Advance Review by Rafa: Bitterwood, by Rowan Speedwell

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Bitterwood, by Rowan Speedwell
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: September 19, 2016
(originally released in 2011 by Amber Allure)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars


Outrunning a winter storm in the north, Captain Faran of the King’s Guard leads his men and a young mage named Meric to shelter at Bitterwood Manor, the ancestral home of the Daenes. Faran and his troops have been searching for weeks for a mysterious, lion-like beast that reportedly haunts the uncharted northern woods. For Meric, finding that prophesied cat is a matter of life and death.

Though Faran is deeply focused on their mission, the enigmatic Joss Daene, Lord of Bitterwood, fascinates him. Strong and proud, Joss is everything Faran wants in a lover. More, if he were honest. But Joss belongs to Bitterwood, and Faran to his duty.

Together they will need to brave the oldest, darkest part of the Bitterwood in the coldest, deepest snows of winter to find the legendary cat. But time is running out—for Meric, for the kingdom, and for Faran and Joss’s fledgling love.


M/M Pairing
Gay Characters
Bisexual Characters
Medieval Fantasy

It’s been a lifetime since I dove into a medieval romance, never mind an LGBTQ medieval romance, and I’m quite happy I took the plunge. I enjoyed Bitterwood and found it to be well written and uncomplicated , with an interesting plot complete with mysterious quest. While not a novella, it was somewhat on the short side, which I felt worked to its benefit.

I thought the world-building was smooth and descriptive without getting too bogged down in details. However, there were a few moments where I found myself amused by (I’m only guessing here) the author’s love of all things medieval bleeding into the story. For instance, the plot didn’t really require details on the storage of items such as fur and spices, or the contents of a mattress, or the architectural logic behind the placement of a fireplace in a home. But as I said, I found these tangential elements amusing (and educational), rather than distracting.

I liked the main characters Faran and Joss, who each proved to be strong, honorable leaders and a powerful duo (and loving couple) when they combined forces. But to be honest, what I really adored about this book was the romance between Meric the young mage and Joss’ son Eissa.

The tender moments between Meric and Eissa were my favorite parts of this book, from the care Eissa took with the ailing Meric, to the rare playful moments they shared simply being young men on the verge of adulthood. There were a few parts of the book that were written in Meric’s POV, but I would have loved even more. As much as I liked Faran and Joss’ story, I wouldn’t have minded one bit if the focus was switched to the younger men altogether – they were that beguiling.

While the story ended happily for both couples, the neat conclusion to Faran’s and Joss’ story didn’t really make sense to me, because the thing that was keeping them apart in the first place (Faran’s duty to his liege) hadn’t changed. In fact, by the end of the book, I thought Faran needed to remain in court more so than ever, even though his heart was far away in the Bitterwood. But I’m going to assume they know what they were doing. Besides, I’m a sucker for a happy ending, so it was easy enough to turn a blind eye.

While the story didn’t blow my mind, I enjoyed the quest and the bonus romance of the secondary couple. I would recommend this book to fans of contemporary romance if they’re looking for a quick change in scenery without having to invest too much time and energy in a medieval fantasy.


An unrepentant biblioholic, Rowan Speedwell spends half her time pretending to be a law librarian, half her time pretending to be a database manager, half her time pretending to be a fifteenth-century Aragonese noblewoman, half her time… wait a minute… hmm. Well, one thing she doesn’t pretend to be is good at math. She is good at pretending, though.

In her copious spare time (hah) she does needlework, calligraphy and illumination, and makes jewelry. She has a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago, is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and lives in a Chicago suburb with the obligatory Writer’s Cat and way too many books.

You can purchase Bitterwood on:
Riptide Publishing

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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.


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