I find myself terribly conflicted with this book. On the one hand, I found it a fast read, occasionally super riveting, and totally steamy (like whoah there, this is NOT YA WHAT WAS I THINKING). On the other hand, I couldn’t personally condone the relationship for most of the book, and even when things started getting full-blown bad romancey in the classic Alpha-male and feisty female trope, I’m still holding onto my reservations.
Would I read the next book though? Hell yes I would.
A PROMISE OF FIRE
by Amanda Bouchet
Sourcebooks Casablanca, August 2016
Adult romance, fantasy
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies
e-ARC provided by NetGalley (thank you!)
KINGDOMS WILL RISE AND FALL FOR HER…
“Cat” Catalia 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.
BUT NOT IF SHE CAN HELP IT
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 Promise of a lot of Hot Things
So when I requested this book on NetGalley, I was looking at the cover and story description and thinking: “Oh! Kind of like Uprooted but with more romancey bits. Mmk!” Honestly, I expected a YA romance, with all the angst and all the tension.
What I was not expecting was all the sex. And hell, the sex was detailed. Gods above, it was much too detailed.
And before the eye-rolling at my seeming naivete commences, please note that I do primarily read and review YA and children’s fantasy. Occasionally I will review adult books, but often they are not so much romance adult books. So while I am not altogether unfamiliar with the smut that people write these days, a couple of the passages in this particular book took me by surprise.
I can’t say I ultimately disapproved, mind. Those scenes were hella sexy (and oh yes, I sure as hell am talking about THAT scene 85 percent into the book…).
A Couple of Caveats
A Promise of Fire is a story about a young Magoi (magic user) woman hiding from her past and a Hoi Polloi (non-magic user) man trying his utmost to bring her out of hiding. The two embark in a constant clash of emotions and physicality, and amidst their conflict lies a budding level of attachment that, when finally acted on, may very well destroy or unify the three kingdoms.
So, yeah, it’s a romance fantasy in a nutshell. Do not expect it to be more. I mean, the opening scene spent a great deal of time describing the perfectly muscled tones of the mysterious “warlord” (who winds up being the main male lead) and Cat’s apparent attraction to said fine specimen. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to kick Cat then or later, because honestly, the amount of fluttery butterflies and metaphorical wings and heat zinging through her nether regions every damn time the Beta Sinta came into play was getting tiring (Honestly, I don’t know how Cat manages to continually get turned on and not feel fatigued by it all in a physical sense!). I’m only surprised the words “rippling pectorals” weren’t used to describe any of the Hoi Polloi men, though Bouchet certainly gets damn close to using that description.
The progression of the romance itself was kind of cringe-worthy at the start. In truth, I felt uncomfortable about the development between Cat and Griffin in terms of how they interacted with each other. From day one, it’s clear both are physically attracted to each other, and both are the epitome of their character archetypes. Cat is the feisty, fiery, powerful woman with a chip on her shoulder. Griffin pretty much screams Alpha male (even though, funnily enough, his title is the Beta Sinta). Griffin lays claim to Cat the minute he interacts with her, going so far as kidnapping her, threatening her with the general safety of her circus friends, and then tying her up with magical rope to bind her to him. Rightly so, Cat is angry, rebellious, acts out against her captors, and YET she winds up having the hots for the man with the perfect package (and gods, you need to read the description of Griffin and the Beta Team, they are full of glorified male description).
If that doesn’t scream dubious consent, then I don’t know what does.
It’s not until the latter half of the book that this uncomfortable dubiousness lets up, and even so, the whole time I’m reading, I kept thinking: “This is really not the way to go about winning an independent woman’s heart.” Which prevented me from loving Griffin. I mean, the other characters? Yes. I love flirty Carver and loyal Flynn, and Kato is charming and adorable, even if he is written as a perfectly male specimen as well (and gods, I was so afraid they’d all be Gary Stu-ish in nature). But Griffin? I suppose he has his cheeky amusing moments, and on occasion he has made me laugh out loud. All the same, I could have done without some of the belligerence he uses to get what he wants. And goodness, there was one scene that killed me with laughter, because it was, quite literally, a “fuck or die” chapter that I’ve only ever seen in fanfiction so far. I just COULD NOT DEAL.
Anyway. Moving on.
A Richly Imagined World
That all said, I absolutely love the worldbuilding and the overarching plot that revolves around the book.
Bouchet’s Thalyria is divided into three kingdoms: magic-filled northern Fisa, politically unstable Tarva, and magic-less southern Sinta. The ruling families appear to follow a hierarchy made up of Alphas, Betas, etc., with a tradition of fratricide being the normal way of things. Hell, it doesn’t seem to faze Cat to talk about how the Alpha Fisa condones her children’s bloodthirsty battle for the throne, nor does it faze her to mention the naturalness of the Alpha Tarva’s power-hungry sister, who is effectively Beta Tarva. And as for the Alpha and Beta Sintas? Well, they’re pretty much magic-less Hoi Polloi who upended tradition by overruling the Magoi Sinta nobles and becoming rulers themselves.
And among all of this political turmoil lies in essence a magical world, filled with Greek gods and Oracles. Cat’s powers are interesting at worst, friggin’ awesome at best. The fact that Griffin–whose Hoi Polloi ancestry denotes no magical powers at all–does not get affected by magic is also an interesting note. There’s definitely a lot I could ask about the working of the world’s magical system, and if it’s solely based on what the gods give their Chosen. In which case, I wonder how many actually like Cat, since, you know, she’s kind of got some god-like ancestry in her own bloodline.
In any case, while the romance did take over the majority of the story, I do want to continue reading the series. While the reader knows exactly who Cat is by the end of the book, no one else in Sinta does, and certainly I’m looking forward to how her lineage will affect the way most people in Sinta think about her. Also, there’s a lot of buildup over how dangerous the Alpha Fisa is, and how each of the divided kingdoms are close to the brink of war. And there’s also the fact that Cat herself is the Kingmaker. Why is she called this and what is she going to do next? Ugh, the possibilities for the stories in the next books are endless. And I want to know.
3.5 out of 5 cookies! So yeah, for the overall story, I’d keep on reading. I could also do with less heated exchanges and more giant-walloping, dragon-slaying adventures, please. I mean, I know it’s a fantasy romance, but still…