All Fall Down, by Christine Pope
All Fall Down is the tale of Merys, a physician who is captured by slavers and ends up being bought by Lord Shaine, whose desperately ill daughter needs Merys's help. Though Merys chafes at the loss of her freedom, she soon finds that her heart belongs to the people at Donnishold, and especially Lord Shaine. When the plague hits her new home, she must use all her strength and ingenuity and resources to try to save the people she has come to love.
Romantic fantasy is my favorite thing to read, so that automatically gave this book a boost. I found the style clear and easy to read, and I enjoyed the world and the characters. I did feel that the book was kind of light on both the fantasy and the romance aspects. Other than being set in another world, there really isn't any fantastical element other than near the end, during the plague, when the goddess appears to Merys in her dreams to reveal the cure for the plague. This appearance seemed poorly timed - there didn't seem to be any reason why the goddess should appear then and not sooner; if she had shown up sooner, a number of characters I wanted to live wouldn't have died. Or, for that matter, why she should have shown up at all.
As for the romance, of course it's clear that Merys and Shaine will end up together, but I had a hard time believing in their attraction to each other. The Merys-Shaine relationship doesn't really develop, it just happens. We know that Merys falls in love with Shaine because the book is written in first person so we see her thoughts and feelings, but there doesn't seem to be a process of growing attraction and affection; she just realizes one day that she's in love with him. As for Lord Shaine, he doesn't get a lot of attention in the book. We know that he loves his daughter and treats his slaves and servants well, has a tragic past, and seems like an overall good guy in spite of his brooding, but we never really get to know him on a deeper level or get to see his (presumably) growing attraction towards Merys. Part of this could be because of the limitations of writing in first person, but this can be overcome by a more observant first person protagonist and creating scenes with more varied interactions between the characters. Still, I could see that Merys and Shaine would suit each other; it wasn't hard for me to imagine them together, I just would have liked to see the feelings and the relationship develop instead of just suddenly being there.
Unlike some other reviewers, I didn't have a problem with the kind of iffy biological and medical science in the book, because Fantasy. This isn't our world, it doesn't work the same. Though I would have liked to see the author make freer use of the possibilities inherent in writing in a fantasy world other than the aforementioned divine intervention.
All Fall Down is sweet romance, with a few sexual references but no actual sex.
From reading other reviews, I understand All Fall Down is not the author's strongest work. It's an enjoyable read, but I feel it could be much stronger if the author had dug deeper into the characters' emotions and relationships and the freedom of writing in a fantasy world. Still, it's an enjoyable, quick read, and I will definitely try more of Ms. Pope's work.
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