This book at the end had me going absolutely FERAL. 3 am in the morning and hoping my neighbors didn’t hear me screaming and smacking at my pillow because of how riled up I got with what just happened. But I mean, DAMN. I enjoyed this book, despite my annoyance at the love triangle and the deeply religious sects that littered the page. Funnily enough, while the modernized colloquialisms should have bothered me like it normally does *coughFBAAcough*, in the case of TFK, I actually found it fitting. I’m all for continuing Lore’s story, though, and you can damn well believe that I’m going to be reading the next book when it eventually comes out.
In a year. Oh Bleeding God, I gotta wait THAT LONG?!
THE FOXGLOVE KING
by Hannah Whitten
Orbit, March 2023
High fantasy, romance
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies
When Lore was thirteen, she escaped a cult in the catacombs beneath the city of Dellaire. And in the ten years since, she’s lived by one rule: don’t let them find you. Easier said than done, when her death magic ties her to the city.
Mortem, the magic born from death, is a high-priced and illicit commodity in Dellaire, and Lore’s job running poisons keeps her in food, shelter, and relative security. But when a run goes wrong and Lore’s power is revealed, she’s taken by the Presque Mort, a group of warrior-monks sanctioned to use Mortem working for the Sainted King. Lore fully expects a pyre, but King August has a different plan. Entire villages on the outskirts of the country have been dying overnight, seemingly at random. Lore can either use her magic to find out what’s happening and who in the King’s court is responsible, or die.
Lore is thrust into the Sainted King’s glittering court, where no one can be believed and even fewer can be trusted. Guarded by Gabriel, a duke-turned-monk, and continually running up against Bastian, August’s ne’er-do-well heir, Lore tangles in politics, religion, and forbidden romance as she attempts to navigate a debauched and opulent society.
But the life she left behind in the catacombs is catching up with her. And even as Lore makes her way through the Sainted court above, they might be drawing closer than she thinks.
Other than the fact that this book was an anticipated high fantasy release and had a gorgeous cover, I went into this book blind. A lot of my initial guesses from just looking at the Fairyloot edition’s endpapers and theme (“Rotten Opulence”) pointed to some kind of quasi-historical French court with a love triangle. Now, I don’t know how many times I’ve said this by this point (and I must have said something in previous book reviews), but the hint of a love triangle–ANY HINT of a love triangle–tends to put me off. Honestly, it’s already too much tension between two people, what more with a third one getting in the mix?
So it comes as a surprise that I actually didn’t mind the triangle here as much, but I think this is largely due to the fact that while yes, there is romance in the book, it is not the overarching plot. It’s a subplot at best, and yes, I feel like the romance will start to get its own limelight in the next book, but in this case, most of the conflict lies in the machinations and intrigues of the Auverraine court and the power dynamics between the crown and the religious sect, as well as the imbalances between Mortem and Spiritum.
The story follows Lore, a poison runner-turned-spy with an unnatural connection to Mortem, which is some sort of essence of death found all around the city. While there is a faction of warrior monks–the Presque Mort–who can manipulate Mortem by channeling and releasing them safely into the environment, Lore’s magic is more akin to necromancy; that is, she can use Mortem to bring the dead back to life. This lands her in hot water, so to speak, because eventually she gets caught and brought to the Auverraine throne, where the Sainted King, August, conscripts her into using Mortem to help solve the mystery deaths across the country. There is an added catch, however; Lore must also use her new identity to spy on August’s only son, the Sun Prince Bastian.
And this is where the two men come into play. We have Gabriel Remaut, a Presque Mort monk-but-also-duke, who is tasked to co-spy with Lore, and the two pretend to be cousins in order to navigate court politics. Then we also meet Bastian Arceneaux, the handsome and debonair flirt of a prince who seems to have zero interest in the throne, but is also believed to be a spy for an enemy country. Poor Lore, what is a girl to do when she has to decide between a rock and a hard place? (Geddit? Teehee!)
None of them had time for silly romance games–were this any other situation, she’d just sleep with them both and have done with it, so they could concentrate on the important things like finding a stash of dead bodies…
But one was the Sun Prince, and one was a celibate monk, and thus the circumstances were a bit more complicated.
Honestly, Lore, this was plan A. You should have definitely gone with Plan A. Complications be damned!
But all that said, I think Lore made for a fantastic main character. She’s abrasive and focused, and is often able to hold her own, especially when it comes to sassing both Gabe and Bastian–and later, most of the other men around her. Yes, at times she does get into dark moods and bouts of melancholy, but often she is able to get herself out of it by remembering her main goal. There were so many instances in the book where I half-expected Lore to just give in and snog some bitches already, but then she turns around and actually resists. For the most part. (There are some hijinks eventually…but not for a while.) Kudos, girl. I, for one, would have folded into the Bastian supremacy on DAY ONE.
…the parting crowd revealed the throne at the front of the room, and for the first time, she noticed someone was on it. One leg was tossed over the arm, booted foot swinging in the air, and an elbow was propped on the opposite side, head leaned against a clenched, ring-studded fist.
Even in the decadent chaos of his own party, Bastian Arceneaux somehow managed to look bored.
It didn’t help that some of the first descriptions we had of Bastian literally had me thinking of Cardan Greenbriar, and boy, if you’ve seen all of my The Folk of the Air reviews, you’ll understand my general bias. I also love it when potential love interests are competent. Bastian is, by all appearances, a wanton, privileged prince with zero care for politics; and yet as the story unfolds, it is clear that he is the complete opposite.
Where The Foxglove King really shined for me, however, was the main story itself. I really wanted to know more about Mortem and the story behind Apollius and Nyxara. I loved this idea of the god of life and the goddess of death pushing and pulling, and how it affects the world in TFK. But my interest really went towards the fact that people all over the city willingly poison themselves in order to–get this–prolong their lives. This was such a cool idea, and as much as I actually liked the idea of having the characters spend their time in the royal court, my favorite parts of the book was when Lore and a few of the other characters were down in the nitty gritty streets of Dellaire. Give me more poison running intrigue!
And please, give me less church vitriol! While I liked the idea of contention between crown and church, there was too much of a religious bent in the storyline. Yes, the whole point of this religion is to give us a bigger worldbuilding experience–after all, the magic system of the country is based on one worshipped god and one fallen goddess–but I felt like everyone who practiced with a lot of religious zeal was depicted as a Big Bad. I don’t think there was one person in the book who had a modicum of faith that wasn’t somehow corrupt or overly righteous. And on the other side of it, the blasphemers and the irreverent practitioners were often sided with the protagonist. There has to be a healthy medium somewhere!
“Bleeding God, Gabe, do you want to hang?”
“You know, I think he might…The final act in his endless personal drama.”
All in all, though, I really did enjoy this book. The character banter–especially between Bastian and Lore, Bastian and Gabe, and then Lore and Gabe–was entertaining and filled with so much tension. Often the dialogue is a bit modernized, but I found that these touches actually work in Whitten’s case (unlike my experiences with the From Blood and Ash series, where the modernized dialogue and narrative made me cringe so hard). The modernity is sprinkled throughout the narrative, but it’s not repetitive, which I greatly appreciated. The love triangle was actually tolerable because the characters were still able to function outside of their pining (and boy, do they pine!)–and honestly, I won’t be surprised if Lore, Bastian, and Gabe become an actual triad, considering the sexual tension between all three of them. And all in all, the worldbuilding was interesting enough for me to want to know more about the country’s history and the magic system.
4 out of 5 cookies! Unfortunately, this book just came out last month…which means it will likely be a year from now before I can even get my hands on the second book. Siiiigh.