I loved the fantasy romance novella Archer’s Sin. It had a great lead character, nice world building in a small space, and a great romance. Its only flaws were that it was too rushed and felt like a chapter in a longer work instead of a full, self-contained story.
Archer’s Sin is about two archers, Nalica and Justien, who meet in the big city at an archery tournament. They are both competing to win the tournament. The prize includes a position with the city guard, and both Nalica and Justien are desperate for work. This novella is part of the Hearts and Thrones Series.
Both Nalica and Justien have to deal with being outsiders, since they are both from rural provinces, but Nalica has a greater obstacle in being accepted by her fellow competitors and by the tournament officials because she is a woman. Only Justien respects her, but he is also her competitor. As the conclusion of the tournament approaches, Nalica and Justien become increasingly attracted to each other, but with only one position in the guard being open, there doesn’t seem to be any future for them as a couple.
The novella works well because it takes a setting of epic fantasy and focuses on a fairly small event. It helps make the larger world seem solid, connects us to the lives of regular people, and is a story that can play out fully with a small word count. There’s nothing epic about the archery tournament, but for Nalica and Justien the stakes are high, and we as readers are drawn into how badly they each want to win.
Nalica is a compelling main character. It’s refreshing that she knows exactly what she wants. She’s out of place and feels embarrassed and vulnerable, but keeps a core of confidence in both her skills and herself. Justien wins us over easily by accepting Nalica. Like Nalica, he’s confident and knows what he wants, and he’s too confident to need to condescend to his competition. I liked it that at a pivotal moment he does a very honorable thing, and I believed it not only because it’s in keeping with his character, but also because it takes him a minute to get there. He’s not so noble that he’s too good to be true – he’s a realistically noble person, one that has to take a second to figure out what’s going on and what he should do about it before he leaps into action.
Another thing this story handles well is the sex. I’ve gotten pretty jaded about sex scenes. Some are wonderful, some are terrible, and most are workmanlike – there’s only so many ways you can describe sex without it becoming repetitive. But some writers excel at making a sex scene realistic, erotic, and relationship and character building at the same time. This is one of those scenes. It’s awkward, tender, and sexy, and has a real role to play in developing the story. The two characters become intimate in every sense of the word – they talk about birth control and their nerves, they find out how to relax and care for each other (he likes a back rub, she likes to have her hair brushed and she likes a back rub, too) and oh, yeah – they have terrific orgasms. The sex is sexier because consent is so carefully established with each step. Their verbal and non-verbal communication is beautifully in sync. By the end of that scene, they are a closer couple than they were before – it’s very powerfully done.
Even the cover is pretty good, considering that this is a self-published novella. Granted, the cover shows a woman in fancy jewelry with her hair down and with fancy jewelry, both of which are wildly out of character for Nalica. And I don’t understand that fur thing she has on either – it looks uncomfortable. She ought to have an arm guard and her form is a little weird, nitpick, nitpick. What I do like is that the woman on the cover clearly means business. It’s not a boobs-and-butts pose, she’s not tilting her hips or making out with the camera – she’s there to do some damn archery, not show you her cleavage. She has Things To Do.
The only problem with the book is that it wraps up very abruptly. Suddenly there’s a marriage proposal out of nowhere, and I went, “What, now? Really?” I mean, it’s clear that Nalica and Justien are meant to be, but still, that’s FAST. Then there’s a sudden HEA solution to all problems that comes out of the blue, and…we’re done. It’s a common novella problem and it drives me crazy every time.
Archer’s Sin suffers from a rushed ending, hence the B+ instead of an A. But it does accomplish something very important – it makes me want to read the whole series. Seriously – I want to drop everything and read it right now! I’m intrigued by the setting and the cultures, I’m intrigued by the characters, and I’m excited about the overall strong quality of the writing. The only bummer is that the other books aren’t about Nalica. I’ll miss her!