[Book Review] One soulmate, too many space princes

Shrouded by Frances Pauli

“When Vashia arrives on Shroud as an indentured bride, Dolfan recognizes immediately that they are meant to be together. Broken, lost, and on the run, she trusts no one, but Dolfan has enough faith for the both of them… Until his people’s sacred ritual gives Vashia to someone else.”

“This one looks right up your alley,” my friend told me. “It’s science fiction full of planet royalty and court machinations and forbidden romance.”

“Nnnngghh,” I said. At that point, I may have been lying on the floor, holding a pillow over my face.

“Four words: Arranged Marriage Space Opera.”

Oh. Well, why didn’t you just say so?

Okay, so the plot wasn’t exactly arranged marriage (more mail-order bride?), but going into Shrouded, I assumed I was going to get some soulmate relationship angst between strangers in a futuristic setting plus space princes. I eat these sort of stories up like popcorn…and like popcorn, usually end up feeling like there’s something (a plot hole, I suppose) stuck in my teeth.

Turns out, Shrouded is Space Opera in the glorious footsteps of Lois M. Bujold, Sharon Lee, Julie E. Czerneda, and Laura E. Reeve, with its romance lite and emphasis on relationships, alien cultures, plotting and adventure. It’s an easy read with an ending I didn’t see coming and guessed at only a page or two before the final reveal.

What’s not to like? Interesting, well-defined characters, a royal succession crisis, a smart heroine in desperate straits, unexpected twists, a creative yarn full of machinations and not a single easily identifiable plot hole. I was chuffed.

A page into the story, I was delighted. Two pages in, I was hooked. Vashia is desperate, clever, and knows the trouble she’s in when she leaps into the unknown. Dolfan is a little harder to pin down, but his relationship to his planet and with his family won me over.

So why only 4 stars? For one, the blurb from this edition of the novel set up pretty hardline and only partially met romance and angst expectations. The story is fairly light in the steam category. Second, about halfway through the book, the novel shifts its attention from Vashia as the main driver of the story to Dolfan, passing the plot torch to him, so to speak. Vashia’s passive acceptance of her situation, while realistic (I suppose) is frustrating as danger looms ever larger in the reader’s mind’s eye.

All in all, excellent addition to the space opera romance genre.

I leave you with the original (and more accurate, imo) story synopsis from the 2013 edition:

Vashia’s father is the planetary governor. Unfortunately, he’s also a complete bastard. When he promises her to his lackey, Jarn, she panics. On the run in the nastiest corner of the galaxy, Vashia seizes her one chance at escape and signs on as a bride candidate for the elusive race of aliens known as the Shrouded, unaware that she very well may be chosen as the next Queen of Shroud

Of the seven, volatile Shrouded princes, Dolfan may be the only one that doesn’t covet the throne. So the last thing he expects to find in the future queen is the woman of his dreams. If he wants Vashia, he must accept the throne as well. Unfortunately, his long-time rival has the same idea. Now, only the planet’s sacred crystal can decide their fates, but what happens when the right woman is paired with the wrong man? And when Jarn comes after what was promised to him?

Canary Verdict:

(Pleased as a peach about this read.)

 I received review copy of Shrouded through NetGalley.

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