Title: Master of the Hunt (Huntress vs Huntsman Book One)
Publisher/Author: Lisa Blackwood
Price: $2.99 (ebook)
Generations ago, the soul-mages swept through the land, killing indiscriminately, and stealing souls to extend their own lives and power their evil magic. When they were finally driven back, they left behind a shattered landscape and isolated groups of traumatized survivors …. Seira of Blackstone is a warrior, a huntress, and a priestess of the Moon Goddess. She fiercely defends the borders of her lands against Centaur raiding parties, but she can’t help the longing that fills her heart when she looks upon a certain enemy huntsman …. Toryn is a Centaur, and for seven years he has played a long, slow game, gradually piquing Seira’s curiosity and, hopefully, more. But when the soul-mages return and slaughter a group of humans and Centaurs, Seira and Toryn find themselves working together. They must rescue the souls of their murdered kin, and stop the soul-mages once and for all ….
I picked up Master of the Hunt several months ago as a freebie ebook. It sat on my tablet for a while, waiting to be read. Finding myself in the mood for an epic fantasy romance, I pulled it up and dove right in. Overall, I found Master of the Hunt to be a fun, sex-positive, and — surprise! — pagan-friendly read.
First, I love the characters. Seira and Toryn are well suited to one another. They are both committed to protecting their peoples, but they are also fiercely independent. Seira has declined the matrons’ offers several times to return to her home fortress to bear daughters, and Toryn has likewise evaded his father’s requests that he return to assume his royal duties; they are comfortable in the wilderness and feel that they best serve their peoples’ needs by remaining exactly where they are. They are also both deeply honorable and pious, keeping to their vows despite the temptation to give in to their attraction to one another. Additionally, though they initially accept that mating raids are the best way to ensure their peoples’ survival, they each begin to question the status quo; Toryn begins to resent how the women are stripped of their independence and forced to rely on the Centaurs for food, shelter, and protection, while Seira begins to see that forcing male Centaurs into a permanent human form and mating them to as many women as possible is inhumane. By the end of the story, they are wondering (and fiercely hoping) that an alternative can be found which will allow both the women and the Centaurs to thrive and prosper.
Secondly, I really appreciate the fact that the story is sex-positive. It’s erotic, without being crude. Seira might be a virgin, but she is very aware of the realities of sex, and fully appreciates Toryn’s fine figure. Toryn, for his part, is comfortable in both his Centaur and human forms and, while he respects Seira’s vow of chastity and refuses to help her violate it, he eagerly looks forward to eventually being with her.
Finally, this is a rich and openly polytheistic world. Seira’s people honor the Moon Goddess, who is represented by the three moons that hang in the sky. (Since one is identified as the Maiden Moon, I assume the other two are the Matron and some variation on the Crone.) Toryn’s people, on the other hand, honor the Lady of the Prairies and the Lord of the Forests, the former depicted in fully human form, the latter as a well-endowed Centaur. Though they honor different Deities, Seira and Toryn respect one another’s beliefs and practices; at one point, they combine those practices into a single ritual meant to honor and call upon all of their Deities.
I do have a few complaints. One is that the chapters are oddly short, and break off in strange places (sometimes in the middle of a scene). They are often not natural breaks in the narrative, resulting in a choppy flow to the story. Additionally, the resolution to the story itself came very quickly and seemed … easy. Granted, this was a small contingent of soul-mages, but, given just how evil and powerful they apparently are, I would have expected a much more difficult showdown. (Of course, that leaves plenty of soul-mages to battle in the rest of the series.)
Overall, Master of the Hunt is a fast, engaging read which will particularly appeal to those looking for a fantasy novel which takes its characters’ spirituality seriously. Recommended to fans of Milla Vane’s A Gathering of Dragons series, The Tales of Inthya series by Effie Calvin, and Kylie Griffin’s series, The Light Blade.