Aleana Melora, Duchess of Eniva, knows her duty. She comes from a noble family of formidable reputation, and her upcoming marriage to her realm’s Prince, Tallak, will seal it for generations. This does not mean she looks forward to it, only that she will do what she must.
The Duchess expects quiet dissatisfaction and loneliness, tempered by the hope of being a good Queen. She does not expect betrayal. She does not expect fighting and death and political intrigues from quarters she never even knew about. She does not expect to be rescued by Kahira. And Kahira—fierce and solitary, with a past as ugly as the brand on her arm—does not expect Aleana Melora.
Full disclosure. I’ve been looking forward to this book’s release since I stumbled across Sara Gaines and her tumblr last month. We’ve spoken off and on, she seems lovely, and I gleefully purchased the epub yesterday, hoping for romance, adventure, and the heady mix of newness and nostalgia that might come from old quest fantasy tropes played out by queer characters.
Noble Falling delivers all of this, plus persimmons. There is a lot to love in this book. Aleana is a vivid character, and her first person voice shows us a duchess who is…well, precious. In the bad sense as well as the good. She is naive and pampered and used to command, and she does not take immediately to dangerous travels in the woods, with only one guard—and, eventually, a very distracting Kahira—for company. So often in these these types of narrative, the heroine is able to adapt too fast and too well, giving her success less impact. Here, you can actually see Aleana’s evolution, and it is believable as well as lovely. Kahira is, perhaps, a little too much the darkly mysterious stranger, full of allure and sidelong glances, but she was charismatic enough for me not to care. My one complaint about Kahira is that she wasn’t introduced early enough!
One major issue of Noble Falling is in the pacing. The book is only 145 pages long, all of the action seemed crammed in the first fifteen and the last forty-five pages. The rest of the story is Aleana’s quest to travel from near her old home in Eniva to Tallak’s capital Seyna, and there is a lot of sleeping on rough ground and dubious camp meals, without much tension. We learn about Aleana’s married guard, Ori, and—when she joins them—we strive with Aleana to learn a little more about Kahira, but as Aleana allows herself to shape her complete unwillingness to marry Tallak, and acceptance of the fact that yes, she really does feel attraction to women, it’s hard to actually want her to stick to her journey. This provoked more irritation in me than it did pathos. Adding to this, when she completes it, the story suddenly explodes into a violent whirlwind of political intrigue that, while adding depth to the story, could have been introduced in greater amounts a lot earlier. there are hints throughout, just not many of them. There is also quite a lot of info-dumping in the early chapters.
As complaints go, however, these are minor minor. This is a first novel, and Gaines has set up a world in Noble Falling that I sincerely hope will be expanded, as I am not quite ready to give up Alaena and Kahira, or the world that Aleana so passionately wants to improve.
These two have an almost unseemly amount of chemistry; it was delightful. When, at one key point in the story, Aleana declares she would surrender her title—something that we know is crucial to her—to save Kahira’s life, you will believe it. It was also lovely to read a universe where girls (at least, girls without title or need to maintain noble bloodlines) can marry girls, and boys marry boys with little comment. This is not a coming out novel. It is a story about change, about beginnings and gallantry and trust that fills an empty space in my heart much like Julie Anne Peters’s work did for me years ago.
I hope that Sara Gaines never stops.