Review: Bitterwood by Rowan Speedwell

BitterwoodRating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

I’ve wanted to pick up a book by Rowan Speedwell for a while now, so when I learned Bitterwood was being re-released, I begged Jay for the chance to review it during New-to-Me-Author Week for our Reading Challenge Month (I didn’t read the previous version so I cannot comment on changes.) This is a fantastic high fantasy M/M romance with not one, but TWO romances! YAY!!

Meric is a 17 year-old mage with lots of secrets, but the biggest one is he’s dying. If he cannot find the great Golden Cat and a powerful mage to heal him before he turns 18 he’ll die, according to the prophesy. Also, Meric’s pretty important in his world, and that garners him protection in his quest by Captain Faran of the King’s Guard. They have less than a fortnight to save Meric’s life, and his health is failing when they seek refuge from a winter storm at Bitterwood Manor.

challenge month 2016Lord Joss Daene of Bitterwood Manor never expected his youngest son, Eissa, to clap eyes on Meric and immediately feel the pull of deep love. He also never expected to find Captain Faran so attractive. Joss has been celibate since his wife died ten years ago, but he had favored men before he was pressed into a marriage with his late-brother’s betrothed. Joss does know the legend of the great golden cat on his family’s standard. Daenes have been protecting the northern border of their kingdom for hundreds of years, after all. And, he’s heard talk of recent sightings of the cat within a day’s travel, but there’s a blizzard coming and no one’s gong anywhere for a bit.

While the men bunk down at Bitterwood, Joss and Faran explore their lust, and Meric and Eissa deepen their bond. It turns out Eissa is a healer, like his father. They are only considered hedge-wizards, but Eissa and Joss are able to boost Meric’s ailing health, for a time. The march moves forward and the hunt of the golden cat is on. Desperate searches leads to injuries and problems, but deep within the darkest, most wild and magical part of the Daenewood—as it’s been called—Meric finds more than his salvation.

I really loved this world. I felt like I was completely immersed in a new place with histories and mysteries that were lush and captivating. Faran and Meric tell this story, though most of it is filtered through Faran. He’s a good soldier, and sworn to protect Meric at all cost—even if it means hiding important information from Joss. The magic is constant and yet never overwhelming. There are no cheap parlor tricks, just a deep understanding of the energies in this world and how humanity can shape them. Joss is a good and constant man. He cares for his people in the Daenewood with compassion and justice, which is clearly demonstrated on their travels; Joss is highly esteemed by all of his tenants. The resolution to Meric’s illness was fantastic, with the right amount of drama, menace, and realism. I must admit that great golden cats always conjure Aslan in my brain, so I was 75% expectant that this cat would talk. Alas, that’s not gonna happen, but I wasn’t disappointed.

The love stories range from sweet, between Meric and Eissa, to sexy, between Joss and Faran. Joss is a dominant man, and Faran’s thankful to drop the yoke of responsibility for tender moments with a considerate lover. While this story ends in a manner that feels complete, I’d eagerly read another book set in this world. Perhaps it will be my second Speedwell title.

A bibliophile can dream…

This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for New-to-Me Author Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous prize from Interlude Press. One lucky winner will receive a selection of signed print books, as well as a variety of ebooks by authors new to Interlude Press this year. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on New-to-Me Author Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!

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  1. Thanks for an enthusiastic review, Veronica. I definitely wish to read BItterwood now. For your second, Speedwell book, I can recommend Illuminations — it’s a contemporary rather than historical/fantasy but I liked it very much.

  2. I read Bitterwood some years ago (the older edition) and loved it.  I echo your wish for a follow-up!

    I also loved Kindred Spirits and Finding Zach by her.  Although, you need to be prepared for Finding Zach – some pretty tough stuff in that one.

    Thanks for the review.

  3. The world-building does sound very cool!

  4. I haven’t been disappointed with any Rowan Speedwell book I’ve read. I would also greatly recommend Kindred Hearts. Thanks for your review. I look forward to reading this one.

  5. I read Finding Zach a long, long time ago but I don’t think I’ve read anything else by Rowan Speedwell.
    M/M fantasy is one of my favorite genres so I can’t believe I missed out on this one the first time
    around. I’ll definitely be getting it. Thanks! 🙂

  6. I haven’t read this one yet but I’ve enjoyed the authors other works. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. Definitely will give this a read in my free time.

  7. Excellent review, Veronica! Though you really don’t have to sell this book to me. It was love at the first sight. The moment I saw that cover I knew I had to read the book. Besides, fantasy and historical are two of my favourite genres, mix them together, add romance and a engaging story… A win-win, which makes Bitterwood is a must read for me.

  8. Fantasy is normally not my genre unless it is written by an author i like best. So since this is from Rowan Speedwell, I have it already on my wishlist. Another book from her i liked very much besides the ones already mentioned, was “Love, Like Water”.

  9. This sounds really awesome! I’m surprised I’ve never heard of it before but it’s totally on my list now!

  10. Ardent Ereader says:

    I really enjoyed Illuminations and Finding Zach, I never read Bitterwood so I am now adding it to my TBR list.

  11. great review, i’m definitely intrigued by it so thank you for sharing.

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