BOOK ONE – Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.
But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions.
However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a Dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.
BOOK TWO – Kiram fought his family and Cadeleonian bigots to remain in the Sagrada Academy to prove himself as a mechanist and to dispel the deadly shadow curse that threatens to destroy his upperclassman, Javier Tornesal. But when his efforts provoke retaliation, Kiram’s family and home are endangered. Both Kiram and Javier risk everything in a desperate gambit to combat the curse. But they never imagined their battle with come so soon, or that it would be lead by the one person they trust most of all.
I knew the moment I read Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen that I had come across an author with an incredible gift, not only for storytelling, but also the ability to draw perfect imagery with her words.
As with her Prodigal Belimai Sykes and his lover Captain William Harper, Ms. Hale has introduced two more dynamic characters in Kiram Kir-Zaki and Javier Tornesal, two teenage boys attending Academy Sagrada in a 14th century steampunk world where clockwork devices and steam engines dot the landscapes of an awe inspiring fantasy adventure.
Lord of the White Hell – Book One is a rather lengthy introduction to this alternate history universe, delving into an incredibly detailed account of the Haldiim and Cadeleonian races. Their religious and cultural differences breed a healthy mistrust and prejudice between the two peoples, causing tension and conflict as Kiram sets out to become the first Haldiim graduate of the Cadeleonian school. A bit of patience is required to wend one’s way through the book, as the rather large cast of characters introduced, along with the author’s meticulous world building skills did, at times, slow the pacing of the plot. Never, though, did it fail to fascinate or impress. And I have to confess that I was incredibly relieved I hadn’t begun this book prior to the release of the second, as the ending of the first wasn’t necessarily a cliffhanger as much as it seemed a convenient place to divide the story, given that the second book picks up with a less than 24 hour time lapse and immediately continues the plot of the first. I’d have been just as happy with one long book, but it did allow me to take about a 5 minute breather while the second book downloaded onto my ereader. Not that I really wanted it. I didn’t.
Kiram is a brilliant mechanist who, in spite of his ethnicity, has been invited to attend the academy to complete in the Crown Challenge, a contest in which he will submit his invention—an upgraded and currently unequalled version of the steam engine—a brilliant and innocent creation that will become an infernal device in the hands of a mad man. Amidst the rigors of acclimating to an alien school, foreign culture, and the stigma of ignorant prejudices, Kiram finds a true and trusted friend in Nestor Granito and an ally and protector in Javier Tornesal, the Duke of Rauma, along with his group of Hellions, who eventually prove that loyalty in the face of unimaginable danger is a force far greater than evil.
Javier is an Upperclassman and heir of the White Hell, one of the many perceived hells of the Cadeleonian faith. Javier is an outcast despite his social standing as a duke of the peerage due to the power that resides within him—a power that inspires fear and breeds its own prejudice. The Tornesal family has slowly been dismantled and decimated by a curse that has recently been unleashed upon Javier’s only remaining relative, his cousin Fedeles, stealing the boy’s intellect, as well as his sanity. As the bond between Javier and Kiram grows, Kiram grows more and more determined that it will be his steam engine that will be the key in breaking the curse that threatens to kill Fedeles.
In the thick of the mysterious Old Rage that is terrorizing the Tornesal family, as well as the preparations for the autumn challenge, Javier and Kiram must also cope and come to terms with their growing attraction to each other. Born and raised into a matriarchal society whose religion celebrates compassion and generosity, and one that is accepting that love is always between two people, but not always between two sexes, Kiram walks a precarious line while living in the society whose religious tenets demand penance, fear, and blind acceptance of its multiple hells and specious truths. Javier hides behind bravado, arrogance, humor, and participation in the carnal exploits at a whorehouse with his band of Hellions, conforming to what is expected of him as a Cadeleonian male and submitting to the punishments of the faith which demands he pay a heavy price for the burdens he bears. But the steepest price of his denial may very well be the boy with whom he is deeply in love.
As the story continues in book two, no closer to curing Fedeles’s affliction and the black curse nearly having destroyed Kiram, he returns to his home in Anacleto, where his Uncle Rafie and and Rafie’s husband Alizadeh, a Bahiim holy man, attempt to help Kiram and Javier fight the mystical evil that is bent on stealing Javier’s power. Danger, suspense, action, and a powerful alchemy thread their way through the book, giving rise to Javier’s abilities as he accepts the responsibility of the faith that will brand him a heretic. Kiram must fight against the pressure of family obligation and expectations to pave his own path to a future with Javier. Friends will step up to stand and fight beside the boys, their courage and allegiance proving a greater force against shadows that threaten to consume their world.
Lord of the White Hell – Book Two is solid and suspenseful from beginning to end. Where the narrative pace ebbed and flowed in book one, book two moves briskly through a journey that began as spiritual mythology and ended with a battle for power over the evil machinations of a twisted mortal and his lust for power.