Somewhere about the middle of Elizabeth Schechter’s Haven’s Fall it struck me: were one to remove the erotic elements from this story, there’d be a pretty fine YA fantasy/romance novel left over. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—YA offers some of the most imaginative storytelling and fine writing of these times, from brilliant authors like Madeline L’Engle and Philip Pullman to Suzane Collins. The point is, delightful as the sex scenes may be, if one can imagine a story without the erotic, it may be many things, but erotica is not one of them. Granted, there’s a beautiful m/m romance here, a budding m/f love affair and even a bit of bondage (consensual and otherwise), all fine and good. Yet, there’s something about the language, a kind of easy, placid flow that doesn’t make undue demands of the reader or challenge their cozy sensibilities—at least not too forcefully. Then there’s the nice, gentle way these characters relate to one another. All the main characters are so likable—so reflexively agreeable—the temperature of conflict barely rises above a mild simmer till near the end.
In Haven’s Fall, Schechter continues the story of Matthias, the reluctant mage, begun in Counsel of the Wicked (included on EftBB Best of 2015 list). Matthias possesses enormous magical powers of which he himself has never been fully aware, nor has he been trained in the proper use of his magic. At the same time, some sinister person or group, jealous of that power whether because they seek to harness it or destroy it altogether, has set out to capture or kill Matthias. But our hero has one great advantage. His friends: there’s his quiet, strong, patient lover Solomon, his kind and resourceful cousin Tam, Linnea the fearless foot soldier with the ability to track and locate sources of magic, and the wise Gryphon mother Dancer, as well as several new, equally likable characters who will no doubt make appearances in the projected third volume of the series.
Schechter understand that the way to keep people turning pages—and there are a lot of pages to turn here!—is to put her hero in peril and keep him there, never giving him a chance to breathe easy. This does result in a few too many scenes in which Matthias wakes up after having suffered some new and terrible injury, asking what happened to him, while Solomon, Tam, and the healer Illane are always right there to tend his wounds and rehash the events of the previous chapter in the gentlest of tones so as not to disturb Matt’s delicate emotional equilibrium. Magic is used to speed the hero’s recovery before he is invariably hurt in yet another new and horrible misadventure. It does get a bit repetitious in spots, and I came away from many chapters feeling less that essential story had been related than that time had been marked in an entertaining way, stringing me along in anticipation of some as yet unimagined Big And Exciting Thing to be revealed in the not-too-distant future.
Still, there’s a good deal to like and admire here. A novel of this length is not a casual undertaking to be treated indifferently, and Schechter proves once again that she is more than adequate to the task; the writing reflects a lively imagination, brought to the page with solid craftspersonship and practiced professionalism. Her characters may at times be a little too nice—stretching credibility to its curmudgeonly limits—but we are still curious to find out what happens to them. In the end, we are made to care for these people almost as much as they care for each other, and that is something that only a very skilled writer can do.