The two novellas Born in Blood and Knights in Tarnished Armor couldn’t be more dissimilar except for a few things: they both were written by Kate Paulk and are available at the Naked Reader Press Web site (www.nakedreader.com), and they both are fine and worthy novellas that will hold your interest if you give them time.
The first novella, Born in Blood, is a suspenseful prequel to the previously-reviewed IMPALER which shows how Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia, endured until he became an adult. Prince Vlad’s adolescence was undoubtedly difficult and painful; we know from history that he wasn’t well-treated by the heir of the Ottoman Sultan, a guy by the name of Mehmed (who later became Sultan). Mehmed apparently tortured Vlad and quite possibly sexually abused Vlad — we know this from history — and Paulk’s version makes things a bit starker, a bit more graphic in spots (though no sex is shown; it’s merely suggested) to explain Vlad’s visceral hatred of Mehmed in full measure.
Vlad’s much-younger brother, Radu, is also imprisoned by the Sultan, but the Sultan himself, Murad, is not a bad man. Paulk describes Murad as kindly, scholarly, and ruthless, and that appears to be an apt description. Murad was the type of guy who would make sure the children being held as hostages for their parents’ good behavior (such as Vlad and Radu) were well-educated, able to become good rulers in their turn, though Mehmed himself seemed much less interested in this and didn’t see the wisdom in doing anything other than having a lot of sex with young men (which wasn’t seen, necessarily, as a sin by a ruler, especially as it was rarely talked about in any way, shape or form).
Paulk’s vision of the Sultan Murad and of the Turkish people around him shows that Vlad understood the Turks and liked many of them even if he didn’t like or care for their religion (them being Muslims, which at the time good Christians called “Mohammedans,” and Paulk, to be historically accurate, has called them exactly that). This goes right along with the view that Vlad was a complex, multi-faceted man who didn’t ask to be afflicted with the “curse” of having to drink blood, someone who was better at war than peace, but wanted to get better at both. Someone who was intelligent, learned, and had troubled relations with his family — and someone who never forgot, nor forgave, the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Sultan’s son Mehmed.
Vlad indeed seems to have been the type of man who could’ve forged a very strong and unusual friendship with the Sultan Murad but have hated Mehmed, Murad’s son and acknowledged heir, with a passion, because he’s just that complex, just that skilled, and just that poised. Paulk did an exemplary job showing how Vlad managed to navigate the tangled path he had to walk in order to attain adulthood, which adds more depth and color to an already-vibrant man, Prince Vlad of Wallachia (called Dracula, though Paulk again transliterates this to Draculea in order to avoid confusion with Bram Stoker’s DRACULA).
This is compelling historical drama with just a touch of fantasy about it, and I urge you to read it without delay.
After that thrill-ride of intensity, I was in the mood for some lighter fare, and once again Kate Paulk delivered. Her novella, Knights in Tarnished Armor, is a fun farce written in epistolary style (in other words, we learn about what’s going on through the letters each character sends). The heroine is Francine Virtew, called “Fat Fanny” initially by her school-mates at the boarding school for virginal young maidens she attends, is abducted by a “known scoundrel” and given to be a hand-maiden to a dragon, Syrillia. But Syrillia doesn’t want to eat Fanny — all she wants to do is talk with her a little, and be around her, because in Paulk’s vision of a fairy-tale kingdom like this one, dragons are just like unicorns — they love virginal men and women, or those with true hearts or caring souls.
The names here are part of the fun. A few of ’em include Lady Margaret Basoomy, who is indeed well-endowed in the bosoms department, Abbess Bahl-Buh-Rehka (sound that out in your head) who fights with swords (being literally exactly what she’s named), and Sir Jeremy “Jimmy” Faythful, who is anything but. But don’t forget about Sir Roland Truheart, who endures much that he hadn’t expected precisely because his heart wasn’t as true as his name, or Sir Philip Grimston, who might just steal Fanny’s heart if she gives him a chance.
While there are some pointed morals here underneath all the fun, I enjoyed this as the farcical romp that it is — and have already re-read it three times.
So, if you like historical suspense (with just a little fantasy), you’ll love Kate Paulk’s Born in Blood (a prequel to Impaler, which I reviewed earlier), and if you love humor or farce, you will adore Knights in Tarnished Armor.
As for official grades:
Born in Blood — Grade: A.
Knights in Tarnished Armor — For fun, an A-plus. For plot, probably a B-plus. This averages out to another solid A.
So what are you waiting for? Go grab ’em now!
— reviewed by Barb