Genres: adult, fantasy
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Catalia “Cat” Fisa is a powerful clairvoyant known as the Kingmaker. This smart-mouthed soothsayer has no interest in her powers and would much rather fly under the radar, far from the clutches of her homicidal mother. But when an ambitious warlord captures her, she may not have a choice…
Griffin is intent on bringing peace to his newly conquered realm in the magic-deprived south. When he discovers Cat is the Kingmaker, he abducts her. But Cat will do everything in her power to avoid her dangerous destiny and battle her captor at every turn. Although up for the battle, Griffin would prefer for Cat to help his people willingly, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to coax her…even if that means falling in love with her.
This is such a frustrating review to write. The story doesn’t have bad bones. The writing and plot are fine, and might well have been very enjoyable. There’s considerable action and adventure. But there were two major obstacles that prevented me from enjoying this (and they’re big ones). I couldn’t stand the main character, and I I did not at all care for the romance. Not liking the romance is going to be an instant downer in a book that is explicitly a fantasy romance.
Cat is a young circus performer on the run from her abusive past. Cat makes her way in the world as a soothsayer, but her real “gift” is the ability to tell truth from lies. Anytime someone tells a lie in her presence Cat feels a searing pain. Considering the prevalence of lies in daily human interactions she spends the book in much less pain than you’d think. But I digress. Also, she can absorb the magic of others and make them her own power. Also, she can turn invisible. Also, she can magically do just about anything that the plot calls on her to do. Cat’s ability to sort truth from lies also marks her as The Kingmaker, the likes of which is seen only once every two hundred years. She is invaluable to those in power who would seek to capture her and use her as a human lie detector.
Enter Griffin, the love interest, a powerful warlord and newly established royal. Griffin’s goal when he meets Cat is, yes, to capture her, bring her back to his kingdom, and use her in his kingdom’s dealings with diplomats and enemies. Cat doesn’t get a say in this. There is much made of Griffin persuading her of the righteousness of his cause, and that Cat will eventually come around to the forcible removal from her own life and independence. Those are the building blocks of a great romance, surely.
The worldbuilding is fine. There are three main kingdoms. Cat is from northern Fisa, Griffin from southern Sinta, and then there is the middle kingdom which has not yet played a significant role in the story. The world is populated by the Greek gods, who make themselves known by favoring certain humans and bestowing them with gifts. Cat is favored by Poseidon and, to a lesser extent, Hades. Both gods come to her aid with special powers, gifts, or assistance in her times of great need. Literal deus ex machina.
The story has a good amount of action. From the time Cat is kidnapped, the group is beset by those who would block their way, and try to take the Kingmaker for themselves. Cat’s powerful, evil mother is also on the lookout for her, and can use many magical means at her disposal to find her and try she does. The action scenes are well-written and exciting And for a fantasy novel, it does a good job balancing that action with the political elements. Unfortunately, it does also fall into this trope trap View Spoiler » Of course Cat is the lost princess of Fisa. That books even try to make this sort of thing into a mystery boggles my mind. It is so obvious that she is the lost princess of Fisa that it makes me doubt the intelligence of all the characters around her. Here is a Fisan woman, on the run for years, of astounding magical ability the likes of which is seen only in the royal family. And literally no one gets it? Griffin makes much of how he is going to eventually uncover Cat’s mysterious past. It is already quite obvious « Hide Spoiler.
But I could not truly root for this character because she irritated me immensely almost from page one. Cat’s internal dialogue reads more like a 13 year old’s than 23 year old woman’s. Her narration is littered with a liberal application of “gahs” and “gags.” Like so:
“Whatever happens to the rest of us, you live.” My pulse going wild, stunned, I shove him and sputter, “Gross!” Sort of. Not really. Damn.
All these stupid rules of camaraderie. Gag!
Thank the Gods. Gag! Except not at all. Gah! I’m going insane.
If this sort of narration doesn’t bother you, you will definitely have a much better time with the book than I did. Cat also tells us repeatedly of her excellence in stealth and discretion. How else did she survive eight years on the lam from a powerful enemy who is able to locate her via magical means? Except in the mere presence of Griffin, all of Cat’s discretion goes out the window. She is constantly marveling at how she is suddenly unable to keep her secrets inside.
“I might be able to drive a Dragon.” Gah! Where did that come from?”
And everyone absolutely loves Cat, of course. Griffin and his band of warrior/kidnappers are all instantly taken with her. Everyone in the Sintan castle, Griffin’s family and servants included, think she’s wonderful. She is immediately accepted. She is favored by not one, but two gods. There is one notable exception to those who love Cat: Daphne, a former paramour of Griffin’s who hates Cat on sight since she is now Griffin’s lover.
I am a thousand times more important to him than Daphne, even if I’m not spreading my legs. Clearly, that’s her job.
The romance starts with cheesy, withering glances and loss of breath from page one. The kidnapping doesn’t make things better. Griffin is also very much a typical alpha male, which is not even remotely my thing. Your mileage will end up varying much better if you like/can tolerate alphas! Alas, I cannot. I don’t like possessiveness like this:
“I conquered a kingdom and found a treasure.” His voice turns gravelly, low. “I won’t let you go. Not now. Not ever.”
I don’t like authoritative shut-downs like this:
His expression flattens. “Give it time and you’ll see I’m right. On both counts.” Griffin plants his hand on my lower back and propels me out of the alcove without another word. Discussion over. Argh!
I’m also not a huge fan of the whole kidnapping-turned-romance plot. I could go on at length about this, but I’ve already written way more words on this book than I ever intended to so I’m going to keep things brief. Either you’ll be able to find the slow progression from unwilling captive to utterly in love romantic or you won’t. If you are able to find it romantic, I suppose it is well done in that it’s gradual enough and does a good job with build up. It’s really not for me, however.
I love romantic fantasy above all else, but unfortunately A Promise of Fire is not the book I was looking for. The main character’s immaturity and her ability to do well in literally all things kept her at a constant distance from me. The possessive alpha romantic interest and the romance that started as a kidnapping did nothing to improve matters. If you typically like alphas, and the quotes I provided seemed just fine to you, then I would recommend giving the book a try as you might very well like it. Sadly, this just wasn’t the book for me.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.