Barney Award for hottest and most drool-worthy male love interest:
Yay, it’s Ladies’ Day at the Barneys! I don’t read straightforward romances, so this is not a category that would normally cross my mind for a best-of-the-year award. Most of the main characters I’ve been reading about lately have been either gloriously unredeemed bastards (yes, Jorg, I’m looking at you), or women (erm, not really my type), or not actually human (seriously not my type). Even the heroic warriors and fireball-hurling wizards tended to be deeply flawed and conflicted and (how shall I put this) not exactly cute. And honestly, it’s not a problem. I don’t read fantasy and scifi to drool over the male lead, waiting for the heroine to realise how wonderful he is. I’m more an ‘on with the battle!’ or ‘where are the dragons?’ sort of reader. But sometimes an author takes me by surprise, and in addition to the battle/dragons/totally cool magicky stuff or fancy technology, there’s a bloke that makes me go weak at the knees.
Andrea K Höst is one of my favourite authors, (yes, she got a mention in the 5 Self-Published Gems post, too) and catching up with her Touchstone trilogy (Stray, Lab Rat One, Caszandra) was a highlight of the year. It’s YA – but don’t let that put you off – and is sort-of scifi, but very close to the border with fantasy. Almost-eighteen year old Cass is walking home from her suburban school one day after her last exam before graduation when – pop! – she finds herself in the middle of a not-Earth forest, with no way back. For a while, she is on her own, surviving as best she can. Then some super-ninja soldier types from a technologically advanced society turn up and rescue her, and discover that she causes all sorts of weird effects in their world.
It’s always fun watching the inevitable culture clash, but the author, as always, avoids the cliches. The way she shows the development of Cass’s language skills, in particular, is masterful. Cass is smart, and funny, and so, so likeable. Then there’s love interest Ruuel, who’s fit, and perfectly honed, and laconic to the point of terseness, and so not my type but awesomely hot… It takes the best part of two books before he sees Cass as a person, rather than a military weapon. The plot is clever and vividly memorable, and would have kept me turning the pages even without the attractions of the two leads. All three books in this series were pure undiluted pleasure. I was slightly drunk on the enjoyment of it, and hey – no calories, no falling over and no hangover afterwards. Just a great big smile.
As a bonus, I even have a runner-up for you in this category: The Conspiracy by Erica Dakin. This is another book I encountered by chance, this time on Goodreads. The author mentioned in a post that she wrote hot fantasy romances featuring half-elves. Well, my mother always told me to read widely and broaden my mind… This is the second in the Theft and Sorcery series. The romance between Sita and Kai is perfectly believable, the obstacles (an essential component of any romance) were realistic, even the instant attraction was nicely done. And Kai was one of the most charming heroes I’ve ever encountered, with none of the smug arrogance that so often characterises the male lead these days. There were moments when Sita was pushing him away and I was muttering: look, if you don’t want him, dear, send him my way. You just don’t find blokes as nice as that too often. The sex was well written without being over the top, and there were some moments of pure romance that were perfectly lovely (sigh…). The world-building and plot were entertainingly enjoyable, even without the other… erm, attractions of the book. Recommended for anyone who enjoys their fantasy fun and fast-paced, with a hefty dollop of sex thrown in.
Footnote: These books are self-published gems. I posted about some of my other finds of 2013 here.