The princess and the sea

The House of the Four Winds - Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory

I received this Kindle ARC through NetGalley.

This novel promised much more than it delivered. A girl masquerading as a boy, a princess playing a common swordsman, seafaring adventures and pirates, sorcery and deadly beasts, plus a dash of romance – it should’ve been a fascinating book. Sadly, it wasn’t.
Princess Clarice is the oldest daughter of the Duke of Swansgaard, a tiny idyllic principality somewhere in the mountains of an imaginary world. Clarice’s home isn’t even on most maps, and her father can’t provide royal dowries for his numerous daughters. So as soon as Clarice turns eighteen, she sets out to seek her fortune. Trained with a sword, she decides to be a swordsman. And to ease her travels abroad, she pretends to be a man, Mr. Clarence Swan. This is all a back story and explained in details in the first couple of chapters.
Then Clarice buys a passage on a ship heading to the New World, and the story really starts. There is a dashing young navigator and an evil captain and a conflict brewing, but even then the plot crawls slowly. Too many info dumps weigh down the narrative, and tons of trifling minutiae hinder the action’s progress.
I yawned in boredom and would’ve abandoned the book at that point, if it wasn’t a NetGalley ARC and I didn’t promise to write a review. So I ploughed on. Mercifully, half-way into the book, mutiny explodes on board the ship, and the story finally picks up speed.
The second half reads better than the first. It’s faster and much more interesting. The back story is already out of the way, so the authors can concentrate on what is happening here and now, on the pages. The plotline of the second half of the novel reminded me of the old Sindbad movies. The same trappings: a sinister sorceress, a malevolent spell, the heroes sailing through storms and icebergs and sea monsters, and a treasure in the end as their just reward. It wasn’t original but it wasn’t too bad either.
The protagonist, Clarice/Clarence was a nice cross-dressing touch, a potential source of excitement, tension, and humor. Alas, none of that materialized. For one, nobody suspected her femininity until about 80% into the book. I can’t believe it, not after she spent weeks on board the ship, in close proximity to the rest of the crew, all male. Were they all blind? Of course, she wore a special corset to flatten her breasts, but surely there are other clues.
Other than masquerading as a man, the protagonist was rather blah, a sweet, well-bred girl falling in love with a sweet man who thought her a guy and considered her a friend. And she seemed okay with both notions until very late into the story.
Another point of contention for me was that she was supposed to be a swordsman extraordinaire. There was lots of blathering about swords and fencing but only one short sword fight in the entire book. So many chances for other fights, for demonstrating her skills were wasted. They could’ve enhanced the story. Besides, Clarice never practiced to maintain her skills, not once throughout the book. She just chatted with people, sulked in her cabin, and promenaded on deck with her beau.
The other characters were even less defined than Clarice. Most of them were flat and interchangeable.
Altogether, this book was disappointing.
The only thing I really liked about it was its cover and the font of the title. Esthetically, it was pleasing to the eye, probably the most beautiful pirate cover I’ve ever seen, if a little too sweet.