“Morgan Tenpenny has retreated from her painful, magical past, choosing to live quietly as a guardian of one of the gates between worlds. But her sister Gwen is married to a lord of the High Court of Faerie—and when Gwen asks her to protect her nieces, it’s time for Morgan to emerge from her seclusion. The gates to Faerie have inexplicably closed, and no one knows why, not even Falcon, the fae Morgan finds trapped on her side of the gate.
As a devastating illness that only affects magic users starts to sweep through the country, Falcon tells Morgan of a way to reach her nieces in Faerie through a mysterious place called Strangehold—if Morgan can trust that Falcon is all that he seems. But with the Queen of Faerie increasingly defensive of her borders, even their combined powers may not be enough to win them through.
With relations between fae and human falling apart and a deadly illness threatening all of her old colleagues, Morgan finds that her past isn’t as dead as she’d thought. She must navigate the threats in time to save her nieces—and just maybe the world.”
Strangehold is an interesting Urban/Portal Fantasy novella – it features Earth (or overhill, as it is known here), the land of Faerie (underhill), and a mysterious place in-between the two, known as Strangehold. The fae gates allow passage between Earth and Faerie, and a tenuous accord exists between them. There are old grudges and tensions between humans and fae, but this fragile peace has held for 40 years so far. Human mages guard overhill as part of an organization of casters known as The Association, drawing their magic from the leylines that cover the landscape like invisible rivers. Underhill, Gloriana, Queen of the Faeries, rules with an iron fist. In the prologue we’re introduced to a mysterious human exile with a long-standing hatred of the fae, whose actions threaten to bring the peace agreement to an end.
Our main character is Morgan Tenpenny, a 43 year old human mage living a secluded life as a guardian of one of the fae gates. She has seen some shit. Her old mentor went into hiding decades ago after one of her fellow students attempted to assassinate the Queen’s nephew, and she and her fellow students feel tainted by the association. This is made more awkward by the fact that her sister, Gwen, is an ambassador to Faerie and has married one of the fae. When Gwen comes to visit Morgan with her two young children and sporting a black eye, it comes to light that Gloriana is harboring suspicions of a human plot against the fae, and using questionable methods to get information. Morgan promises to visit her in Faerie soon, and, at Gwen’s urging, pledges her protection to the girls should anything happen to her. However, just before Morgan is due to visit, the fae gates snap shut without warning, and a deadly illness begins to spread like wildfire throughout the mage community. Morgan must work with The Association in a race against time to find the cure, and find a way into Faerie to save her sister and protect her young nieces. Whew!
It’s quite a start to this fast-paced novella, and I found myself happily carried along by the plot. Morgan is a capable and experienced protagonist, and a pretty relatable one at that. When she drives out to the nearest fae gate and meets Falcon, a shape shifter trapped on the wrong side when it closed, things kick off nicely. The two have good chemistry and dialogue, and the cautious trust/budding friendship between them is nicely handled. The magic system is well explained and has its limitations, and Morgan has found some creative ways to avoid relying on leylines that show us there are different methodologies of working with the same magic. Her reasons for doing so are also solid. The prose is of above average quality, and a few times I found myself pausing to appreciate a pleasing sentence. It’s very professional (I don’t recall spotting any errors), if a little sparse in places, but an excellent setup for future stories. The “race against time” aspect of the story works well, and the immediate issues are tied up leaving the overarching plot open for the next entry. The worldbuilding is strong enough that I was able to get a feel for it, but would certainly benefit from more thorough development in the next installments. In terms of criticism I’d say that I’d have welcomed another 50-100 pages – the plot is very straightforward, and I’d like to have seen Morgan struggle a little more to find the solutions to the obstacles she faced.
Overall, I found Strangehold to be an enjoyable, easy and extremely polished read with characters I cared about and a well thought-out plot. I’d gladly read more in this series.
Score: 7.4/10 (4 Stars)
Bingo Squares 2018
- Self Published
- Features a Library
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings
- One Word Title
- Features the Fae