Thursday, July 14, 2016
ARC Review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Title: A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles, #1)
Author: Amanda Bouchet
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: August 2nd, 2016
A Promise of Fire fell just short of being truly remarkable. This debut romantic fantasy, straddling the line between New Adult and Adult more than anything else, is impossible to set down. I read it in a single setting and am thoroughly impressed by Bouchet's writing, world-building, and characters. Are we sure she's a debut author? I've been burned far too often by new-to-me authors this year, so color me surprised that Bouchet lived up to my expectations--and then some. But, as most of you will know, fantasy is my favorite genre. I am nearly impossible to please when it comes to a fantasy novel--everything has to be just perfect in a way it doesn't with nearly every other genre--and in that regard, A Promise of Fire fails. Yet, though it may not be a favorite, or even close to one of the best fantasy (and even romantic fantasy) novels out there, it's still really damn good.
Cat, the protagonist of our novel, hails from Fisa, the northernmost kingdom, home to powerful magicians and a bloodthirsty monarchy. She is a Kingmaker, a rare breed born only once every hundred or so years, and has spent much of her life regretting her powers. Tortured as a child, escaping with only her life, and now living with a circus troupe in the southernmost kingdom of Sinta--safe--for eight years, Cat has learned to let down her guard and, grudgingly, allow other people in. Until, that is, she is kidnapped by Griffin and his crew of three other men. Griffin and the majority of his people are non-magical and, against all odds, Griffin has placed his sister on the throne of Sinta. But he needs magical aid to keep her there and there is no one more powerful than Cat to help him. Cat, however, is stubborn and dangerous--a deadly combination--and there are people and forces scarier than Griffin after her blood. If she can escape unscathed, it will be a miracle. If she falls for Griffin and drags him down with her...there might be war.
The sparks between Cat and Griffin are flying off the page from their first encounter. Cat has grown up tortured and terrified and, as such, she's skeptical of love, trust, and friendship. Griffin slowly, but surely, gains all three from her over the course of the novel. Their constant verbal sparring, false barbs, and hate-to-love story arc makes up the majority of this novel--and I loved it. Both Cat and Griffin are perhaps a little too similar to work well together, but they match one another and challenge each other in a way that few others are able to. Without a doubt, their romance is the highlight of this novel and though this slow-burn is painful, at times, the pay-off is completely worth it.
The world-building of this realm, ruled by three kingdoms, is also expertly written by Bouchet. While it takes awhile for the full extent of the world-building to come to light, it all eventually does. Everything from tales of the lost princess of Fisa to the manner in which royals murder one another for power, not to mention the worship of Greek Gods and Goddesses, is fascinating and unique. I'm not completely certain why these people worship Zeus, Hades, Poseidon and the likes, but seeing as they're a violent and warring people, perhaps it makes sense. All this, alongside two factions of people--those who can perform magic and those who can't--with some tid-bits of Greek mythology, such as an Oracle, make this a fascinating realm. The politics, in particular, between these three realms are well-done but I definitely believe that Bouchet has a ways to go in expanding this world and making certain distinctions--or blendings, rather--of Greek mythology and magic a little clearer. Yet, with the romance as the central aspect to this novel, not to mention the character relationships between Cat and Griffin, plus his close friends and teammates, the world-building was satisfactory, to say the least.
Where this novel falters, for me, is in its--rather unnecessary--prolongation of events. Cat isn't the most mature 23-year-old in the world and her stubborn nature causes her and Griffin to want very different paths for their future, mostly because Griffin doesn't know the whole truth about Cat's past. It's a harmless and rather easy-to-guess plot twist that is heavily hinted at, roughly half-way through the novel, but Bouchet keeps her lips sealed and is sitting on this "reveal", probably for the sequels. I get rather easily irritated when characters fail to communicate or can't guess at obvious secrets, so I found myself exasperated with Cat and Griffin towards the end of this novel. It doesn't help that Bouchet could have easily turned this novel in a more political direction and rather fails to, opting instead for more near-death experiences and romantic moments.
Like I said, this novel thrives on the romance. And it's a well-written, remarkable love story--don't get me wrong--but by the conclusion of this story, I wanted more politics and plot twists and something more to prove that this trilogy had a backbone of fantasy alongside the romance. It is inevitable that the sequels will have to bring on the politics at the heart of this story--I hope--and Cat is a strong, capable heroine--one who is powerful and can hold her own, as shown multiple times throughout this story--so I will, without a doubt, be picking up Bouchet's sophomore novel. A Promise of Fire is at its best when the sexual tension between Cat and Griffin sizzles, the slow-burn romance dominates, and the world-building is developing. It's un-put-down-able as Cat conquers her inner fears and her past, learning to love and trust and find her own family. Only towards the very end, when it explodes in romance did it let me down, slightly. For lovers of YA Fantasy, A Promise of Fire is better than fantasy-lite, and for those who adore a healthy dose of romance, Bouchet's debut can't disappoint. For those hard-core fantasy lovers like me, I think this novel will strike a cord--and definitely prove read-able. And, who knows, perhaps the sequels will have even have my heart.