Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Source: Finished Copy from Publisher
A burning vengeance.
Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. The son of the queen of the Fells, Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now Ash is closer than he’s ever been to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. As a healer, can Ash use his powers not to save a life but to take it?
A blood-based curse.
Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told the mysterious magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.
Destiny’s fiery hand.
Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.
Set in the world of the acclaimed Seven Realms series a generation later, this is a thrilling story of dark magic, chilling threats, and two unforgettable characters walking a knife-sharp line between life and death.
Protagonists: Adrian, known as Ash for most of this book is the son of the Queen of the Fells and her consort. After some the loss of someone close to him Ash is out for revenge against the King of Arden, who he holds responsible for the act. After years of training and waiting Ash finds himself closer than ever to finally ridding the world of the great evil that is Gerard Montaigne. Jenna just wanted a normal life, but after two of her friends are brutally murdered by the King of Arden's own hands she joins up with a rebellion to fight back any way she can. Soon though there are people looking for a girl with a birthmark like hers and thinking that it's due to her being in the rebellion she does her best to hide from trouble, but trouble always seems to have a way of finding her. There are two other characters with POVs in this book, a mysterious smuggler who befriends Ash, but seems to have more of a loyalty to herself than anyone else, and the son of Marin Karn, the evil bastard of a mage general from the Seven Realms series, who doesn't seem to be as bad as his father and seems to hold an unknown loyalty. Dear Lord, all of these characters are great and while Ash is by far the most prominent character featured in this book each of these characters has a chance to shine. All of these characters don't play at being pure or wholly good, they know they have shades of darkness in them that they've chosen to embrace rather than deny.
Romance: If I had one criticism of this book it would be that the romance advanced a bit too quickly. It wasn't an insta-love not exactly, but there was this moment that both Jenna and Ash magically connected that seems to be the catalyst for the romantic feelings advancing so quickly, and while I'm sure it's there to sort of explain the quick connection, it sometimes felt more like an excuse than an explanation. Despite all that however, there were some moments where I really started to root for this couple. They do have a great connection and there is some pretty great chemistry, I just had hoped that all the romantic stuff would occur a lot slower and be more of a slow burning, possibly at odds from time to time, romance.
World Building: This series takes place about 25-30 years after the end of the Seven Realms series. I have no idea why on the Goodreads series page it says 20, but it's wrong. Anyway, I love being in the Seven Realms world, and while it hasn't been so long since I left, a lot has changed, or maybe it's stayed the same. The Fells is still at war with Arden, though it seems Arden has gained no purchase on the Fells, but has recently, as of the beginning of this book dealt a huge blow not only to the Fells but to Raisa, Han, and their kids. Because of that, and some other things, it sends Ash into Arden, which we first glimpsed in The Exiled Queen, the church of Malthus is still at large unfortunately and the King seems just as evil, if not more so than he previously had. I was surprised at how little fan service there was in this book. Most authors that write a spin-off that takes place a generation alter would jump at the chance to introduce as many kids of previous characters that they could or have best friends' kids fall in love, but this more than anything is a perfect mix of new and old, sure there are some references to old characters, as well as their possible children, and a lot of this book is told from our previous protagonists child, but there's a sense to this book that's all new. Very little of it takes place in familiar territory it's told from completely new characters, and there's a deeper mystery at work that comes almost out of nowhere, in a good way.
Predictability: There are quite a few mysteries in this book, and as I've said before Chima does a fantastic job at keeping secrets and letting off just enough information for it all to make sense once the truth comes out, and it seems she hasn't lost her touch. The biggest mystery seems to be the magemark on the back of Jenna's neck. She's not a mage that's for sure, but there's something magical about her still. While Chima teases us senseless with possibilities, she's doesn't quite give up the goat yet. There are of course many other mysteries and twists in this book, most of which shocked me, some left me squealing more than I'd like to admit, and some I was so proud I called, though there's still one twist I'm still bitter about, something I should have called, but I forgot one detail and it forever evaded me until its big reveal.
Ending: Part of me really regrets adding this section during times like this. Honestly I'm not sure what to say about the ending without giving anything away but I'm going to try. As this book starts to wrap up I'm not sure how everything was going to not only work out, but where everything was going to go and what position our characters could be in by the time the book ends. The final climax of this book, and the smaller bits of tension that come after were very epic. I mean, I can't believe how insane and awesome some of the stuff was. I don't want to say there's a cliffhanger, because there technically isn't but things aren't all finished, there are still a lot of mysteries and questions to be answered and some of them are so burning that in some way it does feel like this book has a cliffhanger.
So, while I wasn't completely happy with the romance, it is only one part of this much, much greater story and all of the awesome of this book outshines that so brightly. I can't wait to see where this series goes, though from the looks of it Book 2: Shadowcaster is going to focus on some different characters so I don't know quite when this story will continue.