Book Review: To Play The Lady by Naomi Lane

Title: To Play the Lady
Author: Naomi Lane
Publisher: Naomi Lane
Publication Date: September 11th 2011
Paperback: 476 pages
Source: I purchased this title

Most girls in the Kingdom of Sevalia would be thrilled to receive an invitation to become the first Queen’s Lady without noble blood, but for tomboy Jenna Mallory, it was her worst nightmare. She would need to overcome not only her lack of social status, but her mixed heritage. Jenna received the invitation because her father was a wealthy merchant, but since her mother was from the desert across the sea, Jenna had inherited both her mother’s darker coloring and two magical abilities—abilities that would seem odd to Sevalian nobles that all have magic of their own. Any hopes to lead a quiet life at court are dashed after Jenna becomes the subject of palace scandal when her magic is discovered. Worse, Sevalia’s old enemy to the east lays claim to a powerful mage whom Jenna discovers hiding in the eastern mountains—a mage that takes a keen interest in Jenna’s magic. While she had expected being a Lady would be challenging, Jenna learns she will need all her wits and all her magic… just to survive.
I wanted to like this book, I really did. I mean, who goes into a story thinking it'll be complete waste of time? I don't like writing harsh reviews, but even after taking a lot of time to cool off I just can't find any redeeming merit in this work of fiction.

My first complaint is that Ms. Lane can't seem to decide exactly who she's writing for. The tale reads very much like a young adult novel; it tackles issues relating to growing up, relationships, and finding one's place in the world. There is also romance, which is expected within the genre. What I was not expecting, were quite how sexual the book became.

For example, this excerpt comes from location 5062 in the Kindle edition:

"She stood in the Arcanum, staring at the glowing symbols. She began to see them swirl around her, at first overwhelming, but then Sebastian was there, and she suddenly felt grounded. Without words, he began to kiss her, and she knew instantly she would like this dream.As his tongue found hers, he clutched her tightly. It was only then that Jenna saw she was naked. His hands on her bare skin felt warm, and her pleasure increased. The violet rota symbol began to throb in her consciousness. As Sebastian's lips found her breasts, she suddenly felt a wave of pleasure more intense than she had ever felt break over her. The rota symbol blazed with fire and then went out."

I read a lot of young adult books, I'm well acquainted with them. I understand that there is an element of sex in many teen books. What I don't understand is why Ms. Lane was inclined to include birth control, make out sessions, erotic dreams/trances featuring the main character with naked men, and sexual immorality in conjunction to the protagonist's magic, when said protagonist is only twelve years old at the start of the book. Yeah, go back and read that excerpt again now. Feeling dirty yet?

The setting is also inconsistent. Ms. Lane seems to be trying to build a 'traditional' fantasy world featuring castles, carriages, mages, magic and swordplay but she isn't quite hitting the mark. There are some interesting foundations, but I found myself to be constantly jolted from the story by things that clashed completely with the scene she was trying to describe. The way in which she named her characters is one example. She's the author, she can do what she wants, but if the names she decides on tear me from the narrative every time they're mentioned she hasn't done her job properly. Authors please note: If I'm reading a book that is marketed as fantasy, I don't want to hear anything about soccer or ice hockey... just a tip.

I also found it very difficult to like Jenna. She's a typical 'Mary Sue.' Everyone loves her, and she knows everything. If there's something she's not familiar with she picks it up instantly. A character needs some flaws to make them interesting, and challenges to prove they're worthy of our affection. Jenna had neither. The villain was cliched and many of the other characters also fell flat. They were there to do their jobs and push the story forward, nothing else. You can't just think up characters to fix some problem or other, they need to have a purpose of their own.

On top of this, the story was incredibly repetitive - I lost count of the amount of times she passed out, and how often she saved the kingdom. I also grew increasingly annoyed every time I read 'Jenna was'. It's like Ms. Lane has never hear the phrase 'show, don't tell.' Show me how happy she is, or how sad... it was frustrating constantly running into the 'Jenna was' phrases. Jenna was shocked, Jenna was horrified, Jenna was startled, Jenna was happy, Jenna was surprised, Jenna was pleased, Jenna was grateful, Jenna was, Jenna was, Jenna was. Ugh!

I had numerous other complaints when reading this book, but I don't feel comfortable going into detail about technical aspects of the prose. Overall I would not recommend this book. It is a very rare thing that I won't finish a series. Even if I don't like a book I'll often continue anyway and I've found some real gems which I would have missed if I'd let the first book put me off. This isn't the case now. I will not be reading the second in this series when it becomes available.

Rating: 1 star
Who I would recommend this for: Nobody
Other reviews: The Akamai Reader, Lady Techies Book Musings

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