NOTHING’S MORE DANGEROUS THAN A MOTHER PROTECTING HER DAUGHTER
(A Kit Marlow Short, Book 1)
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Format: ebook, 52 Pages
Date: 5th October 2010
Few things in life can match the strength and power of the bond between a mother and her child. There are no lengths a mother will not go to, nor hardships and trials she will not endure to protect her offspring. It is a lesson the War Mages holding Gillian Urswick in brutal captivity, while systematically exterminating the covens of her sister witches throughout Europe, will learn to their cost. Gillian is a witch whose love for her daughter will not only drive her to survive her ordeal and break free of her captors in order to save the life of her child, it will also become the catalyst for a power greater than she has ever wielded before being bestowed upon her, along with a duty and responsibility that may turn the tide against the War Mages of the Silver Circle.
The Gauntlet is a novella that was originally published in The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance 2 anthology, in 2010, before subsequently being self-published as a standalone ebook by its author, Karen Chance. It is a tale that represents something of a departure for Chance. Although the story takes place in the same world as her two urban fantasy series, it is set several centuries in the past, making it an historical fantasy tale. This change in setting, coupled with a more serious tone, not only demonstrates that Karen Chance has more than one string to her bow, it also provides ample evidence that she is wasting her talent writing unexceptional urban fantasy novels. While The Gauntlet may only be a short novella, it’s brief length doesn’t in any way obscure how much more compelling a read it offers in comparison to any of the full-length novels in either the Cassandra Palmer Series or the Dorina Basarab Series.
Interestingly, The Gauntlet is billed as a Kit Marlowe short, featuring the minor character who appears sporadically in the Cassandra Palmer novels, yet the vampire, and his storyline, plays second fiddle to an original character. And, frankly, the book is better off for it; Gillian is without doubt a much more compelling character, and the author’s decision to use her rather than Kit as the primary POV to narrate the story, greatly enhances the tale. By contrast, Kit’s inclusion and presence in the plot frequently feels out of place, not to mention that having him provide a secondary POV actually detracts from what is otherwise an exceptionally strong story. There’s no question (as far as this reader is concerned) that the narrative would have been better served if it was told entirely from Gillian’s point-of-view.
But other than Kit’s inclusion, which seems to serve no purpose other than to provide a tenuous link to Chance’s urban fantasy novels, there is nothing else that can be highlighted as an obvious flaw or weakness. The Gauntlet is an engaging, well written affair from beginning to end and, perhaps, the most impressive thing about it is just how successfully the author overcomes the principal drawback of short fiction writing that an author has to contend with: the limited opportunity for character development and world building within a narrative that invariably doesn’t constitute a full and complete story. This was achieved by creating an intriguing protagonist in Gillian Urswick, to serve as the all important focal point of the story, without neglecting either the setting or the plot.
In spite of the story’s short length (clocking in at approximately 18k words) the author accomplishes a surprising amount―cramming in more than enough development of her characters and setting; this is particularly true of the depiction of Gillian as a protagonist. Chance does a fantastic job conveying not just what kind of woman Gillian is, but also what drives and motivates her. Without ever needing to resort to merely telling the reader, she succeeds in showing how much Gillian loves her young daughter through her actions. It is evident from the outset that this love is behind Gillian’s determination to survive and escape captivity in order to rescue her child and get her to safety. And though the author isn’t able to narrate much of Gillian’s life story, she does provide enough glimpses of her backstory to offer further context for her resolute determination.
In addition to the excellent depiction of the main character, Chance also establishes and describes her setting adeptly enough to ensure that the world building never feels like an afterthought. In providing the reader with a strong sense of time and place, she makes it that much easier to visualise the locations in which the story is unfolding. What’s more, the setting never feels like it exists in isolation. The author manages to convey that there is a whole world beyond the locale of the story; a world with history, where other events, both related and unrelated to the narrative, are also taking place.
Finally, irrespective of its connection to Karen Chance’s urban fantasy novels, this is a novella easily accessible to unfamiliar readers who have never previously read any of her work. And despite its brief length, The Gauntlet is an absorbing tale from beginning to end, that manages to be a satisfying read in its own right, yet guaranteed to leave readers wanting even more. It’s safe to assume many would love to encounter Gillian Urswick again, preferably in a full-length historical fantasy novel. She is a memorable character with the undoubted potential to be a great protagonist, capable of carrying her own book series.