Author: Rowan Speedwell
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: 167 Pages
Category: Historical, Fantasy, Action/Adventure
At a Glance: Bitterwood is a bit of a swashbuckling romance tangled together with a mysterious quest that was over way too soon and left me aching for more.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Outrunning a winter storm in the north, Captain Faran of the King’s Guard, his men, and a young mage named Meric find shelter at the ancestral home of the Daenes, Bitterwood Manor. Faran and his troops have been searching for six weeks for both a powerful unknown mage, and for a mysterious, lion-like beast that reportedly haunts the uncharted northern woods.
Faran finds the first clue in their quest: the Daene family heraldry—a gold cat on a red field. Meric finds something much more interesting—the son of the house, Eissa. For his part, Faran is fascinated by the powerful figure of Joss, a widower who manages Bitterwood and its environs with a strong, steady hand.
Together they will need to brave the oldest, darkest part of the Bitterwood in the coldest, deepest snows of winter, to find the legendary gold cat and the prophesied mage, for time is running out—for Meric, and for the kingdom.
Review: I must admit that I hesitated to take on the review of Bitterwood by Rowan Speedwell because it came across as a fantasy novel. I normally don’t care for fantasy, being a mystery lover at heart. But I readily confess that I was very mistaken—not about Bitterwood being in the fantasy genre—but about my worrying that I would not enjoy the novel. Frankly, I loved this novel and wish it had been longer simply so that I could visit with these characters for just a bit more—revel in their love and journey further with them into the perilous wood that carries the title of this immensely satisfying story.
Faron, Captain of the Guard, and his small band of soldiers are tasked with helping the ailing young mage, Meric, hunt down the mysterious lion-like creature and its powerful keeper—another mage—so that Meric may live beyond his eighteenth birthday. Stricken at a young age, the lad is now in a race against time to find this duo so that the curse may be reversed. Knowing only that this beast was last seen in the vicinity of the northern woods, a massive winter storm finds the party seeking shelter at the home of Joss Daene, lord of Bitterwood Manor. Joss is a widower with two sons, one of whom, Eissa, is immediately drawn to Meric—instantly in love with him, which is something that rarely happens to the Daene men and only when they finally find their one true love. While these two young men explore this incredible bond that has sprung up between them, Joss and Faren begin a dance of their own, driven by a mutual lust that is born out of deep respect for each other.
When the party sets out a few days later, after the storm has subsided, Joss agrees to accompany them with a few of his men, partly because he wants more time with Faren and also so that he might keep a watchful eye on his son Eissa, who insists that he will not leave Meric’s side. What awaits the men in the dark and treacherous forest is not only surprising but will also reveal who Meric truly is and why it was so vital he be healed. That revelation will signal the end to the burgeoning love between Faren and Joss when betrayal lies like a bitter seed on Joss’ tongue and his trust in Faren is shaken to the core.
Rowan Speedwell is an outstanding storyteller, weaving mystery together with an imaginatively created world that was peopled with a brand of men for whom chivalry and loyalty are not just pleasantries but a way of life. These are rugged men, used to life’s hardships and living by their sword while cherishing each day they have on earth. When they love, they do so with a concentration so fierce and a passion so real it is breathtaking. While Faren holds his secrets close to his chest, he is still able to let himself believe that love is possible with Joss and, in turn, Joss is able to seek companionship for the first time since the death of his wife many years ago. But it is the side story of Meric and Eissa that is so very tender and sweet that draws the reader into this magical fantasy world where danger and bravery go hand in hand. Watching both relationships grow in such a short span of time I never felt there was anything more than genuine emotions being delivered again and again. With poor Meric’s life hanging in the balance, the sense of urgency pervaded every chapter as you literally felt his life force drain away with each passing hour.
Bitterwood is a bit of a swashbuckling romance tangled together with a mysterious quest that was over way too soon and left me aching for more. With an incredibly satisfying ending that tied up every little clue that was dropped about Faren’s ancestry and his loyalty to Meric, this story instantly became one of my favorites and has earned at least one re-read for me. If you are a lover of fantasy, BItterwood is a must read. If, like me, you are just a bit wary of the genre, then look no further than this novel to win you over and make you a fan.
You can buy Bitterwood here: