Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Concubine's Tale by Jennifer Colgan

TITLE: The Concubine’s Tale
AUTHOR: Jennifer Colgan
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 23k)
GENRE: Paranormal romance
COST: $3.50

Curator Cait Lang is under orders to show their latest acquisition to collector Grant Pierson, a prospect she doesn’t really look forward to since she finds the man’s smug, know-it-all personality annoying. Grant is glad to finally have the chance to spend some alone time with ice-queen Cait, hungry to find out if she ever comes unruffled, but the story behind the papyrus on the auction block proves to be more enticing than either of them anticipate…

While this story had an interesting set-up, the actual follow-through didn’t quite live up to its initial promise. Essentially, it’s divided into two separate stories, the contemporary one between Cait and Grant, and the Egyptian one between Nayari and Khanu. Cait and Grant are professional acquaintances, with neither really knowing much about the other. Cait finds his superior attitude annoying, while he has never really looked past her ice-queen persona. He decides to see if he can get past it by inviting her out for a private dinner while she’s telling him about the papyrus, and though dating clients is forbidden, she agrees, largely because she’s curious, too. She begins relating the translation, making it clear it’s been embellished, and the story alternates between the rising tension between them and the growing attraction between the concubine and the warrior set to protect her.

The story Cait tells is a romantic one, about a concubine being used as a pawn in her master’s bid to become Pharoah, the world painted there rich and fascinating. Nayari is lovely to watch, from her initial pride to her horror at what’s intended for her to her growing feelings for Khanu. This story provides the strongest momentum for this short novella and offers glimmers of just what it could have been. Unfortunately, none of the other characters possess the same intrigue or depths. Nayari’s story is essentially a tool to get Cait and Grant over their initial misgivings and make them hot and bothered enough to ignore the order not to get involved. Not enough time is spent on developing them as real people for the attraction between them to feel organic, and the back and forth starts to feel very by-the-numbers.

The publisher calls this a paranormal story, but that’s stretching the definition. The problem is, this doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. The historical tale is clearly the most developed and compelling, but it’s tucked inside a contemporary package. The paranormal label likely springs from the mystical ending that Grant eventually discovers to the Egyptian lovers, but it lacks the credibility the rest of the tale offers. Though the publisher doesn't indicate it as such, this is likely meant to be a companion piece to another of the author's works called "The Soul Jar." There's an excerpt for that at the end of this, but in all fairness, I didn't realize this might be linked to something else (and thus give the ending more veracity) until after I started writing this review and went to the author's bio to get her web address. I never read the excerpts Samhain pads the end of their books with (a truly annoying practice, as those words get added into the total word count and can make unsuspecting buyers think they're purchasing a longer work). Frankly, I shouldn't have to happen to stumble across that excerpt/blurb to discover the ending I didn't buy for a second is rooted in another work.

Readers wanting paranormal attributes will be disappointed. If anything, I’d suggest this to lovers of Egyptian stories. That’s what it really has going for it.


7/10 – The Egyptian portions read much more vivid and interesting than the contemporary portions


6/10 – One didn’t have enough depth, the other was too idealized


6/10 – Nayari is fascinating, but Cait suffers the same problem Grant does

Entertainment value

6/10 – So much potential in this, but it just never gels together

World building

7/10 – The Egyptian world sizzles, which makes the weak contrast to the contemporary even more disappointing



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