. As Luzelle explains, it's not that he tries, it's just that his breeding is very much apparent in his character and manners even when he is looking very much like a beggar [you have to read the book, that part is hilarious]
I also thought it was too cute and funny the way that, at first, Girays is jealous of Karsler. Competing with a legend isn't easy and Girays figures sooner or later Karsler will drop his heroic act but this isn't so and I LOVED the interaction and, later on, bonding of the two characters. It's not everyday you get two perfectly amazing heroes that manage to get splendidly along. They really do act like adults and not like the so often encountered heroes who will try to one-up each other.
The sad part of this excellent piece of art is, like always, the heroine. Luzelle starts out OK but she goes from bad to worse.
It's the usual lamentable downfall of the "independent" heroine. Luzelle is convinced, because of her strict father that she can and will take care of herself. She is an adult and she doesn't need a man, which is fine except she gets herself into trouble over and over because of her childish notions of "independence" and ends up being rescued by men more times that I can remember.
At times, I am not ashamed to say, I found myself wanting something bad to happen to her just so she would see how reckless and selfish her actions were.
Instead of being grateful half the time she is mad because "she can take care of herself". Even when she does recognize that the men helped her she still doesn't hesitate to leave them behind when the opportunity arises. This would be OK since this IS a race and there is much at stake but not when the men have literally risked their lives to help her. She could have returned the favor by sticking around and helping.
Fortunately, as I said, everything else is so exquisite that the TSTL heroine doesn't ruin the novel. In fact, the interactions between her and the two heroes are pure delight. Especially with Girays since they had a less than amicable breakup right before their wedding.
The love that Girays, and even Karsler, have for her makes you like her most of the time. It's only when she is on her own and almost towards the end of the novel that she gets on your nerves but, by this time you are so into the race, the love triangle, and the perfection that are Girays and Karsler than you can afford not to care and skip a few paragraphs.
The VerdictI can’t recommend this book enough. It has something for everyone: action, adventure, romance, and marvelous settings, amazing characters. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while.
A 4.8 out of 5!