Be Careful What You Joust For
by Ryan Hauge & Ivy Smoak
Pentavia is a medieval world full of calculated espionage, treacherous alliances, and respect for the Old Gods and customs. Ever aware of the precarious beauty of their own slice of the land, the House of Hornbolt views peace as something to be honored and sought after at all costs. The past has seen its plague of war and terror, of destruction and of fallen kingdoms, but in the streets of Arwin’s Gate there is regulated order and a blanket of balanced stability.
The family that rules over this quiet land is bound to the crown by the marriage of Duke Garrion to Duchess Isolda. As the raven-haired princess of the House Talenov found love and devotion on the other side of the coin with the dashing hero, the two have spent the years of their marriage together ruling with a steady hand. Their people are content and taken care of, their land is prosperous in nature and one of tranquility. And their children have their places; for first son Marcus, glory will be found on the battleground as he trains to become a brave knight in shining armor. The daughters – Oriana, Selina, and young Nesta – will be risen in station and wealth via well-made matches, their marriages meant to further unite the continent and its people. Lastly, Terric will fulfill his duty as second son and enter the priesthood, bringing honor upon his house and peace to his father’s mind.
But beneath the surface, other things are brewing . . . and a legendary tournament threatens to upend all of Hornbolt’s most carefully laid plans.
Isolda Hornbolt is, among other things, a mother and a wife. She harbors serious doubts about the upcoming tournament she and her husband are due to host for the kingdom, and attempts to push them aside as best she can, so that order can be maintained under her roof. Dissension in the ranks can be sniffed out as easily as a mouthwatering pastry prepared by Cook, and her children and husband are under enough stress as it is without Isolda’s concerns being thrown into the mix. She’s also inherently aware of the lines her children are balancing on; the doubts they have as to their own futures and duties cling to them and keep her up at night.
The tournament will determine several key positions in the court Isolda’s brother lords over, and as such, could mean the surety of war on the horizon just as much as it could guarantee another peaceful decade. Her son Marcus is determined to bring fame, prestige, and the foremost honors to House Hornbolt and be knighted to the most senior degree, but going up against the Crown Prince of the land will make his battle one of increasingly high stakes. Isolda isn’t sure Marcus even holds the right skill set to survive the tournament, let alone win it. The boy has been training for this moment almost from the second he could stand on two feet, but he is surely no match for a prince who has been taught by the most affluent and renowned fighting tutors in the land. This tournament could end not only in triumph for one, but in death for another.
Isolda also knows that the tournament will mean the end of Terric’s youth. Soon after, the boy will be sent off to seminary, and his wild dreams of becoming a knight wrought with fame and fortune will be dashed completely, like a slice to the back with a well-tempered sword. It is not her wish to murder the dreams of her youngest son, but his father (and her husband) is insistent that the boy keep in line with the traditions of his own familial line. What his parents don’t know is that Terric has his own plans in place, the least of which is a journey to the other side of the world where he believes he live out his days by his own design, making his own rules and following his own heart’s desires. But does Terric have the courage to embark upon such a journey?
And for her daughters, Isolda is both reticent and cautious in regards to their futures. She knows that her oldest daughter Oriana secretly hopes that she will be betrothed to the Crown Prince Rixin, and while Isolda knows that in theory this could be a good match, she is personally well-versed in the responsibilities that come along with the prospect of being Queen one day. She’s not sure her daughter is ready to fulfill the duties involved; her youth still grips her body and spirit and Oriana has seen nothing of the cruelties of the world, having grown up within the gates of her father’s carefully tended lands. Unbeknownst to Isolda, Oriana has been playing a dangerous game behind the scenes. In an effort to leave dolls and fanciful girlhood policy behind, Oriana is gearing up for the tournament in the only way she knows how – perfecting her stance as a true lady. She’s been designing beautiful dress and perfection in manner and style to go with it, anxious to elevate herself in her beloved’s favor. Prince Rixin has not seen her since she was a young girl and if their betrothal is to come to fruition, he must see her as a woman instead of a child. But while Oriana has spent years cultivating an obsession with the prince, she is surprised to find that her eyes begin to wander after she is rescued from a perilous position in the marketplace by a mysterious and handsome stranger with a broad chest and a deadly right hook. She can’t seem to get the rogue out of her mind (or out of her bedroom, as it would seem).
In many respects, the matriarch is on target with her review of her children, but her problems don’t end with her offspring or the impending tournament. Ever the wily and shrewd businesswoman, Isolda has taken her years in Arwin’s Gate and used them to her advantage by creating and running her own businesses under an assumed name. In a clever disguise, the woman goes about her daily check-ins of her lucrative taverns and brothels, keeping a wary eye on competition and any budding discontent with staff or patron. In one such examination, Isolda is faced with the unlikely unearthing of a long-missing relic and the curiosities engulfing it. Feeling a responsibility to uncover the mystery surrounding the treasure, she will begin to question those closest to her and their loyalty to both the crown and to her very own person. Some alliances and relationships are not meant to be tested in such a way, and Isolda will be forced into making hard choices based upon the most raw and primal of reasons – love of a husband, of family – and love for country.
Be Careful What You Joust For is the newest novel by co-authors Ryan Hague and Ivy Smoak, and the first in the Pentavia series. Whisking readers across the realm in the ultimate game of chess, Joust relies heavily on the elements that bring the masses running – mystery and intrigue, forbidden romance, unlikely alliances, and of course – the competitive joust.
While I gave this particular novel 3.5 out of 5 stars, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the style of writing or the plot. The story was well-paced and devoid of the boring, non-sensical illusions that are so readily found in other books that share this time period. The building of the world of Pentavia is appropriate and not overwhelming for the average reader (as so many medieval epics tend to be). For me, the problem was the audience. The marketing felt off. I was under the initial impression that this novel was targeted towards mid-grade to YA readers, mainly because of the ages of the primary characters (nearly all of the points of view are under the age of 18). However, there were several situations where the book became inappropriate for readers of this age bracket, and as a reviewer I have a hard time being able to adequately recommend this. New-adult readers may find it too mild, where YA readers will find it too risqué. If the authors can pick a clear side to work from, I think marketing will go a lot smoother.
The writing style is perfect for this particular type of plot, but because it is not densely descriptive or intricately planned, it appears to be geared more towards the YA market (unlike books such as Game of Thrones, which also has younger points of view but is very clearly written for adults). Joust features many moving pieces within each point of view and plot line, but they all click together correctly and in a way that makes sense. A lot of times books that offer several points of view can be difficult to follow, but Joust isn’t that way at all – again, that goes back to the well-done writing style. Because everyone is so closely linked in this world, there is no confusion. I wish more authors would get on the same page with this. So many tend to overwhelm their readers with too many characters and the plot and point is lost.
Another negative for me was that I felt like we spent the majority of the book gearing up for this epic joust and then the actual event was short-lived and anti-climactic. I want more! I WANT MORE! I also wanted a bit more political intrigue and an expansion on some of the side characters; I felt like the history of Pentavia was alluded to several times but there were never any clear answers as to what happened. The flashbacks were a great addition, but there needed to be more.
Having a defined “bad guy” that I can root against would have made the novel juicier, because I’m already rooting FOR so many of the characters. Oriana was written beautifully; her teenage cadence and emotional instabilities were spot-on. It was almost uncanny to watch the way she reacted to the dashing heroes in her storyline, and it will definitely be a hard choice for her when it all comes down to it. Terric was charming and spirited, and I can see why the priesthood is not suitable for him at all. The young man has charisma and is braver than I think he realizes. It was ironic that Marcus is the one set up to be a knight; I found him gullible and a bit meat-headed, and not particularly interesting. The younger sisters provided a wonderful element of humor.
All in all, the band of characters were engaging and true to form. The plot was fast paced and not bogged down by too many worthless details or heavy with world-building. Things tended to happen a bit more organically and that makes this novel one that is appealing to many readers – things just need to be clearer on the age group targeted here so that I can recommend it to a particular audience efficiently. The bones of great writing are there in spades, and I look forward to watching the authors expand upon their unique world and series of novels.
Be Careful What You Joust For can be found on Amazon using the link here. The book also has a Goodreads page, so be sure to follow for announcements on upcoming novels featuring these brightly colored characters.