Review | The Lord of Stariel – A.J. Lancaster

About the Book

The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is. 

Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they? 

Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? 

His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? 

His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion? 

Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave. 

But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with. 

Winged, beautifully deadly problems. 

For the first time in centuries, the fae are returning to the Mortal Realm, and only the Lord of Stariel can keep the estate safe. 

In theory. 

318 pages (kindle)
Published on November 1, 2018
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You know how sometimes you need to read a book that is just… chill? It’s a book you can pick up, unplug from the world, and just enjoy. You might be going through something, you might be stressed, or really whatever. Whatever the reason, you need to read a book that is basically the equivalent of a mental vacation. 

That’s where I was recently. I needed a vacation. I cannot go on a vacation. 

Insert The Lord of Stariel

I will admit, it was the cover art that really did it for me. I didn’t know much about this book, but I was intrigued by that alone. It told me enough, without telling me anything at all. It made me want to know more. So, hats off to the cover art designer. You did a great job. 

The Lord of Stariel is one of those books that’s hard for me to put my thumb on. The world feels like it’s a half-step from our own, which was a lot of fun. It’s both familiar, but with enough unique to it to make it feel other. The magic system, because of this, felt natural, and I had a lot of fun imagining how some of the skills and abilities presented in the book would impact life in our world. In fact, as I read this book, I often found myself wandering down pathways of “what if”. I was surprised by how engaged I was, and how easy it was for me to visualize these characters, this magic, this world, outside of the setting in the book. 

The Lord of Stariel felt more character-driven than plot driven, and that was actually a benefit for me. I absolutely love character-driven books. In fact, I love them so much I write them. Hetta was a strong female protagonist I instantly loved. After spending years away, she learns her father dies and returns home for his funeral and for the Choosing, when the manner will pick the person who inherits it. It soon becomes clear her relationship with her father was less than ideal, and things are going on in her family that she doesn’t expect. In fact, there’s a bit of mystery in the book, but it sort of haunts the fringes of things. It’s there… just enough. 

Hetta, though, stole the show. While all of the characters were well-rounded and lifelike, Hetta was someone I could instantly get behind. She’s a mature woman who knows her own mind. That’s not saying she never had doubts or fears or the like, but her vulnerabilities were balanced well with her incredibly realistic strengths, and I loved how she knew what her limits were, not just with magic, but with her role in her family, her place in the world, really everything. She was just a delightful character to follow. 

This book does have romance in it, and it will probably, because of that, appeal to people who don’t mind that sort of thing more than others. For me, I loved it. It was real, and raw, and had none of the purple prose or over-the-top sex that people might equate with romance plotlines. In fact, this might be one of my favorite romantic fantasy stories I’ve ever read, and a good reason for that was how balanced the author kept things. She never let go of the reigns and focused too much one aspect of the story and not enough anywhere else, which kept the romance just as real as her characters. While I did get the warm fuzzies, and I did truly enjoy the romantic plot points, I never once felt any part of it was over-the-top, or forced, and that’s saying a lot. I… struggle with romance in my books. I did not struggle here. 

I also feel the need to touch on prose. Like everything else in the book, I was rather amazed by how well Lancaster balanced the different elements of her writing. She never got overly descriptive, and never got too purple. She kept things light and humorous when needed, but also managed to have serious moments that were packed full of powerful emotion. When it served the story, she kept things straightforward, and yet there were quieter moments where she vividly painted details, like how the light fell on a certain person, that just brought it to life perfectly. This had the added effect of engrossing me in the story, because so much of the important scenes were written in such a way I could actually “see” them in my mind’s eye. I felt invested. I was enraptured. 

I haven’t really touched on plot much, but there absolutely is a plot, and while I found it to be pretty predictable at points, I was so in love with the book itself and the characters in it, I didn’t mind at all. I loved the air of mystery that nipped at the fringes of the story… until it wasn’t, and the way it all came together in the end. I found Lancaster hit the right notes here as well, with just enough dark to make an impact, and enough light to make it matter. 

So, where does that leave us? 

The Lord of Stariel isn’t for everyone. If you’re a blood and guts fantasy reader, you’ll probably want to steer clear. However, if you’re in the mood for something that feels just a half-step away from our world, full of characters that breathe on and off the page, a romance that hits all the right notes, and a plot that keeps you engaged, then you’ll want to check this out. Fae magic, weird family dynamics, heartwarming points, and mystery… what more could you possibly want? 

I will absolutely continue reading this series. 

4.5/5 stars