The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.
Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.
Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.
Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
The House of Four Winds is a pleasing YA adventure tale with a touch of (very chaste) romance and more than a dash of Pirates of the Caribbean-style excitement.
The book gets off to a bit of a slow start; the prologue and first chapter feel a little stilted and contrived, although they do provide some necessary background. Once Clarice/Clarence is aboard ship, however, the pace picks up quite nicely.
The book is set in an analog of our own world, probably in the late 1700s. It’s history is similar to but not identical to our own, particularly regarding Central Europe, the strength of various empires, and control of the New World. It’s a world in which magic exists but is expensive and not widely used among common folk. Many place names have been changed, in some cases rather unecessarily. Britain becomes Albion, for instance, and London’s river is the Temese instead of the Thames. On the other hand, since its political history clearly differs from our own, some names must be different: the Hispalides instead of the Caribbean, New Hesperia instead of North America.
Most of the novel takes place on board ship. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are clearly a strong influence, especially in the second half of the book, but Lackey and Mallory’s research into seafaring “stuff” seems pretty solid to this landlubber – especially the scenes involving the captain and first mate’s cruelty and the crew’s eventual mutiny (which I suspect owe a strong debt to Mutiny on the Bounty.) Later, Clarice and her companions encounter a number of pirates, some fictional, one or two based on real individuals, most notably Edward Teach (Blackbeard).
Clarice is well-drawn, and both she and the main secondary character, Dominick, do grow somewhat through the novel. Dominick and some of the other secondary characters feel realistic, but overall the characterization is not deep. I particularly liked Dr. Chapman, the ship’s medic, as well as Clarice, Dominick, and an African sailor, Kayin.
The cross-dressing aspect is a little hard to swallow, but not impossible. As in Shakespearean plays and not a few romance novels, changes to Clarice’s dress and voice appears to be all that’s necessary to convince people she is male — which rather overlooks the issue of body language (though to be fair, that is occasionally addressed.)
Like the crew’s mutiny, the romance between Clarice and Dominick, such as it is, can be seen coming a mile away — but I rooted for it anyway. The story is told in third person limited from Clarice’s point of view, so we don’t get to see inside Dominick’s head, but the slow transition in Clarice’s feelings from admiration to friendship to love works pretty well. Thankfully, Lackey rarely if ever stoops to instalove; her romantic relationships almost always have a solid basis in friendship.
I really enjoyed the blending of “historical” accuracy and fantasy in the novel, and I’m hoping future books in the series give us a better idea of just how magic works. The world-building is actually pretty good, though that doesn’t surprise me coming from this writing team. Worldbuilding is one of Lackey’s strengths, and their previous collaborations show that Mallory is no slouch at it, either.
Lackey’s books usually include some rather pointed social commentary, and The House of Four Winds is no exception. Clarice is horrified by slavery and by the cruelty of shipboard discipline, both of which were an accepted if sometimes reviled part of our own 18th-century history. While the book doesn’t dwell on the former, it doesn’t gloss over the brutality of the latter — nor the necessity for it. Clarice is also well aware that the freedoms she has in her male guise would not be easily available to her as a woman. This is actually one of the few places where the novel falters, but only in the prologue: the authors’ explanation of why Clarice and her sisters have the training and freedom they do seems more than a little contrived.
Bottom line: The House of Four Winds is a fun, entertaining, and frothy YA fantasy-adventure with a somewhat more serious subtext. I don’t think it’s a book I’ll re-read often, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next one!
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I didn’t talk much in my review about the sorceress, Shamal — too hard to do without giving away too much of the plot — but I’d say that she and her magic do qualify this book for the Witches and Witchcraft Reading Challenge.
About Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey is perhaps best known for her bestselling Valdemar, Elemental Masters, and Tales of the 500 Kingdoms series. Her books now total well over 100, not counting anthologies. She writes (or has written) several other popular series as well as stand-alone novels, both on her own and with collaborators including Larry Dixon (her husband and illustrator), Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Rosemary Edghill, Marion Zimmer Bradley, James Mallory, Roberta Gellis, and others.
Lackey graduated from Purdue University in 1972 and worked as a computer programmer before quitting to write full-time. A strong storyteller and a prolific writer, she turns out four to six books per year. She has also written lyrics and recorded songs (many of them based on her stories) for Firebird Arts and Music. Music is a prevailing theme throughout her work, and a major element in the Bardic Voices and Bedlam’s Bard series.
Mercedes Lackey lives with her husband in Oklahoma. She keeps parrots and has been active in raptor rehabilitation. She has also been active in the Society for Creative Anachronism and the MRPG community.
(sources: Goodreads, author website, and Wikipedia.)