Mistress of the Runes
by Andrews & Austin

Bold Stroke Books, 2007. ISBN 978-1933110899.
Reviewed by Gwen Whitehead
Posted on 11/15/2007

Fiction: Romance

Andrews and Austin's Mistress of the Runes is labeled a romance, but it isn't one at all, at least not in the way I view romance. It is far more than that. It's a story of self-discovery, even though Brice Chandler, the heroine of this novel, has already made it in most people's eyes. She's got a career, money, a stellar reputation, but she still doesn't have a clue who she is. True, Brice finds romance and love in this novel, but she also finds herself.

As the novel opens, Brice Chandler's challenging career as an entertainment industry executive but her less-than-satisfactory relationship with her partner, Clare, leaves her in a bit of a funk. Changes at work have created stress, and Brice feels that her relationship with Clare is over. Then she meets Liz Chase, a newswoman.

Brice struggles with her attraction to Liz and can't commit romantically, but she is able to enter into a quasi-partnership with Liz as they purchase two Icelandic horses-Hlatur and Rune. Liz and Hlatur bond immediately, but Brice faces a more difficult time with her mare, who injures her on two different occasions.

As she slowly learns to handle Rune, Brice also learns to handle herself. Some might say that she is also learning how to manage Liz, but that's where the label of romance goes astray with this book. While romance is involved as Brice ends one loveless relationship and resists her growing attraction to Liz, this is the story of Brice's awakening.

In addition to everyday life and the budding romance with Liz, the authors take Brice and their readers on this journey through the use of some fantastical dreams/flashbacks in which Brice sees herself as a medieval warrior, a warrior responsible for saving his men and the queen from invaders. Brice easily connects her twenty-first century corporate warrior self to this man, but she fails to understand why she keeps having visions about him. I found myself in the same situation as Brice as I pondered the significance of the dreams. But by the time the novel ends, both Brice and the reader come to understand the meaning of the phrase "follow the dream." No ordinary dreams, these visions show Brice the toll that maintaining strict control over her life has cost her.

Through the dreams and her relationship with Liz, Brice begins to understand something about the nature of letting go. When she first loosens the reins with Rune, she discovers that the horse now readily gives herself over to the rider. The authors write:

"Life is short, horse," I said to Rune, ignoring Liz. "I own ranch land now and I want to ride my horse across my land and return in one piece. I don't know if that's what you want, Rune, but I'm going to get on you. And if you don't want me to ride you, throw my ass down in the dirt, and that will be my sign that you'll just live out your life as a brood mare or as a hood ornament. Otherwise, ride me well and that will let me know that you want to be my horse. It's up to you." (180)

At work and at home, Brice has seldom allowed anyone else to have such a level of control. Like her dream self, the warrior who set his men, his queen, and horses free, Brice lets the reins be taken from her hands. Brice's new relationship with Rune works because she "stopped trying to control her by force. I did it through mutual understanding and cooperation" (181).

Brice is a complex character, one whom many women will immediately gravitate to and understand. Straight or gay, stay-at-home-mom or corporate warrior, many of us share Brice's characteristics. As I read the book, I found myself shaking my head over the foolishness of some of her actions. In mulling over the novel, though, I recognized my own desire to control my world and my refusal to "follow the dream."

Andrews and Austin have composed a fascinating tale that grips the reader early. Midway through, the book slows to a pace that I found a bit frustrating, but it is perhaps necessary to the working out of Brice's character. She does nothing fast, instead thinking things out, oftentimes too thoroughly. As she continues to shy away from Liz and Liz's obvious attraction to her, I sometimes wanted to reach into the book and shake Brice.

Andrews and Austin have backgrounds in the entertainment and news industries, and I enjoyed the insight into worlds far removed from my own. Their combined knowledge and talent are demonstrated in the composition of Mistress of the Runes. This book does not move quickly or rashly, but with a combination of dry humor, believable dialogue (both internal and spoken), and a touch of the paranormal, Brice Chandler's story will stay with the reader.

Andrews & Austin live on a horse ranch in the Central Plains of Texas. The two have past experiences in writing for television and film, and in addition to their writing, they operate several other large business ventures. For more information about Andrews and Austin, visit their website.

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