Author: Moira J. Moore
Publication Date: August 2010
Paperback: 358 pages
In a realm beset by natural disasters, only the magical abilities of the bonded Pairs – Source and Shield – make the land habitable and keep the citizenry safe. The ties that bind them are far beyond the relationships between lovers or kin – and last their entire lives. Whether they like it or not…
The Emperor has personally selected Shield Lee Mallorough and Source Shintaro Karish to protect the duchy of Westsea – Tar’s ancestral lands. Having abjured his title, Taro has no desire to return home, but what the Emperor commands, a Shield and Source must obey.
Westsea is suffering from deadly earthquakes – earthquakes that aren’t dispelled by Lee and Taro’s magic as easily as they should be. But even as Lee tries to discover why this land resists their protection, Taro faces unrest among the local population, who would prefer to name him duke instead of his cousin. And when Lee starts having potentially deadly “accidents,” she realizes that something is very wrong in Westsea…
Stand alone or series: Book 5 in the ongoing Heroes series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: Moira J. Moore’s Hero series is one that I can count on for a solid, entertaining, escapist read – the perfect solution for an apathetic attitude or reading rut! Each book brings new challenges for this strange but perfectly suited Pair, and I always look forward to the next book in the series.
Source Shintaro Karish and Shield Lee Mallorough have had a tumultuous first few years since their bonding. Having caught the new Emperor’s eye, the Triple S’s most infamous Pair find themselves assigned to Westsea, Taro’s ancestral home. Ever since Taro has forsaken his Title as Duke of Westsea and passed the honor to his cousin, he and Lee have faced numerous obstacles to simply working in peace. First, the Empress (and, upon her passing, her son the new Emperor) takes an unwarranted interest in the Pair. Then, there’s the unwelcome attentions of Taro’s mother, the poisonous, conniving Dowager Duchess of Westsea – who will stop at nothing to separate the Pair and manipulate Taro back into the Duchy. Amidst all this political maneuvering, the Triple S (the governing organization of Shields and Sources) suspects that something strange is going on with the pair – suspecting Source and Shield have conflicted loyalties, unusual abilities, and are in other ways generally breaking protocol.
Meanwhile, the situation at Westsea (aside from political entanglements) is hardly stable; the region suffers from unprecedented earthquakes that Lee and Taro can barely contain for some unknown reason, and the populace in general feels animosity towards the new Title holder, Duchess Fiona. In the manor of Flown Raven itself, intrigue abounds – Fiona’s bitter and drunkard older sister, Daris, attempts to subvert Fiona’s efforts at controlling the Duchy, and Taro’s mother re-enters the picture, eager to usurp Fiona’s power and force her son back into his “rightful” position (all the while resorting to any tactics she can muster to get rid of Lee). All the while, mysterious “accidents” begin to occur at the manor – from misplaced ropes and nosy servants to blatant murder attempts on Fiona (and Lee)’s life.
With all the mess and drama, it’s up to Lee to take matters into her own hands. If she can get Taro to stop acting irrationally, figure out how to deal with the Triple S, Taro’s mother, the Emperor’s nosing around in matters of casting, and the death threats, that is.
The Heroes series is one of my go-to series’ when I’m going through a reading phase and feeling a bit mulish – Moira J. Moore’s books are always an action-packed, entertaining diversion, complete with witty banter from my favorite wry narrator, Lee. While Heroes Return is every bit as entertaining as the first four installments, this fifth book felt much more complex than its predecessors. I love that none of the events of prior books are overlooked or brushed aside, as all the shenanigans that Lee and Taro have been involved in culminate in their current situation in Westsea. The special abilities Taro uncovers in Resenting the Hero, the Dowager’s nastiness from The Hero Strikes Back, the Empress’s requests in Heroes Adrift, and the magical spellcasting (and Lee’s newfound talents) in Heroes at Risk, all of these seemingly isolated storylines culminate – expertly! – in Heroes Return. I must say, I’m quite impressed with Ms. Moore’s foresight, because to this point, I honestly perceived the series as fun, but of lighter substance; Heroes Return brushes aside that innocent judgment handily and reveals a much more sophisticated overarching plot. Me likey.
As for my favorite Source and Shield, what can I say? Heroes Return delivers more of the dry wit and stark – if completely unreliable – narration of Lee, along with more of Taro’s blase attitude. Just as with the plot, these two characters have surprising depth, as individuals and as a couple – and I love making these new discoveries about both Lee and Taro, just as they make them about each other. Lee remains as steadfast and stubborn as ever, and Taro just as charming and infuriating. As a still-new couple, Lee and Taro have their share of problems, many of which go unresolved in this book. Taro is, as he has been throughout the series, a bit jealous, while Lee remains mystified at his behavior (quite unaware of the effect she has on others). Returning to Westsea also unlocks a host of suppressed demons for Taro as he grapples with a dark childhood in which he was locked in a single room of his ancestral manor home for years, assumed to be an invalid because of the early manifestation of his Source abilities. Of course, my favorite part of this series remains Lee’s voice, her insights, and her general characterization. It’s clear in this book, however, that Lee and Taro have a whole lot of issues they need to sort out and are not without their flaws – but that just means more room for growth in the next installment. Besides Taro and Lee, however, there are a host of other intriguing and well-developed characters. I despise that miserable Dowager of Westsea with every fiber of my being (but I must admit, she is a wonderfully written and complex villain). Of the new additions, Fiona in particular is a compelling heroine that I look forward to reading more of in the next book.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that while I loved this book thoroughly, there was one sizable annoyance. I loathe mysteries with blatantly predictable villains and ignorant characters. Loathe. And Heroes Return unfortunately has an obvious villain, to whom the main characters are blithely ignorant. I cannot tell you how infuriating this is as a literary device…but perhaps this is a matter of personal taste.
Despite this complaint, I found Heroes Return to be yet another solid entry in the series, and I eagerly await the sixth book. If you haven’t yet read the series, now’s the time to get on board – you don’t know what you’re missing.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One (and a beautiful example of Lee’s awesome narration, I might add):
“Seriously,” I muttered. “You would think someone would have figured out by now how to build a carriage that didn’t cause the passenger to feel every rock and hole.” All the jostling about had given me a blistering headache.
“Are you getting old?” Taro asked. “You’ve been complaining a lot.”
I had not. I had merely been making accurate observations. “And you’ve been unusually quiet,” I responded. “Do you think we’ve switched personalities?”
“Lee, I never complain,” he claimed loftily.
“Never?” I snickered.
All kidding aside, Taro had been uncharacteristically silent for much of our journey. No doubt because we were heading for Flown Raven, Taro’s place of birth, and not by choice. If Taro had had his way, we would have never stepped foot in Flown Raven.
But we didn’t have a choice. Emperor Gifford, assuming an authority he didn’t have, had sent us there, for reasons neither of us could determine. And Taro hadn’t been quite himself since we’d gotten the news.
I wasn’t thrilled with the transfer, either, for a lot of reasons. There was the fact that we shouldn’t have ever been transferred by the Emperor, of course. That just alarmed me. We could have reasonably expected a few more years in High Scape, where we worked with six other Pairs, and where everything we could possibly want was close to hand. Most importantly, in my own mind, at least, Taro’s mother, the Dowager Duchess, didn’t live in High Scape. She did live in Flown Raven. In my opinion, that made Flown Raven the worst of all possible posts for us.
I despised that woman.
The carriage drew to a stop. I looked around the edge of one of the curtains. We hadn’t reached Flown Raven itself, so I assumed we were taking another break to allow the horses to rest. Our driver seemed unusually careful of his horses. I didn’t mind, I’d hate to be stuck out here with an injured animal, but it did seem to lengthen the trip immeasurably.
The door to the carriage was pulled open. “Source Karish,” the driver said to Taro. “Shield Mallorough,” he greeted me. As he did every time we stopped. He was oddly formal. “You might wish to work your legs.”
I did, actually. I preferred riding to sitting in a carriage for days, but the last livery in our path, once learning of our destination, had refused to lend us riding horses, preferring to send a driver and a carriage with us. Technically, we could have insisted on the riding horses, but I didn’t like making that kind of fuss. I could understand why a livery wouldn’t want to trust us to borrow the horses and arrange for them to be returned when we were going as far as Flown Raven.
So we stepped out, and I spent a few moments enjoying the fresh air and stretching the kinks out of my knees. Taro lingered by the carriage, though, his gaze a little blank, his mind obviously leagues away. I wished there were a way to make him feel better, but the only handy method I could think of was sex, and I wasn’t prepared to do that in a confined space with the driver listening in.
The sky, which had been dark all day, rumbled, and it began to hail. Only little stones, they didn’t hurt, but all three of us scrambled back into the carriage. I’d heard of hail that got as big as tea cups and I had no interest in risking something like that landing on my head.
I was worried about the horses being unattended. What if they spooked?
The driver looked at Taro. “Can’t you fix this?” he demanded.
Taro’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “This is just the weather, my dear boy,” he told the driver. “Not our bag, I’m afraid.”
I glanced at him with concern. I hadn’t heard him use that kind of airy tone for a while. It was one he used when he wanted people to assume he was an idiot, when he was feeling uncomfortable.
“Thought you two were supposed to deal with the weather,” the driver insisted. “That’s what you’re paid for.”
Well, no, members of the Source and Shield Service, or the Triple S, weren’t actually paid. We were supported. We could commandeer rooms in boarding houses, as fine as we liked, and requisition clothing and food and services. But we could never demand money.
“Ah, if only we could,” said Taro. “Hail and rain are so annoying, and snow should be made illegal. It would be delightful if we could just will”—he waved a languid hand—”it all away.”
Well, I could affect the weather. Sort of. I just wasn’t any good at it. And we weren’t telling anyone that, because it wasn’t part of a Shield’s regular bag of tricks.
“So what do you do?” the driver asked with asperity.
I was surprised to meet someone so ignorant of Sources and Shields and their roles. I wasn’t aware that there were people who didn’t know what we did. On the other hand, our new post hadn’t had a Pair in recorded history, having only recently been afflicted with earthquakes. Perhaps people in this area honestly never thought about Sources and Shields.
“When there is an earthquake, or a tornado, or an erupting volcano, or other natural disaster, I gather up all the forces of these events and channel them”—and this time Taro used both hands to make a sort of waving motion—”away.”
“And what does she do?” The driver indicated me with a thrust of his jaw.
“The forces are powerful things, my good man. She makes sure my skull doesn’t fly apart while I channel.”
Actually, I made sure the forces he wasn’t handling didn’t rush into the vacuum created by his channeling and crush him, at the same time making sure his brain and heart didn’t tear apart under the strain of doing something that was unnatural for the human body to do. But I had a feeling Taro was, for some reason, going for maximum dramatic effect as opposed to accuracy.
The driver sniffed. “Seems to me a man who really knew his stuff wouldn’t need some kind of assistant to help him do his job.”
Pompous little moron. And I wasn’t an assistant.
Hee. I love Lee so much. You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: The cover. OH, for the love of Pete, the cover. I cannot write this review without at least marginally addressing the hideousness that is the cover of Heroes Return. While it is a step up from Heroes At Risk, this one is still pretty terrible – although the general hair color and gender for Lee and Taro are correct, these models look ridiculous and at absolutely NO point in the book do either of them wield glowy magic. Just….no. I want to put out a PSA encouraging everyone to ignore the hideous covers that do this series such a grave disservice.
On a more positive note, author Moira J. Moore has a wonderful interview up on the Penguin Science Fiction/Fantasy website, and I urge every fan of the series to check it out!
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Matched by Ally Condie