Jump to content

Recommended Posts


The Nightborn

by Isabel Cooper
April 27, 2021 · Sourcebooks Casablanca
Fantasy/Fairy Tale RomanceRomance

The Nightborn is just a whole heap of fun, and was precisely what I was in the mood for this week. It straddles the genres of high fantasy and romance, and balances these elements beautifully, providing both a satisfying romance and a nicely twisty high fantasy plot.

Branwyn is a Sentinel, a magically-enhanced warrior bound to a spirit sword and tasked with fighting demons and other monsters. She is sent on an errand of diplomacy to Heliodar, to warn them that an ancient evil has risen again, and to petition them to form an alliance against him. Her mission is met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm by the High Lord and his council (even the one with the nice biceps and intelligent eyes), but she is invited to stay while they make their decision.

Our hero, Zelen, is a member of the High Council, and the youngest member of a noble family, but his vocation is healing. Forbidden by his family to become one of Letar’s healing priests, he has instead joined forces with Altien, one of the tentacled waterfolk, to open a charity medical clinic in the poorer part of town. But he is concerned about Branwyn’s news, and also wants to know what she is up to (plus, she is very pretty), so he befriends her.

And then a very large number of things start happening, because, well, Branwyn wasn’t wrong about the ancient evil, and neither it nor its allies want her mission to succeed. There are swords, spellcasters, Gods, monsters, magical artefacts, murders, and betrayals. I won’t spoil the plot, because it’s too much fun for that, but it’s a nicely adventurous high fantasy.

In contrast to the extremely dramatic plot, the romance between Branwyn and Zelen is enjoyable and very low in angst (no time for angst when you are fighting demons!). Branwyn and Zelen are both quite straightforward people. They are intelligent and honorable, kind and practical, and so it makes sense that their romance is also quite straightforward. They are attracted to each other at first sight, and regard and respect rapidly follow. By the time they have fought a few monsters and rescued a few people together, they are a solid team, and nothing keeps them apart for more than a handful of pages. And honestly, I appreciated that enormously. There was enough mayhem and murder and malevolent magic going on in the book that it didn’t need any other sources of tension. I was worried at times about whether Branwyn and Zelen would survive the narrative, but I was never worried about their relationship. Branwyn and Zelen together were my safe place in this book.

Fantasy romance is tricky, because you have to balance the two genres carefully or it just doesn’t work. If the romance dominates, the fantasy setting can become nothing more than a backdrop for the plot; if the fantasy dominates, the romance can easily be reduced to instalust. The Nightborn did a really good job of balancing these elements, but in doing so, it did rely a little more heavily than I’d prefer on existing narrative tropes or worldbuilding ideas. I do think it used them well, and I really liked the world and the people (and creatures) that was created, but I wanted just a little bit more.

(Writing this review did make me think about the different standards I have in my head for romance and for fantasy. I like my romance predictable, to a point – if I am given two protagonists at the start of the story, I want them to be together and happy by the end of it. The interesting part is how they get to that happy ever after, but the destination itself is no mystery. But if I’m reading straight-up fantasy, I want to be surprised by both the journey and the destination. It’s definitely a conundrum.)

Having said that, girl meets boy, girl and boy join forces to overcome the forces of world-destroying evil (while also finding time to have fantastic sex), girl and boy live happily ever after, is an awesome plot when it’s done right, and it is definitely done right here. I thoroughly enjoyed The Nightborn, and there’s a good chance it’s going to become one of my comfort reads in the future.

View the full article

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 0
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Stephen King's War on Plot

An Algonkian Success Story

  • Create New...