[This was one difficult for me to rate. I think I may have rated The Amulet Stone by Mason Thomas too low. If I had rated that one higher, I would likely have rated this one higher too. I been reading a lot of fantasy this year, so it’s difficult not to compare them all even though they are all very different.]
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
When King Edmund dies, Reynold becomes king. After several decades of peace and prosperity, this starts a cascade of events that will see the kingdom of Llangard in a more precarious position, and many uncertain who is friend or foe. Reynold’s cousin Tris is well respected at the castle, but hides his nature, afraid it will endanger his life. Bet, the king’s assassin, has his own secrets, and is a huge part of shaping the events at court with well done action scenes. As political machinations, ethics, and morals drive them apart, their long held attraction also pulls Tris and Bet together. Theirs is the main romance, if you can call it that. While the sex scenes are explicit, they are not titillating, just used for character and plot development. I would say the relationship is part of the book, not the point of the book. Tris is such a likeable, character with more depth as the book goes on. It’s quite the feat to make me feel sympathy and empathy for an assasin. For all the characters, their complex loyalties are twisted and tested until they find there is a difference between what is right, and what is honorable.
Since this is the start of a series with a full cast of characters and multiple points of view, it will require some attention to detail. While the various points of view help layer the world-building throughout the story, they also make it more difficult to get very attached to any one character. The heading for each chapter tells where the point of view starts, but be prepared for a change in points of view between scenes. Other important points of view besides Tris, Bet, and Reynold include: Reynold’s sister Gillian, Rhiannon and Hafgan as visitors to the castle, Sidonie as the King’s guard, and Prince Roland. As the Prince is nine, I am glad not too much time is spent with his point of view, but I did find it age appropriate.
Without giving too much away, relations between the dragons of the Mawrcraig Mountains and Llangard are contentious from a war fought long ago. Still, the kingdom relies on the dragons to turn back invaders from the north, and the dragons expect to be left alone. They want to improve their situation so a dragon goes to meet the new king. They may have been a threat to humans once upon a time, but they have no greed for human lands. Yet, dragonkind won’t stay hidden in the mountains forever. People of Tornheim are encroaching in the mountains. Usually a nation of tribes that don’t work together, something may be changing as they are growing bolder. The Torndals may also be creating intrigue to move against Llangard. While there is an elf in this story, the reader doesn’t know anything about the elves at all at this point. Too much care has been taken to set up this world and its politics for it not to have a much larger story arc coming. Even though this story, as it is, has a satisfying ending, there are four plot points left dangling to build upon.
If there was a stumble, I would say it’s in the development of the relationship between Sidonie and Rhiannon. They barely spend any time together at all and attraction alone between strangers wasn’t enough for me to believe how their plot point develops, even though the end is so, so good. The scene between Tris and Hafgan also seemed forced and too soon in their acquaintance for that level of exchange. There are dragons that are introduced near the end, but there was not enough done to make me intrigued by them. I would expect the next book to feature more about them and their culture; I welcome this as I would love to have their points of view too. I’m just saying dragons are written into relationships where time wasn’t taken to build them, or introduced briefly to position them for the future, rather than to add to the story already in play. This is an ambitious, action packed fantasy adventure that carries the reader merrily along. There is magic, elves, dragons, and plenty of historical lore, which may or may not be fact–every side has their own view of war, after all. My only concern is the next book will need a lot of world-building also and I hope there are more intimate scenes (like with Bet and Roland, or Tris and his mother) between the characters so I can check in with them more emotionally, rather than those getting lost in all the politics and plot twists that I intellectually enjoy. I look forward to the next book to see where everything goes, especially because the authors have made me a bit bloodthirsty and have proven they’re not afraid to surprise and delight.
Cover art © 2019 by Natasha Snow Designs. The cover is so striking with Tristram front and center, which is as it should be since he is the rallying point and glue that holds things together.
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XC67S95
Book Details: Kindle Edition, 295 pages
Published September 26th 2019
Edition Language: English
Series: Fire and Valor