I don't consider this a book review as such because I'm not going to feature new books or what I read last week. I'm not going to tell you about books I don't like. This is strictly going to feature books (not necessarily romance) that I loved. Books I consider 5-star reads.
Keep in mind that what makes a book a 5-star read varies from person to person and no one agrees on everything, so your mileage may vary.
I'm going to start with a book I recently reread for the umpteenth time. Dragonsbane was the first Barbara Hambly book I ever read and remains one of my favorites to this day. She's also my all-time favorite fantasy author.
The description from Amazon reads:
An idealistic young prince convinces an aging warrior and a struggling witch to help him kill the dragon that is terrorizing his kingdom
As a vicious dragon stalks the Southlands, Crown Prince Gareth ventures to the forbidding North in search of the only man who can kill it. He is Lord Aversin, the Dragonsbane, whose dragon-slaying days have won him renown across the land. But when Gareth finds Lord Aversin, he discovers the mighty hero is squat and bespectacled, the ruler of a mud-village who admits that he killed the dragon not with a lance, but with ignoble poison. Still, he’ll have to do.
Gareth and Aversin set off in company with Jenny Waynest, a witch with great ambitions but disappointingly puny powers—a ragtag crew destined to become legendary, or die in the attempt.
Before I go any further, I have to question who the hell wrote this? John Aversin was never described as "squat" in the book. He's six feet tall and a fine figure of a man. Yes, he wears glasses and kudos to Hambly for still managing to make him an attractive hero. In fact, when I first read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, I recognized a bit of John in Jamie Frasier. I still feel as though John might be the prototype for Jamie.
And yes, Gareth finds him standing ankle-deep in the mud of a pig wallow, but John is Laird of the entire Winterlands, a piece of the kingdom the crown has failed to protect for the last hundred years, and even though John is a scholar at heart, he takes his responsibility seriously, as one would expect a hero to do. And he is a hero. The only man alive who's killed a dragon.
Dragonsbane, they called him.
Slayer of dragons.
Or a dragon, anyway. And, he'd later found out, not such a very big one at that.
And like any good hero, he accepts that he must go slay this new dragon that's taken over The Deep, the home of the gnomes, and claimed their gold. He goes, even though he knows his odds of success aren't good and that failure will mean his death. But Gareth has promised that the king will give him anything he wants, and John wants the king to provide troops to protect the people of the Winterlands from the bandits and Iceriders that grow more bold all the time.
In spite of all that this is really Jenny's story. She's something of a hedge witch whose magical ability has never been what she longs for it to be. She's torn between her love for John and their two children and the hunger to immerse herself in her study of magic. She goes on this journey because she loves John. She's also foolishly looked into the future, and the glimpse she got showed her John dying from his wounds.
She doesn't know if she can change that fate, but she has to try. It works out much as she foresaw, but with the help of the dying dragon, she saves John, but the cost is a promise to heal the dragon. Turns out the old wisdom that says Save a dragon, slave a dragon is true. But in the healing process, this dragon has seen Jenny's heart, and he can offer her what she wants more than anything else.
As you can see, the characters have complexity. I love that about this story. And it's character driven as all Hambly's books are.
Whenever I read one of her books after a long time away from her, Hambly's writing always awes me. Her prose are flawless. Never a wasted word. Never a moment when I want something she doesn't give me. If I'm ever half the writer she is, I'll die happy.
Dragonsbane was originally published in 1985. It's the first (and best IMHO) of the four books in the Winterlands series but it stands alone nicely, and that's how I usually read it. If this sort of story appeals to you, you should definitely give it a try.