Book Review: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory

Posted October 15, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 6 Comments

Book Review: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey & James MalloryThe House of the Four Winds by James Mallory, Mercedes Lackey
Genres: Fantasy
Published by Tor on August 5, 2014
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library


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.

Also by this author: Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill, Victories, Blood Red, Closer to Home, Changing the World: All-New Tales of Valdemar, Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar, Winter Moon, Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar, Elementary: All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters, No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar, From a High Tower, Hunter, Closer to the Heart, Silence, A Study in Sable, Elite, Closer to the Chest, Tempest: All-New Tales of Valdemar, A Scandal in Battersea, The Hills Have Spies, The Bartered Brides, Dragon's Teeth, Eye Spy, Breaking Silence, Pathways, The Case of the Spellbound Child, Jolene, Passages, Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, The Serpent's Shadow, The Oathbound, The White Gryphon, The Silver Gryphon, Beyond

First in the One Dozen Daughters fantasy series and revolving around Clarice/Clarence Swann. The couple focus in House of the Four Winds is on Clarice and Dominick.

My Take
It’s a rollicking fantasy of fun — think expanded fairy tale — with Clarice both excited and a teeny bit sad about leaving. I do think her parents have done really well in ensuring their children will survive whatever may happen. Too bad more parents don’t do as well. Especially with that sense of humor they have, lol.

Lackey slid in and answered my first question even as I was asking it. She certainly kept me on my toes as she set each bit of drama and forced me to read to its conclusion before she set the next and the next and…

It’s a leapfrogging sort of tale as Clarice and her mates leap into one tight adventure after another, driven to it by the bad guys as they struggle to survive it. A hidden pirate refuge, a ships’ graveyard, monsters of the deep, a sorceress and her minions, and the enthrallment the Lady throws.

It’s full of life lessons and negatives tucked in here and there even as Lackey keeps the story on a positive note. It reminds me of the tone of her Valdemar novels but lighter and with less depth. Adventure and distress, and a fear that rises up when Clarice realizes the truth of what Sprunt and his cohorts are up to. It worsens when they check their stores and realize they’ll have to finish the true voyage out, if only to stay alive. Lackey certainly downplays all the death in the penultimate voyage. You’d hardly know anyone was dead.

Well, turns out Sprunt is lucky, and he’s a man who hedges his bets to ensure it. It’s just too bad he’s mishandles his money so badly. As for the crew, it’s lucky for them that Clarice did sail as she had received a much better education in the essentials of life and was no innocent, as she goes about saving lives, bargaining, bartering, and assessing the tricks they all try to pull.

It always astounds me when the cruelly vicious who were about to murder you get upset when you turn the tables on them. If you dish it out, you’d better be prepared to take it.

“We, too, come from God, and our purposes are often ungodly … [any of the arts] … can be turned to good purpose — or ill.”

There are a few failings in this: the love that develops between Clarice and Dominick is all tell; we have no idea that Dominick is returning this feeling. Of course, he does believe that Clarice is Clarence, but Lackey could have developed interactions between the two to build up the tension and drama. Oh, there’s a blip here and there that raises up an emotional tear, but few and infrequent. And that includes the short scene in which Clarice realizes what close attention Dominick has been paying her habits. More drama could have played up the enthrallment and the trick to breaking it. At the very least, play it up when Dominick and Clarice realize it’s possibly worked. Alas, it was not. Another wasted opportunity. Dr. Chapman’s desperate act was just dumb.

I don’t get it. Why would Shamal want to destroy so many of the crew? She’s so desperate for that treasure, wouldn’t she want to ensure she had as many sailors as possible to ensure she gets to her destination? How can she live on an island, dependent upon ships, and have no idea what is required to sail one? After the way she’s treated everyone, and I mean every one, she actually thinks she’ll have it all her own way?

I like that phrase: “a young fortune”. It seems quite in tune with the story.

Lackey was very good at holding back on the truth behind the Lady’s actions. I read on, desperate to learn the why of her need and the how of their escape.

Argh, that’s what they are, “…honest, virtuous, law-abiding mutineers…”

And every time Clarice gets up the nerve to tell Dominick the truth…it’s yet another reason to keep the secret.

The Story
The Duchy of Swansgarde is too tiny and too poor to marry off its many daughters. Fortunately, the duke and duchess firmly believed in their children acquiring practical life skills, for one never knew what Fate may bring.

So far, it’s been an interesting journey, and Clarence has a hankering to visit Manna-hattan in New Hesperia. Too anxious to wait, she takes the first ship she can find: the Asesino. And experiences a cruel, cruel voyage as she learns too late the dangers of the sea and the men who sail her.

And the only way out is through a trap and a vicious and perilous voyage with an even more vicious and petty mistress.

The Characters
Princess Clarice is the eldest and must leave her home when she turns eighteen. Her particular skill is swordsmanship, and she has dreams of building her reputation and opening a salon. As Clarence Swann. At least at first.

Dominick Moryet is the navigator on Asesino with a sad tale of his own. Daniel Moryet was his father with ships of his own, so many that he needed a manager to handle the landslide of the business.

The rest of the crew
Simon Foster is the quartermaster; young Jerrold Robinson is the cook’s mate; Ned “Neddy” Hatcliff is a timid lad, always worrying what his mother will say; John Tiptree is the best topsail man in the seven seas; Dickon Greenwell is the helmsman; Emmet Emerson is the ship’s cook with a love for the drink; Reverend Philip Dobbs of the One True Church is the ship’s chaplain, a gloom-and-doom sort; the bullying Freeman Lee is the first mate; Dr. Lionel Chapman‘s surgery becomes Clarence’s refuge; David is the much-abused cabin boy; Miles Oliver; George “Geordie” Lamb; Kayin Dako; Rogerio Vasquez will become armorer; Duff Evans is the ship’s carpenter; Gil Morley is one of Dobbs’ ilk; Robert Kinsey provides an unwelcome opportunity for Gregale to demonstrate his strength; Lemuel Kane will jump to avoid the bespelled ship; Hume Lewis; and, Cecil Mild.

Barnabas Bellamy is a merchant who has built up a whole fleet of ships and married a Sea Lord’s daughter; he was once Dominick’s father’s land-based manager. The captains Clarence speaks with include James Galloway, Hawthorne, and finally the thuggish Samuel Sprunt whose ship, the Asesino is heading out the next day. Guildmistress Watson remembered Dominick. The Cornhill Society insures ships and their cargo.

Duke Rupert (he has quite the dry sense of humor) and Duchess Yetive (she has a matching one) have ruled peacefully for many years. Prince Dantan is their only son and the youngest child, the heir presumptive. Meanwhile, they have twelve daughters to send off: the next oldest is Anise, a thaumaturge; Talitha is more venturesome; and, Damaris is a bloodthirsty six.

Dr. Karlavaegen taught all the princesses how to see magic, to become aware of its hyperreality. Count Albrecht was Clarice’s instructor in the sword. Rudolf, the duke’s great-nephew, used to be the heir before Dantan’s birth. Queen Gloriana rules in Lochrin-Albion, a powerful and wealthy country underpinned by thaumaturgy.

The House of the Four Winds…
…is a pirate stronghold protected by the Vile Vixen, captained by Melisande Watson while Topper Harrison, who wears a hangman’s noose as a tie, is captain of the Horrid Hangman. The hyperreal Lady Shamal rules; Gregale is the mute slave she brings on the voyage.

The Sea Lords and Ladies and their Code of the Brotherhood
Besides the two captains who met Asesino, there is Edmund Bell Fairfax, master of Scirocco, one of the ships taken from Sprunt by pirates. Captain Aubrianna is mistress of the Lusty Leman and Watson’s sister. Nigel Brown is captain of the Tamerlane. Captain Alec Campion of the Limerick Rake.

The town of Dorado
Peter Robinson runs the candy store. The chandlery is a ship’s general store, ready to sell or buy everything and anything a ship might require. Rollo Thompson runs the store here on the island with the help of his children, Randolph and Alumeda. Fleta is a scornful whore. Matthew Pratchett runs the local bookstore, Pratchett’s Fine Books, and he’s a fount of the secrets behind Dorado’s population.

And 52 men are sent aboard Asesino to fill out her complement.

Thaumaturgy developed from magery and evolved into a regular science over the centuries. It requires both gift and training.

The Cover
The cover has a dreamy quality with the sailing ship coming along behind, the spray of the sea creating a haze between it and Clarice who stands in the stern, a tricorne on her head, her sword over the shoulder of her gilt-trimmed and braided coat, wisps of blonde hair blowing in the freshening breeze.

The title is the threat, The House of the Four Winds.

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