by Pam J.
Every now and then, we get to take a mini-vacay from Nova’s incessant fiction addiction, and read outside the Voyager pantheon. (gasp!) So this starts one of a few new readings series on the blog, with bookish musings, pulled from our own personal bookshelves. Because reading = escapism = important!
Long before binge watching was a thing (thanks, Netflix), I’ve been a serial binge-reader. Series at a time, over and over. More often than not, I’ll return to fantasy with romantic elements (the “Kate Daniels” and “Mercy Thompson” series are chronic re-reads; Sarah J. Maas’ novels are newer, but no less tattered for multiple re-readings at this point); strong female protagonists are a must.
My latest indulgence is Amanda Bouchet’s “The Kingmaker Chronicles” (a Rothfussian reference?). I loved the first book, A Promise of Fire, so much, that I ran into an editor’s office and basically forced her to buy a copy, just so I’d have someone to gush with. Then came the second book, Breath of Fire, and I had…issues…so I immediately re-read the first, and maybe we’ll just start there.
What’s not to love about A Promise of Fire? It incorporates (albeit loosely) elements of Greek mythology. There’s a fantastic cirque. Our heroine has a dark, tortured past. And a wicked sense of humor. (Which comes out more frequently when she’s not jammed into a pair of ill-fitting leather pants. C’mon. Haven’t we all been there?) Hero is a warlord, with, er, barbarian tendencies. Yassssssss. Big, burly, gruff. Oddly into personal hygiene and has a thing for the heroine’s citrus soap, which is decidedly un-barbaric. But…he can be a bit of a Neanderthal. Like abduct woman first, ask questions later, Neanderthal. I definitely have some issues with consent, and the extent of his alpha male-ness; he’s intent upon binding Cat to him, in varied fashions, but Cat seems to have him well in-hand.
Now, we spoke about Cat’s dark and mysterious past, briefly. She is actually Catalia Fisa, second in line for the Fisan throne. Her mother, a.k.a. Alpha Fisa, is “mommy dearest” in the scariest sense of the reference. This queen is bloodhungry as hell, and so determined to keep her throne that she continually throws her eight children at each other in battles-to-the-death. (About half of them remain, at least midway through A Promise of Fire.) Cat got the heck out of Fisa, travelled across the kingdom of Tarva, to finally find sanctuary and anonymity in a circus in Sinta, the southernmost country on this continent plagued by power-hungry magical despots. Sinta is the only one of the three countries ruled by Hoi Polloi. (Look it up; it means just what you always thought it might.)
They won the throne by might, not magic. So, the new ruling family are basically….Muggles in a land filled with Slytherins. (Sorry for the cross-series lexicon pollination. It just worked.) Presents problems….especially since Cat is a magical vacuum, who can absorb power from any “Magoi” she comes in contact with. Our Hulky hero is her opposite: his secret is that magic bounces right off of him.
(Unofficial) Footage of the new ruling family:
So, the warlord. He is, of course, Beta Sinta. I love that she calls him that, instead of by his first name, Griffin (mythological beast, half lion, half eagle, totally top of the food chain), just to piss him off. Griffin conquered the heck out of Sinta, sent the magic-users packing, and popped his lovely older sister on the throne. He is thus free to go about his business, which one might think is plundering and pillaging, given his propensity towards kidnapping innocent circus folk. But he’s a noble sort, and immediately bonds with Cat, who is certainly NOT going to tell him she’s just as Beta as he is. In a totally Alpha way. (These two are the original power couple.)
So, they adventure. There are dragons and drownings and fireworks (metaphorical) and, for the most part, it’s just amazingly romantic and wonderful and epic. The gods make appearances. Cerberus shows up, and is a pretty cool guard dog.
The book is definitely filled with difficult consent issues, and it’s something that numerous GoodReads users have groped with in their reviews. He’s a soap-stealing barbarian, all tough on the outside with a melting softspot in his heart for Cat (which doesn’t excuse the “magic rope” incident). She’s intent on saving/redeeming him, a validation of her Alpha nature.
By the final turn of the page, we are well aware that Cat is the original empowered heroine…but one who is riddled with angsty self-esteem issues. Those issues of worth come into play in the opening salvo of Breath of Fire, but that is a story for another day…