You all know me…I read across the length and breadth and depth of the romance spectrum. From the dark and mysterious hot stuff to the sweet and gentle, from the fantastical world of urban fantasy to the everyday of small-town contemporary, I will likely give it a shot. While I don’t read a lot of YA (young adult) romance, I definitely do enjoy it.
And when it comes loaded with shape-shifting Scottish ferrets, questionable Eastern European monarchies and a whole lot of humour, I am guaranteed to enjoy it.
The Ondine series, from Melbourne author Ebony McKenna, brings us into the world of Ondine de Groot, a 15-year-old failed psychic student from the (sadly) fictional Eastern European nation of Brugel – home of the world’s only hexagonal flag (as displayed on the left). Throughout the course of the series, Ondine finds herself thrust headfirst in a whirlwind of intrigue, royal upheaval, and mysterious dark magic, all while discovering a new-found romance with the young man trapped in the body of her pet ferret, Shambles.
I’ll get this bit out of the road first – I was given the chance to review the quartet by the author herself. I have been super-lucky to get to know Ebony McKenna through my own involvement with the Romance Writers of Australia, and she is every bit as funny and fabulous as her books. However, everything that I say about these books is down to me – any and all opinions I express are mine and mine alone.
Ok, with the formality out of the way, we can get down to the fun stuff! I’ll be reviewing books 1, 2 and 3 today, and finishing off with the latest and greatest, book 4, tomorrow.
So, on with the show!
For this series to make sense (and because I am an order-reading fiend), it is best to read the Ondine series in order.
Book 1: The Summer of Shambles
15-year-old Ondine is struggling to fit in at Psychic Summercamp and doubts she possesses any of her family’s magical abilities. She resolves to leave, determined to follow her own path and be a normal teenager. Whatever normal is in a place like Brugel.
On the way home Ondine is shocked when her pet ferret Shambles starts talking – in a cheeky Scottish accent no less! He is in fact a young man trapped in a witch’s curse. When he briefly transforms into his human self, Ondine is smitten. If only she can break the spell for good, Shambles can be handsomely human on a full-time basis.
During the summer, these two misfits uncover a plot to assassinate a member of the royal family and discover a secret treasure that has remained hidden for decades. This attracts the attention of the arrogant Lord Vincent, and Ondine can’t help being drawn in by his bad-boy charm.
With so many demands on Ondine’s attentions – and affections – normal has never seemed so far away.
From the first footnote, I was hooked. The wonderfully bizarre land of Brugel and its magical inhabitants dragged me in and are yet to let go. The Summer of Shambles is a wonderful way in which to kick off what proved to be a brilliant series. Meeting Ondine, I knew she was a heroine I could get behind. Imaginative, enthusiastic, entirely likeable – I loved that Ondine, at 15, behaved exactly as a fifteen-year-old would. The relationships that Ebony creates in this story are wonderful – the sweet romance that blossoms between Ondine and Hamish (the cheeky Scottish human alter ego of Shambles the ferret), the de Groots interacting with each other, the antagonism that grows toward the increasingly sketchy Lord Vincent.
The mystery of uncovering the plot against the royals and the origins of the secret is very well done, and all through the story, there are very liberal lashings of humour. You very quickly learn that there is no such thing as normal in Brugel, and you very quickly realise that this can only be a good thing!
I adored my first journey into Ondine’s world, and was all the more keen to keep travelling through it.
PS Ebony, Old Col is all kinds of awesome!
Book 2: The Autumn Palace
15-year-old Ondine is desperate to escape the confines of her family’s hectic hotel to be with her gorgeous new boyfriend Hamish. When his talent for transforming into a ferret results in a dangerous new assignment from the Duke of Brugel – at his stunning autumn palace – Ondine seizes the opportunity to tag along.
To her annoyance, Ondine’s Great-Aunt Col insists on joining them as chaperone. Making matters worse is the ageing witch’s embarrassing habit of performing the wrong kind of magic at the worst possible time. Upon entering the palace grounds they are confronted by a fierce tornado that awakens something dark and ominous. Unexplained phenomena begin intruding on everyday life at an alarming rate.
Surrounded by strange magic, Ondine and Hamish must expose a royal conspiracy, champion the palace’s downtrodden servants and solve a baffling mystery.
With so much at stake, will they ever find time to be together?
Now it’s Autumn in Brugel, and the hilarious, suspenseful and absorbing adventures of Ondine and her boyfriend/ferrety companion, Hamish continue in The Autumn Palace. Now working for the Duke and under the questionable guidance of Old Col, things are crazy as ever for these two.
With its mix of odd occurrences, high-stakes magic and conspiracy, and signature humour, The Autumn Palace very quickly won me over. I loved catching up with old friends from the first book, and I adored meeting some new characters – the initially prickly Infanta Anathaea and her dog among them. The fun of the footnotes continue, and I couldn’t really imagine the books without them.
I also really loved how we see Ondine grow, yet not become a completely different person. Yes, she still makes mistakes, is occasionally rash with her decisions, and is subject to flights of teenage fancy, but that’s what I love about her – she’s human! Hamish is more than a bit cute too, and I love how their relationship develops throughout the course of the story.
Where its predecessor left off, The Autumn Palace picks up. To borrow a statement from a long-ago football broadcast, “the sequel is just as good as the original” – it’s funny, sweet, magical and incredibly entertaining.
PS There is a scene where I found myself signing “It’s raining FISH!!! I’m in Brugel, it’s raining FISH!!”. You’ll know the scene when you get to it 😉
Book 3: The Winter of Magic
This third enthralling instalment in the young adult fantasy romance series takes a dark turn, as the country of Brugel descends into anarchy. Mutating magic is spreading across Europe. ‘Normals’ are developing supernatural powers at a startling rate and 16-year-old Ondine appears to be at the heart of it.
To unravel the mystery, Ondine and her boyfriend (and part-time ferret) Hamish infiltrate CovenCon, a gathering of hundreds of witches presided over by wanna-be-witch-queen Mrs Howser. There, she tempts Ondine with an intriguing offer – but can Mrs Howser be trusted? It transpires the powerful witch has her claws in the arrogant royal heir Lord Vincent, in a covert bid to control all of Brugel.
As dark magic riots break out in the nation’s capital, Ondine is left with a heart-breaking choice that could tear her apart from her beloved Hamish. Forever.
Unexpected mutating magic, kissing that makes wishes come true, duplicitious witches and sketchy royals – The Winter of Magic is a little darker in tone, but no less engaging and laugh-out-loud hilarious.
They may not be on an ever-smooth path to togetherness, but I loved watching Ondine and Hamish/Shambles navigate the craziness that surrounds them – and let’s face it, in Brugel, there’s always crazy. Mrs Howser is a brilliantly villainous character, and the often-unveiled dislike between her and my favourite Old Col is so well done.
I love how the previous books weave into this one, and I really enjoyed how we got to see how and why things are happening, and why things are as they are.
The pacing in this, the third novel in the series, is perfectly done – the twists and turns, the secrets and intrigues, they never felt rushed and each revelation makes sense.
I’m only sad that there is just one book left now. I’m not sure I want to say goodbye to Brugel just yet….
Book four, The Spring Revolution, has just been released and my review of it will be up tomorrow.