Book Review – The House of the Four Winds

Title: The House of the Four Winds

Author: Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2014

As I’ve said before, I am a long-time fan of Mercedes Lackey, and I loved her previous collaborations with James Mallory (The Obsidian Mountain, The Enduring Flame, The Dragon Prophecy [full disclosure: I haven’t finished this series yet]), so I was fully expecting to adore this book.

I was disappointed. The world-building was very weak, the characters were unbelievable, and the main villain of the story isn’t introduced until half-way through. (And, while I can’t blame the authors for this, the official dust-jacket gives away the first 2/3 of the plot.)

The book starts interestingly enough, laying out the framework for the series – the Duke and Duchess of Swansgaarde have twelve daughters and one son, and are unable to provide dowries for them all. Therefore, on each of their eighteenth birthdays, the Princesses must go out into the world to make their own way. The book specifies that each has been trained in a “trade” of some sort since the age of ten, in case the Duchy is overthrown and they must hide in plain sight, and Clarice (the oldest daughter and the heroine of the book) has chosen the sword. (Perhaps I’ve just spent too much time listening to my mother go “get a degree in something useful” but I couldn’t really buy that her parents really thought that one through.)

So Clarice becomes Clarence and heads off to have adventures. She ends up on a ship and we’re treated to learning the ins-and-outs of ship work (since she’s never been on one before) and then she joins in a mutiny against the cruel captain (all of which is detailed in the summary). Arriving at the pirate haven, they are set a task to retrieve a mysterious magical object, which brings the villain into the picture.

There often appear to be so many obstacles in their way throughout the story, however they mostly seem to resolve without Clarice having to act to fix them. She’s an observer rather than actively involved.

The romance in the story should be central to the plot (as it resolves one of the plot points), however it ends up more incidental – Clarice falls in love with Dominic, and he starts to develop (while never suspecting that she’s female and not male), Clarice’s secret is reveal, and then they confess their love.

Clarice herself is a character that is hard to buy – she’s naive in many ways, but always seems to know what to do and doesn’t make many mistakes (she doesn’t bore full-stream ahead the way many teens/young adults tend to), and if she has to ability to do something that seems unusual, it’s blamed on her Princess training in one manner or another. It would have been nice to see her get into a situation where she flounders and actually feels over her head, or in a situation where she actually makes an incorrect choice and has to learn from it. (I also didn’t get the feel of the oldest of thirteen from her – based on the little snippets we get, she is close with her family, and yet there is no “my sisters would love this” or “I must remember to tell so-and-so about this” or “such and such reminded her of her sisters.”)

Dominic is a very bland character – while we get his history and backstory, it’s all filtered through Clarice. With that filter, he’s all kind, willing to listen, handsome/charming, etc, but we don’t see what really lies underneath, what really drives him, and as a consequence, there’s really very little subsistence to him.

(My favorite character, to be honest, is the ship’s doctor, but I apparently have a thing for crabby characters with hearts of gold.)

There are quite a few elements that are introduced that seem to either go nowhere or like they should have gotten more fleshed out in the backstory (like the brooch Clarice gets for her birthday. What’s the point of specifying that it will always guide her home if she NEVER USES THAT FEATURE? I’m hoping that one comes up in a later book), and, as I said earlier, weak world-building. You get a lot of country names thrown at you with very little to distinguish them from each other, and though the magic is explained, it’s not necessarily delved into (to be fair, this is likely because the second daughter will focus on the magic as her “trade”).

Despite the (apparently many) problems I had with the book, I enjoyed the story for the most part. The pacing had a few problems, but once the action actually started, I flew through the remaining pages, and I will certainly pick up the second book whenever it is released.

3/5 pages

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