Unbound, by Lori Devoti

2 Jul

Unbound by Lori Devoti

First in the Unbound series by Ms Devoti, this is actually the second book by hers that I’ve read so far. It introduces us to the nine worlds’ universe, where quite a bit of Norse mythology is real and humans just one of the many beings that inhabit them.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Unleashed from the Gates of Hell

Risk Leidolf was a hellhound—a legendary, otherworldly creature who was both man and beast. For centuries, he’d been bound to do the bidding of a cruel witch queen. But after being ordered to destroy novice witch Kara Shane, the man within him rebelled. And the beast within him was held at bay—for now.

Fiercely drawn to each other, Risk and Kara soon formed a passionate alliance as they set out to find her missing sibling—and the key to his salvation. For the power unleashed by the twin witches could free him from the witch queen’s bondage. But that freedom came at a steep price. For the fierce battle would put more than one soul at stake… and two hearts on the line.

After seeing her best friend killed by a stray dog at an early age, Kara has been afraid of most everything. She rarely takes any risks and relies on Kelly, her twin, to be strong and keep her safe. But now, Kelly is missing and Kara starts to wonder if she has ever truly known her sister—or herself or the reality of a world in which magic and mythical creatures exist.

For his part, Risk has one goal: to be freed from Lusse, the sadistic witch who bought him as a child, and has tortured his body and his soul ever since. The legends say that the power of twin witches might be enough to break the spell that ties him to his mistress. He has much to gain by helping Kara find her twin, and nothing to lose—or so he thinks.

Of course, things are much more complicated than that, for there are other creatures roaming the world in which Kara lives. There is a garm (wolf/man shapeshifter), more hellhounds, trolls, other witches and a god’s son, each with his or her own goals and motivations, from survival to lucre to hunger for power or freedom.

The thing I liked the most about Unbound was the world building. The original mythology drew me in completely. The different entities that inhabit this universe each have well defined abilities and personalities, which worked towards the consistency and believability of the story as a whole.

Also, I find the plotting of this novel much tighter than Wild Hunt (third in the Unbound series, reviewed here) and, in general, the main characters are better realized here.

I liked Risk a lot; his calculating coldness at the beginning doesn’t detract from his humanity at all. From the outset, Ms Devoti shows us that Risk has his own sense of honor, and that when he cannot avoid evil it does weigh on his soul. Bound to Lusse, he has had to learn to detach himself as much as he can from his service to her—or go mad. Being in contact with Kara soon allows him to see that he can survive even if—when—he feels for others.

Kara, on the other hand, has a few too many instances of TSTL behaviour, I’m sorry to say. While I sympathize completely with her need to find and save her twin sister (who is also her only living family) I was annoyed by her stubbornly—and stupidly—charging into situations she didn’t understand, after being warned repeatedly that a) there were things she didn’t know, and b) it was dangerous both for her and her twin.

Frankly, most of Kara’s behaviour was a bit too B-horror-movie-“blonde in a nightie going to the basement to investigate a mysterious sound” for me. Willingness to die to save someone else: applause. Willingness to die without ensuring you do save that someone: Darwin Award. Guess where I think poor Kara falls on that scale.

And yet, there is some growth during the novel. Kara finds her magical power and her backbone and, more by luck than by design, manages to put herself in a position to actually help her sister. Simultaneously, Risk manipulates his mistress so that he is also in a position to help the twins. I found the quasi-Machiavellian maneuvers rather entertaining, frankly.

So I liked Risk a lot, but there are three other characters that I am most curious about: the garm, Jormun and Sigurd. Lucky for me, the garm’s story is told in Guardian’s Keep, the second installment in the Unbound series, released in January 2008, which I hope to read soon. Sigurd has a secondary role in Wild Hunt, as do Risk and Kelly, but I sincerely hope that Ms Devoti will write his story.

Without Kara’s unfortunate TSTL tendencies, I would grade Unbound higher, but since she is the heroine of the book… this one is a 7 out of 10 for me.

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