As an Assassin, Rage spends his life creeping amongst the dark shadows of the world. One dead body is much the same as another and he has few qualms about taking well paying jobs. Still, he has a handful of morals, among them that he won’t rape or kill the young and when he is asked to do both, he refuses the job and decides to investigate his intended victim. He finds Lucinda of Babylon Manor to be a young, arrogant hellcat, but in very real danger and Rage, in a moment of heroism, kidnaps her to keep her safe.
Lucinda’s best friend, Keiran, a mute young man who quickly falls for the prickly, anti-social Rage, joins them as they flee danger. Mages and killers pursue the group and they must learn to trust and care for one another. But when the enemy takes Keiran to a monastery with a terrible and blood-soaked history, Rage and Lucinda must race to save both his body and soul.
Forbidden Monastery is a fast-paced adventure with a trio of fantastic characters and an intriguing plot. The author has done a decent job of providing a relatable sense of place, though the world building is otherwise limited. The pacing is strong, save for a few places in the middle of the novel that seemed to lag a bit. These sections didn’t last long though and the book really flew by and I definitely wanted more by the time I got to the end. The author’s style of writing is relaxed and approachable and a perfect fit for this novel, as it adds a natural intimacy that works on several different levels.
The characters are the most important aspect of Forbidden Monastery and they bind the various plot threads together to make everything work. Rage is a classic anti-hero. He repeatedly claims to have no use for people or to care about anything but he saves everyone who crosses his path including drowning kittens and fire victims. He regrets it every time but his reluctant bravery makes him all the more endearing. Though he is not always kind, Rage is honest and I appreciated the fact that right or wrong he knows who he is and doesn’t hide from even the darker aspects of his nature.
Keiran is a mute who grew up along side Lucinda. Though from different classes, a sibling-like affection exists between them and it runs deep. They are incomplete without the other in many ways but Keiran is a man who knows what he wants and he chooses Rage without hesitation. Though his feelings aren’t outwardly returned, he is loyal and absolute in his devotion to those he loves. Keiran is clever and quick and despite his lack of voice, he is really the backbone of the trio and his strength, especially in the face of terror, makes him a truly wonderful character.
Lucinda is spoiled, bratty, and possessed of an incredible magical talent. Though she and Rage are like oil and water, her magic and her willingness to care save the group on more than one occasion. Desperation makes her manipulative and during those times it’s hard to like her, but her genuine love of Keiran, and eventually Rage, redeem her and prevent her from becoming a caricature of wealthy arrogance. Together these three make an oddly supportive and resilient team and as a reader I desperately wanted some kind of happy resolution for all of them. The author saw fit to leave us on something of a cliffhanger, which just adds to the overall sense of anticipation that Forbidden Monastery has. I would also mention that there are a couple brief m/f scenes in the book and while they are appropriate to the context, if you aren’t into this sort of thing consider yourself warned.
The only place that the book trips up is towards the end. We don’t get to the Forbidden Monastery until the last fourth of the novel and it isn’t even hinted at until then. Despite coming out of left field, the monastery is suitably creepy and replete with the ghosts and dark blood magics of monks long dead. I felt this aspect of Forbidden Monastery was rushed and sort of wedged into the narrative. It isn’t terribly distracting, but I would have preferred a bit more exploration of the monastery and it’s history. Additionally the bad guy is pretty far fetched, also coming out of nowhere, and while he is properly deranged, his obsession with Rage seems forced and poorly established. Normally this might be a huge detriment but Forbidden Monastery is first and foremost about Rage and by extension Keiran and Lucinda. Because these central figures are so strong even the weakest parts of the book are ultimately buoyed.
Forbidden Monastery is a well-written, fast moving chase wrapped in magic and mayhem. The main characters are gratifyingly rendered and incredibly engaging. The book has a sequel pending, which I will anxiously be waiting to read. In the meant time, I think this one is definitely worth checking out!
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.