I received an electronic review copy of 'Kristin McMichael’s fantasy romance 'To Stand Beside Her' in exchange for an honest review from her husband. To be entirely fair I have to add that he did not force it on me. I had put the debut on my wishlist first and thus expressed my unmistakable interest. That means the blame for misspending 30 minutes by struggling twice through the first 10% should be entirely mine.
Before someone else repeats my mistake and maybe doesn’t even dare to throw the towel as early as I did, I offer my review both as a payment and as means to help like-minded readers to pass go without accepting or purchasing a copy.
Believe it or not, I even plan to entice some readers into pressing the to-read-button after browsing through my ramblings, for what is appalling to me might be appealing to others. And those others stand clear in front of my mind: The unabashed admirers of strong, beautiful, physically fit, unbeatably witty, unbearably female, lime-light addicted and uncompromisingly self-promoting heroines like assassin Celaena Sardothien.
The now wildly popular 'Throne of Glass'' too, started out as a self-published novel, but having read more than half of the story my guess is that a lot of work went into re-structuring and basic editing afterwards. All in all it turned out to be quite readable in spite of not meeting my personal taste in character design and dynamics. 'To Stand Beside Her' did not benefit of the services big publishing houses have to offer, but if you can generously overlook that the text does not tell you what a courier/ghost courier is - except that her job is split into six skill levels, extremely legendary, kind of hush-hush and certainly mind-blowingly dangerous - , that you will long await the moment when it will revealed to you were the story takes place – apart from that it is a world with at least eight kingdoms of which five kings are wifeless and keen on getting a feisty spouse that verbally abuses them on a day-to-day basis with her special brand of smirky wit -, and that other details keep leaping spontaneously at you – like that this fantasy world has running hot water even in windowless special-prisoner castle suites, then you may blissfully dive into a novel featuring Celaena reincarnated into a parallel universe:
"Leila was the best. [...] Leila could easily enter any heavily guarded place and leave unnoticed with her assignment."
"No one, no man, or woman, could keep up with her. Leila was a ghost to many and a legend to everyone else. Through her training, she had perfected the use of multiple identities so she could travel from city to city, fulfilling even the the most demanding assignments."
"She had yet to find a man who could beat her in both weapons and hand-to-hand combat."
"All told of encountering a lady so beautiful she would take your breath away and yet was so cunning none could cage her long enough to make her into a wife."
But, alas, almost right at the beginning Leila lets her guard slip in front of the guard after being really smug about losing a pair of newbie trackers. And, oops, the uncatchable maiden is caught. Surprisingly not for the first time. Leila proudly mentions she has already first-hand knowledge of both the men’s and the women’s section of the prison – and of five other kingdoms’, too, but she never intends to stay. She simply scales the prison’s inner and outer walls with her dainty, little feet < span class="spoilertext">they must really look unproportional on her, since we learn later, that she is taller than all the palace guards and leaves before supper. Sadly her dumb Level-2-associate Kay is still inside the castle, which means she goes straight back in to fetch her out – and does not miss the chance to wiggle her tongue at the flabbergasted guards at the main gate.
Because she does not make her skills a secret and offers her new fans some in-detail glimpses into the tricks of her trade, cruel King Nalick – bless him, the first of acceptable height and muscle mass – is curious, sends for her, showers in a select mix of rude comebacks, seductive disregard and violent eye-lash-batting, and is instantly smitten. Leila languidly anticipates his proposal, because she had received five similar ones from his colleagues before. The offer of Nalick’s farther’s hand even resulted in the forced demise of her beloved fiancé. So keeping alive Level-2-Kay dictates taking different measures than that unrelenting "no" four years earlier < span class="spoilertext">when the heroine had been 14, should I have counted correctly. Right? It does not hurt, though, to ask the next best priest standing in the way to help her flee as if he regularly dismisses his ruler's instructions for fun. Strangly, he does not comply.
Well. If your Celaena-addicted mind is not yet salviating yet, I give you the following last bits on top:
"Leila did not approve of hurting innocent people. [...] Never once had she killed anyone who attacked her. Even those who would try to kill her did not deserve to die in her opinion."
This shocking revelation of Leila’s purity of heart is apparently necessary for the story to come, for according to the palace seer Miss Smarty-Parts-Dirty-Mouth has "the power to change the world". Naturally. He elaborates "When people come in contact with you, their aura becomes whiter in color to match yours."
Should you think this is sweet, but not stickily so, go ahead and indulge. The e-book is very affordable, but it seems to lack a love-triangle.
If you feel like wiping off your fingers, just stay well behind the yellow tape. I do no know for sure, but I cannot imagine that the story improves enough to brighten your day.