Monday, November 28, 2016

The Mystic Marriage (Alpennia #2), by Heather Rose Jones

Bella Books, ISBN 9781594934414, April 2015 (original publication April 2014)

Antuniet Chazillen left Alpennia after her brother's execution for treason wiped out the family's honor and standing. She's determined to restore that honor, and the path she has chosen is alchemy. With the aid of a long-hidden book, she'll develop the skills to offer real benefit to Princess Anna, new ruler of Alpennia.

Someone else knows what she's got, though, and is determined to take it from her. Antuniet flees to Prague, and to Heidelberg--and finally has nowhere left to go except back to Rotenek, capital of Alpennia. In Rotenek, she turns up on the doorstep of Jeanne, Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, in the hopes that Jeanne will be daring enough to become her patron. Jeanne can't, not directly, but insists she eat and stay the night, and connects her with someone who can.

What Antuniet is doing is dangerous. It's far too easy for alchemists to be accused of sorcery, and if that happens, she'll have blackened the family name further rather than redeeming it. At first, she's torn between gratitude and annoyance that Jeanne doesn't lose interest in her, but instead continues to drop by her new workshop on a regular basis, bringing meals, and in time stepping in to help with the work. Jeanne is bored with the season's social whirl; she's looking for a distraction.

And that's true, to a point. The interest grows to something, more, though, and Antuniet,f or all her natural reserve and hard-earned distrust of nearly everyone, is starting to return it.

The story unfolds from four viewpoints: Antuniet, Jeanne, and also Barbara and Margerit, whose story wss the driving force of the previous book Daughter of Mystery. Margerit became political due to forces beyond her control; Antuniet has an explicitly political goal, to save her family's name from the disgrace her brother Estefan brought upon it. But introverted Antuniet is perhaps even less naturally political than Margerit, and she doesn't have Barbara as her partner. And while she has Jeanne's natural social skills to call on, she still has to learn to trust before she can unbend enough to do it.

Meanwhile, outside of her view, her political situation is growing more precarious. Princess Anna and her stepmother/cousin Princess Elisabet each have a son who is a potential next heir to the throne. People who don't care about Antuniet or Jeanne, or even Magerit (now Royal Thaumaturge) or Barbara (now Baroness Saveze) at all. do care about any tool they can find to destabilize Alpennia. Political intrigue, romance, and the challenges of Antuniet's alchemical research all intertwine to make an absorbing story.

As should be clear from the above, and will be obvious to anyone who read Daughter of Mystery, lesbian romance plays a significant role in the story. There are two female couples, one established and one just beginning, as well as Jeanne's coterie off friends. There is no explicit sex. This is a "sweet" story in romance terms, and what violence there is, is off-stage.

Recommended.

I received this book as a gift from a friend.