Desert Isle Keeper
A Promise of Fire
Raise your hand if you’ve been looking for a new fantasy series to start. Keep it raised if you’ve been waiting quite a while. I don’t know about you, but I feel like fantasy romance, with a few notable exceptions, has been a bit slow to develop, unlike some of the more recently popular contemporary genres (I don’t think I will ever understand the lure of motorcycle romance, for one). When I heard that A Promise of Fire was up for grabs to review, I don’t think I’ve ever chimed in faster. Fantasy was my gateway into romance, and I am always excited to try a new author to the genre. And not only did Amanda Bouchet not disappoint, she absolutely blew me away.
A Promise of Fire is ultimately about politics, civil war, and a woman with the most extraordinary magical ability – to be able to absorb, and then use, other people’s (and, occasionally, objects’) magic. And if that weren’t enough, she can actually feel lies. As in they cause her actual pain and discomfort. It’s a fairly quiet ability, but has so much potential. At it’s heart, it is a “chosen one” story – every 200 years a chosen one is born, blah blah blah – but our heroine, Catalia Fisa, also known as Cat, is most assuredly not a Mary Sue. Cat is strong willed past the point of stubborn, secretive for good reason, and completely unable to trust those around her. And, like with so many characters, it’s her faults that make her both interesting and relatable.
But let me tell you a bit about the story, because it’s just as complicated as Cat is.
She has been earning her living by telling fortunes at a carnival, dressing herself up to appear older and more worldly, both for protection and to conceal her identity. Cat is going out of her way to avoid her past, the various political insanities of the time (including her less-than-sane mother), and the attention of the gods. But Beta Griffin Sinta, a southern warlord with no magic of his own, knows that she is more than what she seems. And so he kidnaps her. For the good of his country.
Griffin knows that Cat can read the truth through people’s lies, and he has decided she is the best possible weapon for his sister, the Alpha (leader) of their decidedly non-magical country, the only one the reader knows of on the continent. With a select few of his men, Griffin has been searching for the Kingmaker, for Cat, but only thought about her as an item, not a person. Now that they’ve met, Cat (while literally fighting to get away at every step) and Griffin (while literally tying her to him. With a rope. In a decidedly non-sexy way) have to learn to work together just to survive the trip. And that doesn’t even touch on all the different stones thrown in their way – up to and including a dragon!
I think the only real issue I had was the dubious consent, which is not one of my reading kinks. I want consent to be fully spoken and very, very obvious. Instead we have super-alpha-hero Griffin (who is, ironically, answering to the title of Beta), “convincing” Cat with a very heavy hand that she wants him as much as he does her. There are times where his behavior is borderline abusive. I think what pulls it back is that he doesn’t seem to mean to hurt her, but he just doesn’t get what her issues are, and how her background (something else he knows nothing about) has shaped her into an incredibly independent woman with major trust issues. As aggressive as his life has been, Griffin still has support in the form of a surprisingly loving family in the midst of this whole power struggle.
But I loved Griffin’s character, despite my slight discomfort with the possible consent issue, and Cat is quite possibly my favorite fantasy heroine ever. I really wish I could go more fully into her past, but that would be a whole host of spoilers, so just believe me when I say the woman has been through more than her fair share of trauma and abuse. But even with all that, she’s strong and independent and has a very clear sense of herself. She’s a really interesting character and I can’t wait to read more about her. And her relationship with Griffin, because they are pretty amazing together.
And – oh my god, guys, the UST. I love some delicious unresolved sexual tension in a romance – it’s definitely a favorite trope of mine – and this book has it in spades. Cat is very reticent about starting anything with Griffin (not surprising, what with the whole kidnapping thing), but even from the beginning she can’t deny her attraction to him. And when they finally do get together? “Sparks fly” is probably the most subdued way of describing their relations. What else can I say – the two are hot together.
On top of the characterization and the pretty in-depth political goings-on, we also have an entire mythology built into the world the author has created here. The mythology is basically traditional Greek – Poseidon, Zeus, Hades, etc., are real and intervene in people’s lives, much like in the old stories. It’s an interesting mix of our world and one full of magic, based on a different sort of power structure.
I don’t think I can recommend A Promise of Fire highly enough. If you like fantasy at all, go read it. If you like mythology at all, go read it. If you like alpha heroes, or chosen-one stories, or strong and independent heroines, go read it. Just… just go read it.