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3.0 out of 5 stars romance more than fantasy, 6 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Lord of the White Hell (Paperback)
After the Potter series any fantasy claiming an academy as a setting is bound to see its originality questioned and possibly tarnished by the not necessarily splendid but surely hugely known fictional antecedent.

Now, Ms Hale may have taken some inspiration from that series but her world-building is so rich as to dispel any further charge as ridiculous. Her setting is complex and multi-faceted, so rich in fact that it is surprising she is willing to abandon it after only a two-volume series which is actually more like a single book cut in two -quite expensive- parts.

Those readers with some knowledge of European history might agree with me that she seems to choose Renaissance Spain as a basis for her kingdom. Not only the names of the characters and the toponyms are vaguely Spanish-sounding but the historical situation appears to be similar to that following the actual Reconquista. The Haldiim culture, matrilineal though it is, appears to be a mesh of the old Jewish and Arabic ones, minus the religion of course. Once again people names give more than just a hint: plurals in '-im' and surnames beginning with 'Kir', suspiciously similar in use to the Jewish 'ben' or Arabic 'ibn'.
The racial and religious controversies that she so deftly meshes into her plot, while reminding me of "Wicked Gentleman", do also remind me of that particular historical setting.
Of course Spanish Renaissance is only a start point and many details are added.

As main setting and primum movens plot device of the book our author uses the classical 'British' college.
British colleges/boarding schools are those obnoxious institutions that -used to?- herald themselves to the whole world as havens which teach their pupils honour while giving them a superior education while infact allowing shameless conducts, bullying and abuse even from the teachers.
Things are not any different here. The Sagrada academy is -in my eyes- a hellish place where weaker students are mercilessly bullied by fellow students while teachers keep both their eyes shut if they do not openly encourage such impardonable abuses. There is even more than a hint that those weaker students may be sexually abused as well and that in a society that officially condemns homosexuality both through church rules and official laws: once again the hypocrisy of British society irresistibly comes to mind.
My issue with this theme is that nobody seems to care. Even Kiram, who supposedly is an outsider, does not really care. Ms Hale shows him as determined to show the Cadeleonians his worth by graduating from that academy disregarding the plain fact that said academy had been better burned to the ground with most of its staff inside. Personally I would spend my time deciding how to better drip some nasty laxative into the abusive war master's wine and not trying to please him, but this might be me being Italian and passionate.

In my opinion this is an extremely weak point of this work's structure and should be amended with a revision.

The academy setting is of course conducive to interesting character interactions. Kiram and Javier have all the time in the world to get to know each other and some other fellow students. Ms Hale does not make the most of Kiram's 'otherness' but relationships are interesting nonetheless.

Academy aside there is precious little plot in this novel. I am told by other reviewers that things change in the second instalment but this first half might be properly described as a romance with some fantasy elements and as such it could disappoint epic-fantasy lovers.
There are a few graphic sex scenes and a constant underlying current of eroticism that permeates the behaviours of the leads. Homophobes should probably avoid this work.
The brothel scene seems to have irritated most readers. Personally I find it meaningful and entirely consistent with the psychologies involved: of course it is a disagreeable moment but it makes perfect sense.

Writing is generally good with a relevant standard improvement since the times of "Wicked Gentleman". Yet, here and there, some particularly blatant grammar mistake disrupts the reading experience.

Despite the full price being far to high for a kindle edition, I found this an enjoyable read and will delve into part two soon.
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