Promise of Darkness
Princess. Tribute. Sacrifice. Is she the one prophesied to unite two warring Fae courts? Or the one bound to destroy them?
In a realm ruled by magic, the ruthless Queen of Thorns is determined to destroy her nemesis, the cursed Prince of Evernight.
With war brewing between the bitter enemies, the prince forces Queen Adaia to uphold an ancient treaty: she will send one of her daughters to his court as a political hostage for three months.
The queen insists it’s the perfect opportunity for Princess Iskvien to end the war before it begins. But one look into Thiago’s smoldering eyes and Vi knows she’s no assassin.
The more secrets she uncovers about the prince and his court, the more she begins to question her mother’s motives.
Who is the true enemy? The dark prince who threatens her heart? Or the ruthless queen who will stop at nothing to destroy him?
And when the curse threatens to shatter both courts, is her heart strong enough to break it?
It’s no secret that Caz and Dabney are big fans of Bec McMaster’s books, and have both been waiting with bated breath to see what she’d come up with after the finale of her fabulous London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy series. Promise of Darkness – with a romantic storyline loosely based on the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades – is the first book in a new fantasy romance series set in a world ruled over by a group of powerful queens locked in an endless struggle for supremacy and in which the fragile peace between them hangs in the balance. Is it a gem? Here’s what they thought.
Caz: I admit that when I first opened the book and saw it was written in first person present tense, I was really disappointed. First person storytelling can work for me sometimes, but it’s not something I associate with this author and I was put off. Bec McMaster constructs complex, intricate stories and peoples them with equally complex and intriguing characters and I wasn’t sure how the limited viewpoint would affect that. When I went back to the book, it did take me awhile to get into it, but In the end, she makes it work – and by the third or fourth chapter (with the appearance of the Prince of Evernight!) I was drawn in and ready to go where she wanted to take me.
Dabney: Eh. That didn’t put me off – McMaster’s ability to really show us Vi’s inner world enchanted me and allowing the reader to only see Thiago’s actions without knowing his thoughts is, I think, necessary to the story McMaster is telling.
I will say I found the complex world-building a lot to take in as I started the book. I kept having to go back and remind myself who was who in her complicated fantasy world. And it is complicated. Ultimately, I love the world she’s wrought but, in the first few chapters, the world and character building slows down the pace of the book.
Caz: I agree – it just took me a few chapters to get there. The best authors – and knowing Bec McMaster IS one of the best is what kept me going – are able to show and explore the motivations and emotions of other characters through their protagonist in first person PoV, and she does that extremely well. And yes, as I got farther into the book and saw where things were likely headed (and after the big reveal) her choice made complete sense.
The worldbuilding is really good though, yes? Again, I don’t disagree with your point, because there’s a lot thrown at us in the first few chapters; the story is pretty dense and later on, I did have to stop briefly on occasion to remind myself who was who and how relevant they were, but mostly I was impressed with the way she manages to keep that worldbuilding going throughout the book without resorting to lengthy info-dumps.
The story is, as said above, loosely based on the Persephone and Hades myth, but Ms. McMaster has put some amazing spin on the tale and fleshed it out in a really interesting way. The reveal was something I was expecting but it was still gut-wrenching, especially when the full impact of what Vi and Thiago were actually dealing with started to fall into place.
Dabney: The reveal was not a surprise nor do I think that’s what it’s meant to be. As you say, McMaster is so good – here she writes at a level that trumps tired tropes. This is a story about betrayal, true love, and Faustian bargains. In fact, one of my favorite things about it – along with the fabulously rendered context – is what a cautionary tale it is.
Caz: Thinking about the characters… I tend to be a hero-centric reader and Bec McMaster has written some of THE best romantic heroes I’ve read; Thiago is no exception. Even though we never get his PoV, his thoughts and emotions are so well communicated; he’s mysterious, drop-dead sexy and dangerous – to Vi’s peace of mind as well as to his enemies – and despite all the things Vi has been told about him over the years, she quickly realises that something isn’t right. Thiago commands the respect of those around him and rules over his lands with a firm but fair hand and isn’t at all what she’s been led to believe. One of my favourite moments is when Vi thinks to herself:
The worst part of this entire affair may be the fact that even though he’s my worst nightmare, he looks like he stepped directly from my dreams.
Let the swooning commence…
Dabney: Totally on Team Thiago. One of the things I adore about McMaster’s work is that her leads are morally complex. Thiago is a gem and yet… the Darkness… his temper… he’s not a cookie-cutter good guy. I actually liked him more than Vi, at least for the first half of the book. But, to be fair to Vi, her situation is so complicated – it’s hard for her to figure out who to be. Thiago knows who he is and, whoa, he is the bomb.
Caz: Like you, I had some issues with Vi, not least because – at least part of the time – she seems like one of those typically “sooper speshul” YA heroines we’re told are fabulous at everything, but then who end up … not being. I did like her for the most part though – she’s a spirited, take-no-crap heroine who gives as good as she gets, and the author does a terrific job of showing her shifting feelings as she starts to realise that all the things she’s believed about Thiago aren’t true and the truth about herself. Plus she has to make some pretty tough decisions later on and I appreciated she didn’t shy away from that. One thing though – I’m not sure I quite understood what her power was; she seems to go from believing her magic is pretty insignificant to being able to … do … well, pretty advanced stuff, shall we say?
Dabney: I see this as book one of a long series so I wasn’t bent out of shape I didn’t completely get all the power sources for magic or what Vi and Thiago did and didn’t draw on and why. Again, the world building here is dense–there are Old Ones, Seelie, Unseelie, and all manner of other fantasy creatures. (I loved the descriptions of all the various demi-fae.) I feel as if, over the series, we will learn more about Vi and her place in this realm.
I give this book high marks for setting up a series. I’m DYING to know who the next couple is because I am now invested in the outcomes of those in Thiago’s court, Vi’s sister, and, maybe, Vi’s stepbrother. McMaster makes even characters you see just briefly so vivid.
Caz: I admit to needing to know details and how things work – I don’t always do very well with nebulous concepts! Especially not in something as complex as this story, when I often felt I need to keep on top of things or I’d find myself a bit lost! But hey, that’s me. We’ve said before that Bec McMaster’s secondary casts are always really well drawn, and are never just “set dressing” or sequel bait – they have definite roles to play within the story, and she continues that here. There’s definitely one future couple being set up, and potential for others and like you, I’m keen to know what’s next.
Dabney: Let’s end by talking about the romance which, while excellent, wasn’t as intense as I’d have liked. Part of the problem is that Vi can’t trust Thiago AND she’s super disciplined – she is not a heroine who is overwhelmed by the (hot as hell) seduction of the hero. So for more than half the book, Vi is pushing Thiago away and while the plot supported her actions, I wished for more connection and more touch between them. (And, yes, I admit to being in romance in part for the steam.)
Caz: I liked – very much – what we got, a sexy, slow burn during which we gradually see Vi’s walls coming down, although I can’t deny that it was frustrating at times. I did love the way that although Thiago had the upper hand he never tried to use that knowledge to force Vi into anything she wasn’t ready for; he made sure she had a choice, even if that choice wouldn’t ultimately benefit him. And Bec McMaster shows – brilliantly – that it is totally possible to write a hero who is utterly and completely devoted to his heroine without making him into a wimp! (As happens in many romances when authors seem to think the only way to show the heroine’s strength is to have her treat the hero like crap.) Another of my favourite lines was practically a throwaway, when Thiago says he thanks the gods for giving him to Vi. Not the other way around, which I thought was a wonderful little twist on the way these things normally play out.
So… I think it’s safe to say we both enjoyed this one! I’m giving it a B+ – once the story got going I was completely sucked in and in spite of a few small quibbles, it’s still head-and-shoulders above many of the books I’ve read this year. What about you?
Dabney: Hmmmmm…. I think I’m going with a B+ too. At the finish of the book, I was completely satisfied and I had a clear grasp of the complexities of the Dark Court Rising world. I can’t wait for book two!
And readers, I will be talking to McMaster about this book – if you have any questions you’d like to ask of her, put them in the comments below!