Monday, August 1, 2016

A Promise of Fire, by Amanda Bouchet - Review

Title: A Promise of Fire
Series: The Kingmaker Chronicles 
Author: Amanda Bouchet
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: August 2, 2016 
Reviewing: Print ARC 
Reason for reading: PR Agent Raves

The Short Answer
A Promise of Fire combines the best of urban fantasy, traditional fantasy, and romance. Powerful characters battle terrifying enemies and form shocking alliances, in a mesmerizing world of magic and mundane, fire and ice, truth and lies.

The Blurb

Catalia "Cat" Fisa lives disguised as a soothsayer in a traveling circus. She is perfectly content avoiding the danger and destiny the Gods—and her homicidal mother—have saddled her with. That is, until Griffin, an ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, fixes her with his steely gaze and upsets her illusion of safety forever.

Griffin knows Cat is the Kingmaker, the woman who divines the truth through lies. He wants her as a powerful weapon for his newly conquered realm—until he realizes he wants her for much more than her magic. Cat fights him at every turn, but Griffin's fairness, loyalty, and smoldering advances make him increasingly hard to resist and leave her wondering if life really does have to be short, and lived alone.
A Few More Thoughts
I completely, thoroughly, totally, utterly love Bouchet's world-building. The balance of magics, politics, and character is full of surprises and fresh, breath-taking plot twists.  Cat is keeping secrets -- big ones. And while there are hard-fought battles in this book, it's clear that they are mere skirmishes for the Power Bid to come. Griffin is a hero that calls to mind Game of Throne's Khal Drogo:
He's looking at me, and it's hard not to look back. He's striking in a dark, magnetic way, his size, weapons, and bearing all telling me he's a tribal warlord. His build is strong and masculine, his gait perfectly balanced and fluid. He walks with predatory confidence, unhurried, and yet there's no mistaking his potential for swift, explosive violence. It's not latent or hidden, just leashed.
Besides making you want to fan yourself a little, exposition like this tells you two things -- first, you form an image of the warlord character in your head -- what he looks like as well as what kind of man he is. But it also tells you what Cat notices. That she's observant. That she knows what makes a person violent, competent, a predator. That's on the first page. Buckle up.

Can we talk about that cover for a minute? how utterly gorgeous is that?  I love the colors, the woman's expression, the fire and lightning. I'm not one to go weak for covers but this one is just super-pretty, not least for the choice of models. While Cat is not explicitly described in a way that makes her unmistakably a woman of color, neither can the reader assume she's lily white, either.  Within the first third or so of the book, the reader will figure out that the Greek mythological pantheon is playing a role here, so it's natural to imagine the characters with a Mediterranean stamp-- which of course can mean many things. Anyway, it's nice that neither the characters or the cover default to a whitewash.

For those of you wondering "is it a romance?" I would say, "mostly." This trilogy is going to feature the same heroine for the three books (I'm assuming) and while Cat and Griffin have absolutely fallen for each other --I don't think that's a spoiler!-- there are more obstacles to come, and they won't be small.  I'm going to be really disappointed and surprised if the trilogy doesn't end in an HEA though.

I only had two small issues with this book. One, I really, really dislike first-person-present tense. One in a thousand is done perfectly enough that it serves its purpose, which is to immerse the reader in the immediate action, thoughts, and point of view of the main character. This book does make it to the one in a thousand, but it took me a chapter or two to get there.  Two, Cat is very young -- nineteen -- and her character borrows a lot from NA trends, frequently leaning to the petulant, smart-assy to the detriment of the scene, and overall more immature than I like my characters.  This might be intentional, as its the beginning of an epic trilogy. But I found it irritating more than once. Luckily, she's also brilliantly intelligent, cunning, brave, and tremendously powerful, which offset the immaturity.

Not to end on a bad note:  this is an amazing story and I cannot wait for the next book.  It one of the strongest series-- and author-- debuts I've had the pleasure of discovering right at the beginning. Unless you have no taste all for fantasy, this should go right to the top of your TBR.

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