by NJ Walters, fantasy (2007)
Ellora's Cave, $6.45, ISBN 978-1-4199-1088-3
Three Swords, One Heart is a ménage à trois fantasy story, if the title hasn't alerted you to the fact already.
Honestly, this book is already disadvantaged from the start where I am concerned because I do not actively seek out ménage à trois stories. "I have no problems with ménage à trois if Hugh Jackman and Pierce Brosnan both want to marry me!" jokes aside, the problem I have with many ménage à trois stories are the two men involved often being nothing more than the same one dimensional bloke multiplied by two, the premise for such a situation to take place often rings false, and the author rarely explores the psychology of the characters involved in the ménage à trois. In other words, it does often seem as if an author writes a ménage à trois story because it sells at the moment, not because she is willing to explore what makes a ménage à trois scenario unique.
Three Swords, One Heart has all these problems. The two heroes - twin brothers - are pretty much the same cardboard hero multiplied by two. The psychology of the characters don't go much deeper than "hey, we share, how nice!" sentiments. Then again, it's easy to love two fellows who are pretty much the same person, right? It's like having a spare in case something happens to one of them. Fairly or unfairly, it feels to me that the author, when given this particular Three of Swords slot in the Torrid Tarot series, merely had her hero in her work-in-progress replicate himself as if he is some kind of ameba.
Still, the setting of this story, the world of Amanas, is pretty well drawn. This story takes place in a desert/oasis region of Amanas called the Talkos Desert where our heroine Zarina is manhandled and beaten by the people of her own tribe when her father died and the villainous man who took over decides that he'd like to force her to be his bride. She is kicked out to live her own Clan Of The Cave Bear story. Meanwhile, our heroes Malik and Kalis are banished from their own tribe due to a family curse. The faithless antics of one of their ancestors caused the woman wronged by the moron to curse the clan. Every set of twins will be banished from the clan when they are in their teens or the tribe will be beset by all kinds of catastrophe. The only way to break this curse is for the twins to find one woman who will happily set up home with the two of them.
The problem with this story is that the rationale for the witch to cast that curse is... I don't know, it feels like a silly excuse for a ménage à trois to take place in the story, as if the ménage à trois is for the sake of having a book with ménage à trois.
I am also quite disappointed that while the author insists that Zarina is tough and all, she is a victim. She gets beaten by her own people, she gets beaten by horny would-be rapists - Zarina is pretty much a victim here to be coddled and protected by Malik and Kalis. She attracts disaster like the freak magnet that she is. She also loves to be a victim because she will continuously insist that she's fallen in love with those two once they've rescued her just like that but oh, she is not the woman they want. How does she know that? She just knows. It must be her victim gene, I think. She will also do all kinds of things in this story (including her favorite, running away) that are designed for her to look forlornly downcast to the ground, tears artfully rolling down her cheeks, as Malik and Kalis hold her close and comfort her with words and some tender loving shag.
Meanwhile, Malik and Kalis are two guys who have no discernible personalities from each other. They're the same guy. I'm waiting for them to pull a Voltron or Transformers by combining into a super Alpha-Fabio hero called Malikalis to save the day but I guess that isn't meant to be.
Most disappointingly, the author nicely presents her setting, sets up a plot for the heroine to turn into some Ayla clone setting up home with two Jondalars while facing adversity... only to have the story quickly turn into all about the sex and how Zarina's pure Magic Vagina make her boyfriends and their village happy.
Three Swords, One Heart is a well-written contrivance. The characters are simplistically rendered, the ménage à trois thing feels gratuitous because one hero could be removed and the story won't be too much different, and all that build-up and plot are wasted since the story soon turns into yet another Magic Curse-Breaking Vagina story. Perhaps if this story is accepted by a New York publishing house like Tor for its romance imprint and it is allowed to become a romantic fantasy story that doesn't require two-thirds of its length to be filled with torrid sex scenes, this book may stand a chance to be something more memorable. But since it is an Ellora's Cave book, it is yet another disappointing half-baked book where the story eventually becomes yet another bandwagon-hopping formulaic tale. This one is especially disappointing because NJ Walters seems to have set up her fantasy world with more detail than most authors. It's a shame that all that hard work ends up being a mere backdrop to such a simplistically-drawn half-baked wannabe of a Jean M Auel tale.
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