Desert Isle Keeper
A Promise of Fire
You know when you start a book, get about 25% into it and your spine starts to tingle and you KNOW it’s going to be big because it has already sucked you in to the point that you are oblivious to all of your surroundings? Yeah…début author Amanda Bouchet did that to me with her first published work, A Promise of Fire. I am a sucker for a great fantasy story with solid world-building and a protagonist I can empathize with, and Bouchet delivers on all counts. Loosely based on Greek mythology, gods and goddesses walk the earth alongside mortal beings and magic is taken for granted. There are a few rough patches, but on the whole I was pleasantly surprised with this novel and cannot wait for the second installment of the Kingmaker Chronicles.
In Bouchet’s world of Thalyria, magic reigns in the northern kingdom of Fisa and in the middle kingdom of Tarva, but the southern kingdom of Sinta lacks the magic that has kept other kingdoms in power and the people of Sinta are subjugated by the magic born (Magoi). That subjugation ended when Beta Sinta, otherwise known as Griffin the Warlord conquers Sinta and installs his sister as Alpha Sinta. But lacking the magic of the other two primary kingdoms, Sinta needs an edge so they do not lose their newly acquired freedom. Enter Catalia Fisa.
Catalia ‘Cat’ Fisa has been in hiding in the south since she was fifteen years old. Born with a rare magical ability to sense when others are telling the truth or lying, she was in virtual bondage to her mother, the goddess Andromeda until she managed to escape. Called the Kingmaker, Cat helped her psychotic mother rule Fisa by detecting plots against her. Andromeda used torture as a tool to keep Cat compliant, which quickly killed any familial feelings her daughter might have had for her. Cat’s escape takes her to the non-magical (or rather magic-challenged!) south and she finds a new family in a motley crew of circus performers. When the story begins, Cat has lived with them for the past eight years and made her living as a fortune teller.
Griffin understands what Cat is almost immediately and decides that she is the tool the kingdom of Sinta needs to protect itself against the Magoi, whether she is willing or not. Griffin and his fellow soldiers don’t bother to find out if Cat’s views on the matter before they kidnap her from the circus. Cat is obviously not happy with the situation; she was used by her mother for fifteen years and has absolutely no intention of being used by someone else. But Griffin holds her next to him with a magic rope that she cannot escape and the two begin a road romance that is entertaining and enlightening for them both. Cat thinks there is nothing that can justify someone taking away her agency. Griffin thinks there is nothing that is more important than the freedom of his people. They both find out that falling in love changes everything.
I really loved this book. The author takes some difficult tropes and goes to great and believable pains to justify them. Griffin’s abduction of Cat could have looked very rape-y, but even though we are not privy to Griffin’s thoughts, his actions speak to his underlying integrity. Cat would have been justified in acting the shrew for what has been done to her, given Griffin’s scheme to use her. Even though he has no clue just how horribly she has been abused in the past, that is no excuse for his initial treatment of her. Cat is somehow able to rise above her anger and get through her captivity with her sense of humor intact all the while evoking a deep empathy from the reader. One great line from Cat upon her initial assessment of Griffin’s character is: “typical warlord: huge ego, huge sword and huge ass.” Cat is a funny gal and a survivor. She uses humor to get through the bad times and this enhances her as a character.
The use of Greek mythological beings and creatures is incorporated very well into the story. Bouchet uses the basic traits of well-known figures from ancient Greece, but puts her own personal spin on them. From Poseidon to Cerberus, the secondary characters are believable and interesting. The secondary human/mortal characters are also well integrated into the story and are set up to figure prominently in future instalments of the Kingmaker Chronicles. The only problem I had at all with the characterization is that of Cat’s mother Andromeda, who is too over the top and clichéd. Gods and goddesses are larger than life, so I expect their personalities should be as well, but I would have liked a little insight as to WHY Andromeda is the way she is. I do not mind her being evil. I just wish I understood how a mother could treat her daughter the way Andromeda treated Cat.
Often, the first book in a fantasy series ends up being one of the weaker books overall because so much time is required for world-building. Not so here, as Amanda Bouchet does an excellent job of introducing the reader to her world in a very organic way. She slowly reveals the world of Thalyria rather than taking up a large chunk of the beginning of the book explaining her mythical creation. A Promise of Fire ultimately made me smile and I cannot wait for the next instalment in this series.