16 April 2014
“Always he was second or third choice. Just once he wanted to be someone’s first choice. He wanted to be offered, accepted, with pride. Not from obligation or with resignation. He wanted to be a preference, not simply the least disappointing of limited options.”
Kristof from With Pride by Megan Derr
I can’t lie, I have been a fan of Megan Derr for many years, and she is one of my favorite authors. I was excited when she and two other authors I followed on LiveJournal began the Less Than Three Press. So when I saw that Derr had a new book listed on NetGalley, I knew I had to read it. Her work is some of my favorite, and is a bit of my guilty pleasure reading that I can rely on when I have had a bad day. With Pride is now among my favorites from her.
Here is a brief summary of the plot of With Pride. Kristof, a paladin (holy warrior) is sent to take one of his sibling’s places and marry a Prince of Blood (half-demon men who survive on the blood of pure humans). While he will do his duty and marry a Prince of Blood, Kristof is resentful of not having any choice in the matter, and especially of not knowing which Prince he will marry. Unfortunately for Kristof, Håkon (his betrothed) is the least welcoming of the Princes, and seems determined to provoke Kristof’s temper and disgust. However, before they can be un-happily wed, a demon attacks the castle, and the attack signals that there is a much larger attack planned. With their marriage plans on hold, Kristof and Håkon with a platoon of men set out to discover the mastermind behind the attacks. Having to rely on someone you don’t like and may have to marry is not something that comes easily to either of them. The trip may provide a way to the happier lives they both desire, if they don’t kill each other first.
I can’t lie, I loved With Pride! There are some parts that are a bit unpolished, but I loved the story and am happy it will live on my e-reader for when I have a bad day. I read the book in under a day, and just could not put it down. Some of the story elements (e.g. paladins, demons, and necromancers) and the world building reminded me of my favorite story by Derr, Black Magic. However, this was a truly unique story.
The best place to start is with the world building that Derr has done so well. The world building is even more impressive when you realize that this is the second book in the same world (I have not read that one yet, so my understanding is only based on this book). The bits and pieces about the world around the main characters, Kristof and Håkon, fall into place subtlety and in little chunks. I dislike when there are pages upon pages devoted to a surrounding, and Derr stays away from this. There were so many new and unique types of creatures all working together in the Legion (the ruling army of the world). There are paladins with holy magic, the Princes of Blood with their demonic powers, necromancers, piskies (I had to look this up as I thought initially it was a spelling error, but it is just a different spelling of pixies), dragoons who are able to shift their body parts to more draconian versions, and many others, more than I can list! I am excited to read more of this series to learn about these creatures and how most are gathered under one ruler.
The characters in the story were another stand out for me. While I enjoyed Håkon, it was Kristof that I related to and liked from the beginning. Kristof is everything you want from a paladin. He’s tall, handsome, and fills out his armor. But more than that, he is a good and courageous man, who sacrifices almost everything for others including his looks (he has many scars and is slightly disfigured), his choices in life, and even his potential future happiness. However, he doesn’t see this side of himself. Instead he focuses on his internal fear of demons, one that is justified by his previous encounters with them. There is also a longing to be seen for himself, and not to always be the one that everyone else leans on. He is just so human in those moments. He tries to make the best of his situation and reach out to his new fiancée. Kristof provides the perfect human foil to Håkon’s mostly demonic character. Their interactions are, at first, painful because of the dislike and animosity between them, but it is wonderful for the story. There are many great exchanges between them, but the exchange below is my favorite.
Kristof: “Since we have met you’ve been nothing but mocking and derisive. You despise me to the point you callously disregard facts and cause me pain to sate your own needs. It would not have killed you to show a little kindness. Not once have I denied you, Highness. All I asked was reassurance that you have a care for my pain when you feed.”
Håkon: “I didn’t mean—”
Kristof: “You didn’t care enough to mean anything. All you wanted was to satisfy your hunger and use me as a target for your anger. You’ve gotten what you wanted, Highness. Get out.”
One of Derr’s best abilities is to turn a character you dislike into someone you can not only sympathize with but then actually like. She has done this with Håkon. He is the very small, pretty, and vicious Prince of Blood, who is more demon than human at the beginning of the story. I did not like him until part way through the story, when we begin to see why he is the way he is, and when he starts to realize how cruel he has been. By the end of the story, I was rooting for Håkon and Kristof to end up together. One of the reasons he is to be married is to try and remind him to be human, and this is something he doesn’t want, but Kristof is hard to ignore. For example, Håkon thinks, “Damn it. He did not want to remember what it was like to be human. Not this much.” The second half of the story follows Håkon, and uncovers his painful history. It was great to watch his slow transformation into something a little more human. I also have to say I found it amusing that because he was so much smaller than Kristof, he either gets picked up or climbs Kristof when they have a private moment.
The other characters in the background are also interesting. The Princes of Blood were fascinating, and it was interesting to see how different these men were. I really enjoyed the moments where High Prince Telmé and his husband High Priest Korin are in the story. I am excited that they are the main characters of the next book. I would love to learn more about how they ended up together, as they are a very strong couple in this story. My favorite side character though was Erzébet, a kidapped village mother that helps Håkon to investigate the evil necromancer. She is just a normal woman, but she is strong and smart, and she does what needs to be done. There is strength and fragility in her, “All I want is to go home and never have to kill anyone again.”
One thing with this book is that it can be very dark at times. There are some rather gruesome ideas that show just how dangerous the world is. You get hints of this evil when you encounter the necromancer and how demons are “seeded” (basically planted to come and wreak havoc many years down the line). Yet for all the death and destruction, the love story works, and you are cheering for them!
My only issue with the book is that the second half of the plot didn’t really work. The first half was great; it was interesting and kept the reader engaged. The second half slowed down with many flashbacks, and because the point of view switched to Håkon while Kristoff and Håkon separate, you only really got to see Håkon. I probably could have completely ignored this if not for the fact that the final fight and the reveal of the evil mastermind fell flat for me at the last moment. There was such a great build up, and then it just sort of ended. Derr is capable of much more complex endings, or more delicate handling, so I was a bit disappointed.
However, that last plot point aside, I loved this book. Like I said earlier, I will be reading the rest of the series, and I know I will be re-reading this book. It will not be to everyone’s tastes (it does contain adult language and situations, just as heads up), but for me it falls in my guilty pleasure category.
Final Verdict: A great quick read, with an amazing new world, characters that will engage you, and a romance you can root for.