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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Review: The Duke's Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad

The Duke's Handmaid

ISBN: 978-0986451737

Have you ever read a book that refused to be pigeonholed? In some cases, that can be a negative, in that the author shoots all over the place and so hits nothing. In other cases, as we have here, the author creates her own unique story that accomplishes several things.

Is this a fantasy? Well, not really. Yes, it is a different world than our own. Yes, you'll encounter some odd creatures, and a caste-like society where the author explores the different reactions from both sides of the servant/slave issue. And yet, once you're in the story, it really doesn't seem too different from our world. Difference circumstances, same issues and people. You'll not find magic, elves, dwarfs, or dragons in this story. Not even hobbits. Instead, you'll find some well developed characters.

Is it science fiction? Hum, it is set on another planet, with two suns. Yet, that's about the extent of it. The society is less developed technology-wise than our own, still using horses for transportation. The feel is more Medieval.

Is it a romance? We're getting warmer. There is a romance involved, but if you're thinking boy meets girl, they fall in love, but encounter problems they overcome in the end, it's not really a romance as such. Indeed, while the story is focused primarily on the relationship between Keedrina and the Duke, the servant-master relationship it is filtered through creates a very highly unusual romance story. Indeed, even knowing this, the ending is a bit of a surprise. It is a romance, but not the standard variety. It will challenge your assumptions on those grounds.

Is it an action/adventure? You could say that. Early on, there is action and difficult situations that must be dealt with. We come into the story after Keedrina has lost her family and she is the only surviving heir. The Duke quickly gathers a gang of town folk and they ride off to deal justice to the perpetrators. While there are big gaps where guys who want action will find scenes more focused on the romance angle than moving the story forward action-wise, you will find political intrigue, back-stabbing, and a conclusion that will keep you glued to the page till the end.

So, what do we have here? The story of a girl who loses everything, and willingly gives of herself to serve the man she loves. You have a story of amazing loyalty, convicting humility, and graceful love, despite the cruelties she faces.

Indeed, the book is more about her love than the Duke's. He's a man that causes revulsion one minute, and admiration the next. He can be extremely cruel to his enemies, but faithful and loyal to his friends and servants. He is a flawed man operating in a flawed culture. And yet, finds a woman in Keedrina that convicts him and changes him. Indeed, will not let him go.

While the book speaks of great violence and the depravity of the society, Ms. Hokstad delivers it in a PG-13 manner. She doesn't gloss over evil, but neither does she wallow in it. The writing is easy to read and pulls you into the well-developed world. The characters are interesting and engaging.

A most unique story of loyalty that provides a stark contrast against the harsh realities of a slave society. Prepare to wince, cry, and laugh. Easily a recommended read from this reviewer.

Note: The publisher gave me a copy of this book to review.

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