Today we have a Series Spotlight for the Scarlet and the White Wolf series by Kirby Crow. We are reviewing the first three books today in anticipation of reviewing the newest book next week.
The Pedlar and the Bandit King
Unlike so many of his people, Scarlet was born with the wanderlust. Rather than remain in Lysia, the small village of his birth, he has taken up the trade of pedlar. In this way he serves his need for adventure and earns steady coin to support his aging parents. As winter draws close, Scarlet decides to take the mountain pass near Lysia, despite knowing it is currently held by a bandit chieftain who requires a toll for passage.
Liall the White Wolf is more than a mere chieftain, but for now the life suits him and though he is something of an outcast among the people he leads, he is respected and content. He is instantly drawn to the quick-witted, brave little pedlar called Scarlet. Rather than pay the toll demanded of him, Liall and Scarlet begin a game of wits, as Scarlet tries to avoid the toll using one audacious plan after another. Despite their mutual attraction, a tragedy in Lysia and a summons from Liall’s northern homeland puts an end to the game. Scarlet is forced to decide if he will remain in the land of his birth or follow the mysterious Wolf on a journey that neither may survive.
The Pedlar and the Bandit King was one of the first books I read when I started to explore m/m fiction and the series as a whole propelled me to delve further into the genre. Now that a new volume has been released (and will be reviewed here soon), it felt like a good opportunity to revisit the initial trilogy. I was pleasantly surprised to find The Pedlar and the Bandit King was just enjoyable to read all these years later. The writing is crisp and descriptive without becoming pedantic or distracting. The world building is strong and the fantasy elements are unique and engaging. Both Scarlet and Liall are captivating characters, opposites in so many ways but bound together inexplicably and often against their will. Theirs is no easy romance and they are at odds as often as they are in sync, which adds a wonderful dynamic to their relationship. The plot is solid and, though it lags occasionally, this never lasts long and there is enough action to hold the reader’s attention. Overall the Pedlar and the Bandit King is an excellent start to the complex and captivating series, Scarlet and the White Wolf.
Scarlet has made the fateful decision to follow Liall into the far north, where foreigners are far from welcome. The four-month voyage by ship is fraught with danger and Liall has desperate enemies, seen and unseen. Though he cares for Scarlet, he refuses to expose him to danger and is determined to see the young man put off the ship at the first port they come to. But Fate conspires again him and Scarlet remains on board. During the ensuing months, Liall and Scarlet grow closer while batting illness, attacks, betrayal, and their own desire. Scarlet becomes increasingly frustrated with Liall’s reticence regarding their destination and the suffocating confines of the ship. Liall would rather see Scarlet safe in the south, but that is no longer an option and he must balance Scarlet’s safety and the need to open his heart. Liall knows that once they arrive in the Land of Night, their danger will increase tenfold, which increases his natural desire to protect Scarlet. He and Scarlet must commit completely to one another or break apart and risk losing everything, including their lives.
Mariner’s Luck is the weakest of the Scarlet and Wolf initial trilogy in my mind, but despite this it remains a solid and interesting entry. The plot suffers from too little forward motion, partially because of so much time spent at sea and partially because of the relationship between Liall and Scarlet. There is a fair amount of action, but often the passages in-between feel like the reader is simply marking time until something else occurs. Though this not always unpleasant it does leave the plot feeling a bit boggier than the first book. Liall and Scarlet remain both at odds and drawn together, bouncing back and forth between contentment and anger like a pair of yo-yos. While this really worked in the first book, it tends to wear thin at times in Mariner’s Luck, only because as a reader you hate to see them hash over the same arguments all the time. This changes towards the end of the book where a dramatic shift occurs and reaffirms this fantastic pairing and returns them to an even keel. We learn more of Liall’s homeland, but the author plays much of this, I assume purposely, close to the vest, which is very much in keeping with Liall’s nature, so it works rather than detracts from the book’s rising tensions. The fantasy themes are less evident here but the world building remains fascinating and genuinely intriguing. Despite that Mariner’s Luck has a slower plot and at times becomes bogged down in unresolved issues between Scarlet and Liall, it remains an important link in the evolving storyline and offers an exciting glimpse into the mysterious Land of Night.
Liall has returned to his childhood home at the behest of his dying mother to help his youngest half brother ascend to the throne. But Rshan, the Land of Night, is a place of betrayal and lies and Liall is torn between trying to protect Scarlet and serving the royal House. Scarlet’s very arrival in Rshan has placed in him danger and there are enemies around every corner, waiting to challenge and preferably kill the headstrong young man. Liall tries to sequester Scarlet away, hoping to keep him safe, while he navigates the dangerous political waters surrounding the throne. Between Liall’s smothering, the court’s general loathing of him, and the vicious weather, Scarlet begins to wonder if coming to Rshan was the right choice. He loves Liall, but love may not be enough to see them through the coming winter. When the Queen dies, a bloody confrontation will determine the fate Rshan, its royal family, and the pedlar who has captured the attention of a kingdom.
The Land of Night picks up directly from where Mariner’s Luck leaves off. It is a much stronger entry than its predecessor and introduces a host of new characters, both enemies and friends alike. Scarlet, as a foreigner, is viewed with suspicion and disgust and only his position as Liall’s consort protects him from being killed the moment he arrives in Rshan. Adrift in a strange land, where he has no knowledge of the language and no friends, Scarlet is alone. He resents being confined and coddled and much of the early tension in the book comes from Scarlet’s struggle to find a place of his own in Rshan. He and Liall excel at many aspects of their relationship, but communication is not one of them. They are often at odds and Liall’s silence only adds to the increasing distance between them. In addition, the political machinations of those at Court add an extra layer of suspense to The Land of Night. There are sinister forces at work and the ultimate climax to the action is truly devastating. The writing is strong and there is a healthy balance of description and efficiency, which makes the story move swiftly and with only a few temporary lags.
The author has done a wonderful job of pulling the previous two books into this one and wrapping up all the loose ends to some extent. There are several story lines that are never completely resolved and when I first read The Land of Night, I was a little frustrated by this. But there is now a fourth book in the series, so it makes more sense. The action and drama never seem forced or unrealistic. They exist perfectly in the world that Kirby Crow has created and Scarlet and Liall are such a natural extension of that world that their trials seem to have real purpose. Scarlet and Liall have been the core of this series from the beginning and, while that never changes, I appreciate the honest portrayal of their relationship, especially in The Land of Night. They are not perfect men and while their love is strong, their survival as a couple is never completely assured. One of the other wonderful components of this pair is the fact that neither overshadows the other. They are balanced well and despite shifts in the power between them, they always manage to return to that balance.
Given how enjoyable the re-read of this wonderful series has been, I’m certainly looking forward to reviewing the fourth installment, The King of Forever. If you enjoy well-crafted fantasy and a strong and emotional couple, then definitely give the Scarlet and the White Wolf series a chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!