Title: Horse of Bells
Publisher: Breathless Press
Pages/Word Count: 29000 Words
At a Glance: While the novella’s a quick, fun read, I still can’t help but think of missed opportunities
Blurb: A legendary horse, magic, and a man shrouded in mystery. Who can he trust? Caolan risks both his heart and his life to uncover the truth.
When his life is saved by a stranger, Prince Caolan feels an immediate connection to the man, and promises to meet him again. Forced to break that promise to protect his brother Donal, Caolan waits for the day he can return to the forest.
On their trip home, almost a year later, he and Donal are tricked by their step-mother into attempting to steal the legendary Horse of Bells from the infamous Dark Prince Tuathal. Honor-bound to accept the geis she set them, the brothers leave their castle to complete the quest.
During their journey, they meet the enigmatic Traveler. Caolan is confused and troubled by his reaction to the man. Is he a friend, or are his intentions darker and more deadly?
Review: Horse of Bells is a novella in which things go – pretty fast – with not much by way of character or plot development. As a light fairy tale romance, it certainly works, and for fans of insta-love plots with light conflict, this fits the bill.
When I say things move quickly, it’s exactly that. Caolan meets a stranger in the forest while hunting wild boars. They make eye contact, and within seconds, they’re kissing. There’s a great deal made about gut feelings telling each man that the person he’s looking at is the one, as in the one and only true love of his life, with whom he’ll be sharing the rest of his years. But there’s not much else done about it besides the brief ten-month separation that Caolan reluctantly agrees to. And even then, the time apart isn’t really explored by way of how it affects the lovers. When they do reunite, the tension is there, sure, but again, the problem is sorted out easily, and they consummate their love.
The same goes with Donal and Tuathal, who meet under near-catastrophic circumstances but within hours are in bed, declaring undying love to each other. The rest of the book’s conflict, which is Doireann’s ambitions to take over the kingdom, is dealt with also pretty quickly. The book could’ve used a little more development both in terms of characterization and also setting. It’s a fantasy story, and the setting – what little we’re given, anyway – sounds absolutely wonderful, but there are barely any descriptions of time and place. References to drawbridges and forests and cottages are few and far between, and they also tend to be pretty generic, so whatever mental picture you might have of a Medieval castle, for instance, would fit the bill.
Much of the focus of the book is on Caolan, the younger brother who suffers from unjust expectations (or lack thereof) from the king. And his story follows a pretty standard plot for gay romances, especially those that hew very closely to yaoi conventions as I saw it. The characters are all archetypes, which is fine to begin with, but they never really go beyond that. Caolan is young, beautiful, emotional, and is always in danger and is always rescued by his lover (who’s older and stronger). It isn’t till the end of the book where Caolan asserts himself, which made me wish there’d been more to him (as well as the other characters) from the start.
There are only two female characters in the book, and one’s killed off, while the other is the main villain. Doireann sounds like a great nemesis, but she’s also not as fully developed as I’d expected, which is a shame.
What does stand out for me – and I loved it – was the backstory serving as a thread that connects Tuathal, Berach, and Doireann. It’s a great little backstory that’s rich in folklore elements, with a generous helping of mysticism. The horse itself is a strange, magical creature, and its existence adds that extra layer of mystery and magic that go beyond human understanding.
On a more technical level, there are odd errors peppered throughout the book involving the use of periods where commas should be in dialogue. For instance (not taken from the book, obviously, but it’s here to illustrate my point):
“Jack and Jill fell down a hill.” Mary said.
On the whole, while the novella’s a quick, fun read, I still can’t help but think of missed opportunities for a fully developed fairy tale romance. The book clocks in at over 29K words, so it certainly could’ve been expanded into a category length romance, if not a long novella, that provides us with a richer, more layered cast of characters and a setting that we can really sink our teeth into.
You can buy Horse of Bells here: