The Pages of the Mind
We have long winters here in the North and at least once during those icy months I find myself dreaming of a place just like the one highlighted in this book. One with white sandy beaches and fruity drinks; the kind of place where comfy sarongs are worn to make the most of the hours and hours of hot sunshine. And of course, dragons. No tropical island would be complete without them.
The Pages of the Mind is the first book in the new series The Uncharted Realms set in the same universe as the author’s The Twelve Kingdoms books. While it is probably not strictly necessary to read those before picking up this one, I certainly found it helpful to know the background information on all the players and to understand that initial world building. This book also contains spoilers for that entire series.
The High Queen Ursula has only been on the throne a short while but Dafne Mailloux – councilor, scribe, librarian, co-conspirator and friend – is determined that her sovereignty be a memorable one. To that end Dafne has been working tirelessly to make sure all goes smoothly at the start of this new reign. But even as she deals with the practical problems of diplomacy, supplies, and rebuilding a nagging problem worries her. The queen’s sister, a powerful sorcerer, has seen a prophecy involving four armed men. She doesn’t know if they will bring good or ill but she does know they are harbingers of change.
That prophecy certainly proves true for Dafne. When a quartet of soldiers from Dasnaria arrives, they bring information about an island, treasure, war and a volcano. The high queen doesn’t trust the messengers but she does know that the magical barrier which once protected only Annfwn has now extended its boundaries beyond the newly formed Thirteen (the former Twelve Kingdoms plus Annfwn). Her concern is that when she inadvertently triggered that expanse, she trapped people in – and out of – these realms and sent magical mayhem everywhere. Determined to get to the bottom of what is happening beyond her immediate borders she sends Dafne and two other trusted advisors as ambassadors/spies into the outer nations.
Dafne only makes it as far as their first stop, the island of Nahanua. Once there, she is literally snatched up by the handsome, powerful King Nakoa KauPo, carried to the volatile volcano and pressed into a “wedding of alliance”. When her ship sails, she is left behind with a man who doesn’t speak her language in a kingdom on the brink of civil war.
In many ways, this is an old school romance novel. While the author tries to give Dafne some agency, most of the power rests with Nakoa. She is his prisoner, even if she is in a room of the palace rather than a cell. Like in many of the romance novels of the 70s and 80s, the focus of the story seems to be on the characters’ sexual relationship rather than the buildup of the emotional one. While no actual force is used, some pressure is applied. The dragon magic so important to the island’s wellbeing actually runs on sexual energy and the synchronicity of the two fated mates, so Dafne risks Nakoa’s throne and life if she refuses. This is handled in such a manner that we know Dafne desires Nakoa and she is willing to be with him. That said, the virginity of the heroine and the external factors forcing the pace of the physical congress gave this a bit of a dated feel.
In spite of that, or maybe even a bit because of it, I enjoyed the tale. The situation forces Dafne and Nakoa to have intensity to their relationship since they really need each other. The language barrier adds to that since they must pay close attention to each communication attempt, whether it is through hand signals, facial expressions or pantomime. This means that by the time they can use verbal speech, the ability to read each other is strongly in place, and their mutual dependence coupled with their mutual communication difficulties gives them an “in this struggle together” unity almost from the beginning and ultimately makes them a very cohesive couple.
An added bonus for me is the intellectual nature of the heroine. Like President Obama, Dafne firmly believes that “ignorance is not a virtue”. Stranded on an island where she doesn’t know the language and customs she seeks out the library and a Rosetta Stone-style document so that she can learn them. Dafne’s adventures in social studies give the author a natural way to do her world building and give us a thorough introduction to the lovely land of Nahanua and its (mostly) delightful inhabitants. They also teach us a lot about the magic of the land and of course, the presence of dragons pumps up the fantasy factor in a delightful way.
While the story does lag at some points I found The Pages of the Mind to be a good start to the new series and a delightful continuation of the old one. I am happy to recommend it to fans of fantasy romance, although I would strongly recommend fans new to the author start with Mark of the Tala. It’s a wonderful book and a nice introduction to this world.