Pros: Great fantasy worldbuilding; playful and original erotic romance
Cons: Shaky start with a too-”perfect” female lead
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
One of the pitfalls of reviewing books is that sometimes a publisher sends you a book from the middle of a series, and you have to dive in without any of the early series background. That was pretty easy with Jean Johnson’s “Sons of Destiny” eight-book series, thankfully; she’s pretty careful to include enough information to allow the books to stand surprisingly well on their own. The basic premise of the series is that eight brothers (four sets of non-identical twins, all powerful mages) are the subject of a prophecy, and their homeland, out of fear of the prophecy, has exiled them to a deserted island. Among other things, the prophecy covers the fact that each brother shall find his destined bride, in order from the eldest brother to the youngest, and the youngest is fated to be the matchmaker who ensures that the prophecy comes true. Thus each book focuses on a single erotic romantic pairing, as well as the development of the burgeoning community on the island of Nightfall, and the continuing story of the prophecy, mysterious attacks on the brothers, and the island’s bid for independence.
Each book’s title refers to a specific brother’s role as defined in the prophecy. One of the reasons the brothers were exiled is that the first verse predicts that the eldest brother, Saber, will sleep with a maiden and that this shall presage a disaster. In The Sword, Morganen, the youngest brother, rescues a woman from another universe—ours, pretty much—before she can be killed in a fire. She has a temper to match the fire that he saved her from, and the designated matchmaker will have his hands full as she and Saber (stubborn and proud in his own right) butt heads over everything possible. It doesn’t help that Saber is almost as determined as the Council that rules their homeland to prevent the prophecy from coming true, and thus wants Kelly off the island as quickly as possible.
The overall story here is great, but I had real problems with Kelly as a character. She’s very much a Mary Sue—a too-perfect character who always gets her way and is always right and admired by everyone. Even her flaws are really faux-flaws: her stubbornness of course is what she uses to set all of their problems to right. She too easily takes charge of everything with far too little effective protest or challenge from the brothers. She’s also far too knowledgeable about every last little thing from our world that might prove useful in theirs. She’s too obnoxious and impetuous a character for every last person to be so incredibly fond of her and impressed with her as they are (in this book and the ones immediately thereafter). The part of her backstory involving her near-death also stretches credibility, at least until it’s given more context in a later book. That said, the turning point in her relationship with Saber is handled very well. Also, Jean Johnson has a unique style among writers of erotic romance that I enjoy: she writes very playful sex scenes, turning all the messiness of reality that most writers leave out into bits of hilarity, tenderness, and other things that just work.
In The Wolf, in some ways Morganen has it easy: Wolfer’s destined wife, Alys, has been in love with him since they were children, and is more than willing to join the brothers in exile if it means getting away from the vicious uncle whose ward she is. Morg really won’t have much convincing to do when it comes to getting the two to realize they’re in love with each other. Getting Alys to the island however will be a tad trickier, as will making her safe from her uncle’s deadly magics.
I enjoyed this one a bit more than The Sword, since it doesn’t focus on Kelly as much. She still, however, gets portrayed as entirely too superior to those around her when she does show up. Wolfer and Alys are a sweet couple, and we get to see more dangerous developments in the brothers’ war with their unknown attacker.
The Master takes us back to Dominor, who was kidnapped earlier in the series by people who wanted him for his power. Most of his brothers are frantic over his disappearance, while Morganen seems to be holding out on them—but then, he has spent a long time poring over the prophecy, and perhaps he has an idea that Dominor’s wife-to-be will be found wherever it is that he’s headed. After various indignities, Dominor ends up sold into slavery—to a powerful arithmancer who is willing to free him and send him home, as long as he swears a mage-oath to help her enact a powerful and very important magic. That magic will end up bringing the two together, but a series of misunderstandings threatens to tear them apart again.
I love Dominor’s intended, Serina, and her absent-minded genius, as well as how the relationship changes both of them. My problem with this one, however, is that the misunderstandings are a bit difficult to buy into past a certain point, and there are one or two things Dominor really should have picked up on earlier given that he isn’t an idiot. That said, it helps that the characters who actually figured out what was going on thought that the two of them were being idiots as well, at least.
The Song picks up where the previous book left off; it was easy to tell from Evanor’s verse of the prophecy, as well as things that happened in the last book, that Healer Mariel, Serina’s best friend, would end up moving to the island (along with her nine-year-old son, Mikor), where hopefully she would regenerate Evanor’s lost ability to sing and of course, fall in love with him along the way. The joy is in watching these two court and seduce each other, and it doesn’t hurt that Kelly is starting to come across as at least a little less overwhelmingly perfect. She only partially solves their problems for once, instead of entirely, and it takes some coaching and help from Morganen. Now the Katani Council can also no longer ignore what’s going on with Nightfall and decides to investigate, forcing the brothers and their brides to make their bid for independence.
As I mentioned, Kelly is too overwhelmingly always-right at the beginning of the series, although thankfully that gradually eases off (and gets even better in the latter four books). There are a few inconsistent details here and there as well, but given the complexity and size of the world, that’s a little easier to forgive than otherwise. The series concentrates heavily on fantasy world-building; if you love the exploration of a world, from its cultural customs down to the last details of everyday life, you’ll enjoy it, but if you’re looking for fast-paced action, this isn’t for you. The romances also take precedence over the ongoing storyline, again something that’s a matter of preference between readers. The style of the erotica is unusual, given its playful and sometimes even messy nature; personally I’m impressed at Ms. Johnson’s ability to incorporate that sort of everyday realism into this kind of escapist literature without awkwardness or excessive ickiness.
From here the other four (links to individual reviews above) only get better. I love, LOVE, seeing an author’s work improve so nicely over time. It means she’s capable of setting aside ego enough to recognize that there’s room for improvement and continue to hone her craft, which means more excellent books to read down the line!