I have already said a few times that my attention was caught a few months back when I saw the cover and blurb for this book from new author Amanda Bouchet. I even made it one of my spotlight author features sight unseen. Well, it turns out that Monika got her hands on an ARC of A Promise of Fire, and it looks like it will live up to the hype…
What Monika said…
Review A Promise of Fire
Mythical creatures, magical powers, mysterious prophesis, exciting adventures, interfering gods, a daring hero, and a reluctant but feisty heroine, this epic tale of fantasy and romance has it all. A truly entrancing debut novel!
I picked this book up on a whim; I liked the cover (you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case the writing more than matches the beautiful cover art), I was intrigued by the synopsis and it also seemed to have a good buzz going. Many debut books that get hyped then turn out to be quite a disappointment, but not this one. It’s actually one of the most exciting debut novels I have read in years.
It is set in a fantasy world comprised of three kingdoms, where the inhabitants have different levels of magical abilities or no magic at all. Cat, our heroine, is hiding in a circus from her family and a painful past. She masquerades as a clairvoyant and her act has been very successful, that is, until Griffin. The warlord has conquered the realm through a coup, but because of his apparent lack of magical ability he is looking for some strong magicians to recruit as advisors. He recognizes what Cat really is and approaches her with a proposal. When Cat refuses to enter his service, he abducts her in short order. Although Cat is afraid to become a pawn once more and fears to be discovered by the people she is hiding from, she is not immune to Griffin’s charm and that of his companions and his family. Also – albeit quite reluctantly – she lusts after his body…
The story is told from the POV of Cat in first person narrative. Her voice is in turn snarky, irreverent, jaded and innocent and as she carries a lot of emotional baggage, sometimes also a bit angsty. It is saved from being annoying, because she is also quite self-deprecating.
The banter between Cat and Griffin is very entertaining and sexy, often quite funny, and her interactions with his companions and his family are kind of sweet, as it is quite baffling to her to be met with kindness.
The world-building is mostly original and convincing; the descriptions of the landscape, the people and customs are woven seemlessly into the story and the secondary characters are well-fleshed out and memorable.
There are some areas that could be considered shortcomings: one of them are Cat’s powers. Her magical abilities seem to grow (that could still be credible), but she also develops new abilities just as she needs them to deal with a difficulty or a challenge and if her own powers are not enough she is miraculously helped by one god or another. There were quite a few deus-ex-machina moments and I have to admit I am not too fond of that device, especially when it is employed repeatedly. To me this shows a weakness in plot development; the situation cannot be resolved by the heroine or through external circumstances, so a god has to step in and save the day. Even (or especially) in a magical realm where everything is possible and the only constraint is the imagination of the author, seemingly hopeless situatons should be resolved differently.
One reviewer also objected to this book because the hero initially takes the heroine against her will. That is sort of the definition of an abduction. So for that reviewer everything that happens after is colored by how the two main protagonists came to be together and hence their relationship appears in a problematic light. I have to admit that for me the abduction formed part of the appeal of the story, and – contrary to that reviewer’s claim – the hero did not abuse the heroine in any way. Also, before they ever had sex, Griffin set Cat free and she remained with him of her own free will.
But even with the few shortcomings mentioned above this is a very powerful and gripping story that will leave you wanting more of this magical world and the creatures that inhabit it. I cannot wait to see what happens with Cat and Griffin and their families next and whether Griffin will be able to hold on to the kingdom he has conquered. Since it is a debut novel I am inclined to be lenient with the author and give this book 4.5 stars because it surprised me with its freshness.
Who else is looking forward to picking this one up? I am on a new-series ban until I get a few of my existing series caught up, but it is definitely going on my To-Be-Bought list for a future purchase.