A lot of what I have to say about this book is in my review from the September TBR Challenge. I thought the world building was strong, and the story is complex enough to sustain a pretty hefty fantasy trilogy. That’s what strikes me, thinking back on this reading experience — because this is fantasy, there’s a whole world of plot that isn’t directly about the romance, and consequently, the romance aspect is drawn out and given time to develop in a way that wouldn’t work in genre romance.
Cat and Vai start off very much on the wrong foot, They are forced into marriage, they don’t know each other at all beforehand, and before they have a chance to figure anything out, the marriage is termed a “mistake” and he’s ordered to kill her. Which he can’t, of course, because he is already falling in love with her. No surprise that she is suspicious, dismissive, prickly and so forth — she’s not playing hard to get or over-reacting, because the man married her at the command of the same lord who has now commanded her death. Of course she doesn’t trust him, even if she does find him attractive, and of course she’s glad to see him frustrated, humiliated, or thwarted. I was glad that it took her the better part of three long books to completely trust him — anything faster would have belied important aspects of her character.
Aside from not immediately falling for Vai out of suspicion and fully justified fear, Cat has other issues that she needs to resolve before she can believably love and commit to anyone. She has fundamental identity issues — who is she, who were her parents, how did she end up in the Barahal household? What about her magic power(s) — where do those come from, and of what is she capable? In addition to figuring all of that out, she has a concern that takes priority over a potential romantic relationship. She knows that her beloved cousin Bee is the next target for the cold mage, and she doesn’t want to see that happen; after staying alive herself, her next priority is Bee’s safety and welfare. She has a lot to figure out, she has herself and her cousin to keep alive and safe, and she has very little reason to trust Vai to help with any of it.
More than anything (the secondary characters, who are fabulous, the world building, which is rich and rewarding, the use of history and myth to make a mash-up that feels familiar, new and consistent all at once), it was this aspect of the novel (and eventually the trilogy) that I found most rewarding. The romance had time in which to develop, the two characters went through a lot for and with each other to prove how strong their feelings were, and there was so much going on that I didn’t feel that anything was dragged out or put off in a frustrating way. In other words, reading this reminded me why fantasy with strong romance is still my favorite genre.
So what did others think? What did and didn’t you enjoy about this novel? What aspects do you think deserve deeper analysis? Comment here, or link to your thoughts posted elsewhere.