Okay, there is no other way to say this except for I loved it. I say a lot in reviews that authors write short stories like they are writing larger stories so they feel incomplete. This happens a lot instead of them accepting it’s a short story and choosing to zoom in on one source of focus and sticking with it. This book does just that and with the added splash of romance it rounds out really nice.
The pacing of the intro is handled well. We are introduced to the resident mage Kohar who is trying to work but there’s commotion about the castle. What this does is set up the action/tension for the storyline of the book while simultaneously giving us character development for both Kohar and even the characters not in the room as his annoyance builds and he thinks about them as well. Then to further increase this the author manages to get the three leads, Kohar, Nevek head of the guard and Solla, his apparently dreamy cousin. I say apparently because even a blind person can see Nevek is the hot one but I digress. By getting all three together so quickly and having them interact over the commotion that’s happening before daylight, the author very swiftly and sufficiently lays down more than enough information about each character and how they should behave as the book continues. It was very efficient first chapter plotting.
After that, the flow is still well laid out. The clues to the murders come at the right point. Information is usually dropped while other things are going on keeping the plot going both on and off-page. Also, even though short stories are very compact so there’s little room to breathe, it didn’t feel rushed. If something happened in the plot, a revelation of some kind, then the time it took to connect that piece was far enough away for a short story that, had this been a bigger story, I sense would’ve been by ratio equally spaced if further apart.
What I also like is that the author didn’t go for some sort of main character being stupid enough to succumb to the evil. None of the characters are written to be that unintelligent so, without giving it away, if Kohar had fallen too it would’ve probably taken this down to two stars. I can see, based on plot and character development, that almost anyone could fall prey but the mage would’ve been way too easy and felt forced. As it was how his ‘mistake’ was handled made sense. I was honestly surprised it went let’s say the ‘annoyance route’ instead of ‘the blinded’ route. It was refreshing.
The romance. All sorts of fun. It’s nice when a character is oblivious to something but you can actually see this being real. Again based on character design, I can surmise the signs of this romance were not obvious before or had serious obstacles thus leading to Kohar being so clueless without the need for it to be shown. Mostly because sometimes tension is just that, tension. Especially when it’s combative tension that ends in mutual respect because you live in the same castle and have to get along. So when it plays out and meets its ultimate end Kohar saying you have to come right out and say it made so much sense considering how Kohar actually found out. And the best thing about their back and forths was that instead of it going away and turning into this mush fest of insta-love, you get the insta-love with them both staying true to their before relationship characters. I laughed more after than I did before. That’s a win.
Even though I knew from the moment there was a hand touch who the villain was, and I know most readers will too but I’m still not saying it 😜, if I hadn’t known the slow reveal was definitely handled well as it allowed the author time to place our cast together just long enough to keep the character development growing without bogging the story down with useless details. This kept things tight yet informative and held its pace until when the victim was revealed. It didn’t drag on after. There was no annoying hero monologue questioning things from the villain at the end. The villain’s fate was sealed and that was that. Seriously a lot of my triggers were absent from this short and a lot of things, almost all really, that I wish people would embrace about short story framework were here. But this paragraph was supposed to be about the romance payoff 🤦♂️
After good villain capturing and not lingering on it unnecessarily the romance finally hits its peak as well. I was so worried looking at the pages left that one of those annoying we have to see the villain again, there must be closure, or some sort of twist ending was coming and (suffering from anxiety) had a minor panic attack that this might end up being a 2star review. I’ve read enough short stories, and romances in general, to know that with a quarter of a book left anything, mostly stuff I don’t like, is possible. But nothing happened other than letting the characters enjoy what they couldn’t because of the murders.
The real win he was allowing the main plot of the murders to shine through and, as in real life, human interactions happen. Life must go on so even though there’s a romantic subplot it never gets enough steam to overshadow the main focus while still being just bright enough so you don’t forget that at its end there will be some fun. The low level of angst is a big help here because once there’s all that romance angst it pretty much always overshadows any attempt at real plot development and for greedy people like me a low drumming almost hidden but not quite romance angle lets me have a real story with that teasing promise of payoff without the forced drama, and overly used miscommunication and jumping to conclusion tropes romance is full of.
The only fault for this book was that since it was in third person it could’ve gotten away with dipping out into Neveks POV just for the capture of the villain. But, considering how the story was laid out, though I’d usually suggest adding more the difference here is the story doesn’t feel incomplete. Since this story didn’t try to do too much and gives you all you need for the immediate situation, doesn’t bog you down with access backstory or history, doesn’t dwell longer than it needs to on any particular plot point, it’s more a want than a need. The story is fine without it. Unless a short story feels incomplete unfinished or unresolved and gives a trying to be bigger than it is feel more is not necessary. There are lots of things we may feel we want if we really like a story but need and want aren’t the same.
That’s my takeaway here.
This book had the mystery, had the suspense, had the character growth, and the plot came to a nice end and after that end, there was a smooth resolve into completion. This book shines by not trying to be more than a short story and still managing to give you a good bit of information on all the characters to know how they fit in and how they got into the space relevant to the present-day situation. And, really, that’s all you need. The rest are extras. In my opinion, this did exactly what a short story should and did it well. That may not be enough for some but this is a short story. There are longer books out there if that’s what you’re looking for. I loved this and I’m definitely reading the next in this series.