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Book: “A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire” by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publishing Info: Blue Box Press, September 2020
Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!
Book Description: A Betrayal…
Everything Poppy has ever believed in is a lie, including the man she was falling in love with. Thrust among those who see her as a symbol of a monstrous kingdom, she barely knows who she is without the veil of the Maiden. But what she does know is that nothing is as dangerous to her as him. The Dark One. The Prince of Atlantia. He wants her to fight him, and that’s one order she’s more than happy to obey. He may have taken her, but he will never have her.
Casteel Da’Neer is known by many names and many faces. His lies are as seductive as his touch. His truths as sensual as his bite. Poppy knows better than to trust him. He needs her alive, healthy, and whole to achieve his goals. But he’s the only way for her to get what she wants—to find her brother Ian and see for herself if he has become a soulless Ascended. Working with Casteel instead of against him presents its own risks. He still tempts her with every breath, offering up all she’s ever wanted. Casteel has plans for her. Ones that could expose her to unimaginable pleasure and unfathomable pain. Plans that will force her to look beyond everything she thought she knew about herself—about him. Plans that could bind their lives together in unexpected ways that neither kingdom is prepared for. And she’s far too reckless, too hungry, to resist the temptation.
But unrest has grown in Atlantia as they await the return of their Prince. Whispers of war have become stronger, and Poppy is at the very heart of it all. The King wants to use her to send a message. The Descenters want her dead. The wolven are growing more unpredictable. And as her abilities to feel pain and emotion begin to grow and strengthen, the Atlantians start to fear her. Dark secrets are at play, ones steeped in the blood-drenched sins of two kingdoms that would do anything to keep the truth hidden. But when the earth begins to shake, and the skies start to bleed, it may already be too late.
Previously Reviewed: “From Blood and Ash”
Review: What should one do after finishing a 600+ page fantasy novel? Jump immediately into another 600+ fantasy novel, of course. Seriously, if I have one major complaint about this series so far, it’s the page length. I’ll go into more of this in the review itself, but man, very, very few books need to be over 600 pages long. Serious epic fantasy series ala Brandon Sanderson, maybe, just because those are such huge worlds with many leading characters. But not much else! Anyways, that’s really neither here nor there. And seeing as I’m back reading the second one despite it’s length, I guess that says something about the author’s ability (or something about me?).
After discovering that almost nothing she believed to be true about herself or her world was in fact true, Poppy’s way forward is murky at best. True, Casteel, a man she once knew only from the legends of a near-demonic being called “the Dark One,” does have plans for her and they involve marriage to himself. But coming from a life where practically no choices were allowed her, Poppy is naturally resistant to again letting another direct her life. However, with her brother caught in the clutches of the evil vampry, Poppy begins to see little way forward in achieving her goal of freeing him without teaming up with the beguiling Casteel.
Like I couldn’t avoid saying in my opening paragraph, this book is again very long. And while I usually start out with the positives of a book, this one thing is such a driving factor of some of my opinions about the book that I can’t resist getting to it first. There is a very good reason that editors exist. Not only can they trim up sections of your story that might be better told in fewer words, but they also perform the important duty of helping authors “kill their darlings” so to speak. In this book’s case, that might have been a few of the many, many very similar bantering scenes between Poppy and Casteel. Yes, this fun dynamic is a major draw for the series, but at a certain point in this book, I began to feel like I was reading the exact same conversation again and again. Even the best banter can’t withstand that type of overexposure.
Cutting out some of these repetitive scenes would also have helped the pace of the story which, again, drags rather heavily towards the middle point of the book. There are some legitimately good action scenes in this book, and to some extent this book is better at interspersing these throughout the story instead of heavily packing it all in the back half like the first book does. But because of some of these repetitive banter scenes, even the increased number of action scenes felt few and far between.
I also struggled a bit with some of the dynamics of the romance at this point in the story. Poppy and Casteel have a fairly prolonged “we’re just pretending” approach to their feelings for each other that gets a bit old and ridiculous quickly. Luckily, the author seems to have a sixth sense for just how far she can push some of these romance tropes, and she does manage to nip this one in the bud before it becomes completely intolerable. Seriously, it was like within 30 pages of me mentally beginning to check out on the romance because of this that she suddenly turned it around. So, well done for that!
I still very much liked Poppy and Casteel. Like I said, the author does seem to have an innate sense for pushing some of tropes right to the edge and for overturning some of the more expected patterns we see in fantasy romance. Casteel is a nice response to some of the overly “alpha” heroes we typically see. He’s still dangerous and capable, but Armentrout perfectly highlights how this sort of character can retain all of his appeal without roughly trodding all over his love interest’s agency. It’s very refreshing. This aspect alone is probably one of my main reasons for continuing this series.
And continue I will! We’ll see how long I go, though, as these books don’t seem to be getting any shorter and the series itself seems to be getting longer and longer (the author recently announced even more books coming in this series). Fans who enjoyed the first book will likely enjoy this one, though I will warn that the pacing is not very much improved and there is a tendency towards repetition with some of the bantering aspects. But I’m still invested enough in this general world and this romantic pairing on their own to keep on for now.
Rating 7: Some repetition in quips and a continuing challenge with pace leave this book falling a bit behind the first book in my enjoyment.