A while ago, TCK Publishing reached out to me and offered to send me a book to review, which I happily accepted. When the book arrived with “erotic fantasy adventure” on the front of it, I was a little bit worried about what I’d gotten myself into! But it actually turned out this is was a mix of romance and fantasy, and not, as I worried, an erotica novel that made liberal use of fantasy elements.
In The Rules of Enchantment, Kyler, a young scribe who failed her magical studies and became a historian, is sent to apprentice with Leith, an exiled sorcerer living in a dark forest. The powers that be – Headmaster Wickham (A+ secondary character!) – suspects Leith of plotting to overthrow the Academy, this world’s regulatory body of magic, and sends Kyler there in hopes she will uncover his plot and report back. Kyler and Leith end up having an unexpected connection, which makes both of them rethink their worldviews as Leith’s plans are coming closer and closer to fruition.
Style-wise, it’s odd mix of a book. It’s a romance set in a fantasy world and the writing felt very literary – more what I would expect from a highbrow short story writer than from either of the two genres. I get the feeling that Tardieu was following the advice to write the book you want to read but can’t find – and this blend of genres and styles ended up working out quite well! The writing itself was really well-done; it had that “every word is carefully considered” feel of a short story, which I think leant itself to a very strong sense of place.
That sense of place was by far my favorite thing about the book – both the worldbuilding and the actual scenery were really well done, and I felt entirely transported to another land. Tardieu’s scenery and descriptions were incredibly well crafted. I’m usually not a very visual reader, but I could picture the university, the lab, and the forest as I read, and really felt grounded in the surroundings.
I also really liked the magical lore and myth used – I’d love to read another book set in the same world, to be honest. The worldbuilding wasn’t quite flawless, but there was a clear internal logic to it, which kept everything together and cohesive. There was a fair bit of action and adventure, especially at the end, which again, was really well-written. I read this in two chunks almost a month apart (my job has been quite busy lately) and even though I forgot a little bit of the plot in between, I was still instantly pulled into the scene once I started reading and I didn’t go back to find the forgotten plot points unless I was at a scene break.
I will say, I just didn’t feel much chemistry between the two characters until the very end. I loved Kyler; her character felt very much like a serious college student to me, which she would have roughly equivocated to, age-wise. Reading about her brought me back to the more academic elements of college and how enjoyable they were, which is not something I’m used to a fiction book evoking! But there were several moments that quietly celebrated Kyler’s enjoyment of the learning process, whether she was describing her work as a scribe or reading reference books or practicing magic, and I was incredibly excited to see that represented in a character, especially a female one!
Leith, though, I found harder to connect with until the very end – maybe that’s why the chemistry just wasn’t there for me. This didn’t bother me as much as you would think; I was really immersed in the world-building and the setting, and I liked most of the secondary characters, so it ended up being just one element of many, rather than the central component like it would be in a traditional romance novel.
If you’re a purist looking for a steamy, relationship-centric romance, or fast-moving fantasy adventure, or if you’re looking for a primarily character-driven story, then, alas, this may not be the book for you. But if you’re looking for a good genre mix, or if you like a strong sense of place and crisp, clean writing, or if you’re just looking for a character with a well-drawn love of learning, then this may just be the book for you.