Four stories comprise this anthology of fantasy tales, each with themes of love set against war and treachery. I'll list my review of each one below:
Princess of Varik takes us to the kingdom of Fragia, where the Viking-like Prince Evan, fifth son of King Grieg, the Hammer is sent to the Arabesque land of Varik to woo princess Siria and make her his bride. I particularly loved Evan's humble nature. He's been browbeaten by his older brothers so long that he knows how to handle himself in battle and how to treat others the way he wants to be treated. He respects his father enough to follow his wishes, even though he has to risk his life to do so. I had mixed feelings about Princess Siria. She seemed an odd mixture of both weak and stubborn, but I did empathize with her when she had to endure a traumatic event. The story up until the ending was fairly strong, but it left me unsatisfied. I think it might be leading up to a sequel, but I wanted that yummy feeling of loose ends tied, characters where they needed to be, etc, and it didn't quite happen for me.
Orbis Veritas takes place on a newly discovered, thought-to-be-uninhabited planet. Dillon Craig is a brilliant scientist and explorer, a man one might call a "nerd". He's been unlucky in love, so to mend his broken heart, he sets out to discover what he can about the planet's extinct society. He ends up getting much more than he bargained for. In this one, I felt bad for Dillon. He deserved better than his love interest, Trina, who came across as shallow and fickle to me. In fact, I was rooting for him to end up with the alien woman he found instead. In this one, I didn't really connect with any of the characters as much as I wanted, but it was an interesting story of alien technology gone haywire.
In Battle Master, a super-warrior by the name of Torik is shipwrecked on a primitive planet and must face the most challenging foe he's ever come across--a woman who won't take no for an answer. Alana is as persistent as Torik is militant, and the two of them combine to make the beginning of this story a laugh-out-loud, fun read. Things get more serious though, after Torik surrenders his heart. When his old comrades finally locate him, he learns there is much more at stake now that he loves someone. This one had some very poignant moments at the end. I think Alana was my favorite heroine out of all four of these stories. She knew what she wanted and didn't back down, even in the face of death. Torik developed well and became a much better man by the end of this story.
Family Lost was a poignant journey about young Crown Prince Falen, who's had to endure strenuous battle training his entire life, without the love and support of his family. All he knows is that his mother left his father and abandoned him after he was born, and that his father all but disowned him. He blames his very existence for his neglect, but unlike other stories in which the scorned child might take revenge, Falen remained a humble and steady man, though women confuse him to no end. What I liked most about this story are the lessons we can learn about our perceptions--sometimes things aren't what they appear to be. There's always more to the story, and it was a touching experience to see Falen learn that for himself. The ending was a good one, and well-fitting to end this anthology as well.
Overall, these were pretty good short stories. If you love plot-based stories with an epic fantasy or sci-fi flair, you'll like these. For me, I would have loved to see all the characters fleshed out more, perhaps each story expanded into its own novella or novel. Many times, I had trouble connecting with the sort of "distant" feel to the POV and couldn't quite put myself into the setting. It's no secret that I love strong characters. Their development was probably strongest in Battle Master, though Family Lost was a close second. But don't take my word for it--grab your own copy and discover your favorites.
Love scenes are mild and non-graphic, but for the violence and adult situations, I'd recommend this book for adults who enjoy fantasy and sci-fi with romantic themes.