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Review: 22 Nights by Linda Winstead Jones

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22 Nights (Emperor's Brides #2) by Linda Winstead Jones
Paranormal Romance, Fantasy
Mass Market Paperback (BERKLEY, 336 pages, $7.99)
ISBN# 0425224910
Just when the lovely Belavalari has given up on Merin - the dashing general to whom she lost her maidenhead - he appears in her native village, with orders from the emperor to return with Bela as a prospective empress. Fearless and skilled with her magical sword, Bela embodies everything Merin could want in a soldier. Except that she's female. And already married - he's horrified to learn - to him.
For her own reasons, Bela drugged him all those years ago and performed the Turi marital rite. Now, to sever the bond forever, Bela and Merin must remain bound together by a short rope for twenty-two days - and twenty-two nights. That is, if they don't kill each other first.
But on the horizon looms a cutthroat enemy. Now the pair will have to rely on each other - and the magical sword - to make it through alive and to experience the strength of the ties that bind.
Author Site:

The Emperor's Brides, Book Two: 22 Nights (3 stars)

In Jones' Fyne Witches trilogy a pair of twin sons are born to Emperor Sebestyen of Columbyana. Now adults, Emperor Jahn and his moments-younger twin, Prince Alixandyr have begun an adventure to find a bride for the Emperor. There is to be a contest, six women of worth from varying lands are to be brought to the palace to be offered the chance to be Empress. Messengers are sent to the far places at the height of the Spring Festival to return with the ladies in time for the Summer Festival where Jahn will choose his bride. Already Alix has returned with Princess Edlyn of Tryfyn and has found a bride for himself in the exotic Sanura.

Sending General Merin to the Turis to bring back the Chieftain's daughter, Belavalari, seems a logical choice. Six years ago, during the war, Merin spent time fighting alongside the Turi people. It was during this time that an impulsive young Bela chose Merin to take her maidenhead. After drugging the General she performed the Turi matrimonial rights and attempted to consumate the marriage. Thinking Merin would die in the war leaving her a widow her only interest in him was how his death (and the loss of her maidenhood) would allow her more freedoms as a woman. When Merin rides back to the Turis to bring Bela to his emperor he has no idea that he is returning to his wife!

When the truth of the union is revealed the two agree to the process of ending the marriage; twenty-two days and nights bound together with a short rope. For the next twenty-two days the two must do everything together, including chores and tasks set down for them by members of the clan. When a dangerous outsider comes to claim Bela and her mysterious magical sword, Kitty, the two must work together to unravel the mystery of where the sword came from and why it chose Bela and Merin to be its keepers.

If you've been a fan of Jones' previous books (The Fyne Witches, Children of the Sun and the first in this trilogy, Untouchable) this one may be a little bit dissappointing. While it still has some of the elements one can expect, epic storytelling and sensuality, it is lacking in one of the elements Jones usually shines in, strong character development. Bela is fleshed out far more than Merin, which I found to be frustrating because I couldn't understand his motivations much of the time. Though having explanations for her manly ways and atittudes Bela was very one-dimensional and the turn from her rejection of all things sensual to full acceptance seemed forced.

Overall the story was very predictable and I felt as if the side romance (Leyla and Savyn) was more interesting and enjoyable than the book's main story. I wanted to like this one, but there were just too many cliched plot devices for my tastes. As an addition to the trilogy it's not one to be passed over but I suspect it will be the weaker of the three. If you don't mind a predictable story and the use of overused plot devices this one isn't bad by any means, it just didn't impress me. With this one tied up the stage is very well set for the conclusion of the bride hunt in Bride by Command.

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