The Mark of the Tala – a marked disappointment

talaThe Mark of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy
Kensington, June 2014 (Romantic Fantasy)*

My rating:  The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed (1/5)

I only finished this book because I wanted to find out how the romance between the star-crossed lovers evolved. Throughout the whole, I spent much of it skimming. In the end, I could not like this book. The writing, the plotting, and the pacing all fell short of my expectations.

It starts off a bit awkwardly – with the three beautiful princesses, each more beautiful than the last. I would expect this kind of element in a story based on the fairy/folktale traditions, but given that this one wasn’t, it didn’t really fit.

This first installment of course focuses on the middle child, Andi, who is supposed to be lacking in some way, always overlooked (the first is the future ruler, the smart one, the politically-minded one; the third is the most beautiful, and the most frivolous). Each of the three is a daughter of a woman from across a magical barrier – a woman from a shapeshifting people, the Tala.

The worldbuilding was intriguing, with two warring nations, one mysterious and magical. I enjoyed that the High King, Andi’s father, is not a good king, but only has the propaganda machines to present him as a good king. But that falls apart later, when he refuses to give up his child to his rivals, the magical shapeshifters, in return for a bargain made long ago. He married her mother, and in return, his daughter was to marry the Talas’ king. Although he despises Andi, because she is very like her mother, he insists on breaking the treaty. He does not even try to make it seem like the Tala broke the bargain – instead, he stubbornly refuses, provoking invasion and war. This clumsy plotting made little sense, and was barely rectified in an explanation near the end of the novel.

The pacing relied heavily on lengthy descriptive passages and indecision by the protagonists – as did the romance. To draw out the suspense, Andi waffles, supposedly torn between her love for her sisters and her growing restlessness. In reality, she is afraid – and frankly, her fear left me bored. Further, her indecision leads to nearly disastrous consequences, avoided only because her intended is softhearted (though he’s supposed to be a ruthless, “animalistic” shapeshifter). She is drawn to her fiance, but at the same time afraid of her own reaction to him. Her sudden capitulation makes little sense. Andi’s indecision, and her fiance’s forbearance and compassion, unrealistically prolonged the drama while postponing resolution.

Ultimately, although I felt this story had great potential before I read it, the writing style, the clumsy plotting, and the ponderous pacing ruined the tale for me.

*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Better Reads

For a much more engaging, witty romantic fantasy involving multiple kingdoms and the odd shapeshifter, check out Lynn Kurland‘s Nine Kingdoms series, starting with Star of the Morning, in which practical swordswoman Morgan discovers magic, destiny, and romance.

Star of the Morning (Nine Kingdoms #1)

Madeline Howard‘s (also known as Teresa Edgerton) Rune of Unmaking series involves more complex and realistic plotting, as well as more intricate political intrigue.

The Hidden Stars (The Rune of Unmaking #1)

If you like shapeshifters, particularly werewolves that shift fully into wolves and back to human (without the wolfman creature), and historical fantasy, you may enjoy Alice Borchardt‘s classic Legends of the Wolf series, set in ancient Rome:

The Silver Wolf (Legends of the Wolf #1)

In Jennifer Roberson‘s Tiger and Del series, the fantastical adventures of swordsman and swordswoman who come from opposite and conflicting cultures demonstrate complex relationships between individuals and nations. In the first novel, Del, a focused and driven swordswoman searches for her younger brother who was enslaved by Tiger’s people, when she runs into Tiger, an ebullient and irrepressible former slave.

The Novels of Tiger and Del, Volume I

 

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