Serena’s Review: “A Promise of Fire”

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Book: “A Promise of Fire” by Amanda Bouchet

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, August 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Catalia “Cat” Fisa lives disguised as a soothsayer in a traveling circus. She is perfectly content avoiding the danger and destiny the Gods-and her homicidal mother-have saddled her with. That is, until Griffin, an ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, fixes her with his steely gaze and upsets her illusion of safety forever.

Griffin knows Cat is the Kingmaker, the woman who divines the truth through lies. He wants her as a powerful weapon for his newly conquered realm-until he realizes he wants her for much more than her magic. Cat fights him at every turn, but Griffin’s fairness, loyalty, and smoldering advances make him increasingly hard to resist and leave her wondering if life really does have to be short, and lived alone.

Review: This book ended up on my TBR list for a few reasons. For one thing, I’m still on the hunt for a new urban fantasy series to follow. And while this book wouldn’t technically fall into that category, the fast action and quippy heroine is definitely on par with what you find in that subgenre. I’ve also been perusing various romantic fantasy recommendation lists and this book has popped up on a few of them. So I went in with high hopes. Alas, this one was definitely not my cup of tea.

Cat has slowly built up a quiet and unnoticeable life as a soothsayer in the circus. There she has found not only freedom from attention but a found family in the others who don’t quite fit into the world and see the circus as a place of acceptance. But apparently Cat isn’t quite unnoticeable enough, as one day she draws the attention of a warlord who sees her magical abilities for what they are: the power to tell truth from lie. Now, captured and hauled across the kingdom to work for the warlord’s Queen, Cat begins to find her past rising up to catch her once again. Slowly, however, she begins to feel herself drawn to this warlord and his band of merry men. Could there be another future for her?

I was so disappointed with this book. And that’s mostly because when it started out, I was sure I was going to love it! I got through at least of a quarter of it and maybe closer to a third still thinking this. The writing is quick, the action is entertaining, and the dialogue was quippy and funny. Cat herself was immediately likeable and relatable. She seemed like the perfect kind of heroine to lead up a story like this (and did feel very “urban fantasy” like, for what it’s worth). I also had high hopes for Griffin as a love interest. He was definitely holding down the “dark and brooding” fort pretty thoroughly.

But then, as the story continued, it became clear that the dynamic between these two wasn’t going to change in the way I needed it to to enjoy it. The writing began to feel more juvenile. And the twist of the story began to feel so predictable and convenient that I couldn’t help being bothered by it. I almost had whiplash at how fast I went from really gobbling up a book to really struggling to even finish the thing.

I got on a pretty big soapbox when talking to a friend recently about romance novels and how the “problematic” approach to romance as a genre needs to be tempered with the escapism that we always look for in our fiction. Obviously, the terrible situations found in horror and thrillers novels are not something we would approve of in real life. So some of the relationships in romance novels may have elements in them that we wouldn’t love in real life, but because they are romance novels and have an essential promise of safety and love between the characters, it’s essentially a safe place to experience romantic arcs. Alas, this little speech doesn’t work for everything, and shortly after I made it, I came across this book.

Like I said, I wouldn’t not recommend this book because of the “problematic” relationship at its core. Indeed, this is a fairly high rated book on Goodreads. It was only that in my completely objective scale of what I can appreciate about in the traditional “alpha” romantic hero and what I can’t stand, this one fell too far in the negative direction. Obviously, the story starts out with kidnapping, so there’s a power dynamic at play there from the very start. And I was totally fine with that! It was just that as the book went on, I kept waiting for Griffin to essentially realize what he’d done in taking way Cat’s choices and, given his growing respect and love for her, giver her the choice to stay or go. Sadly, that didn’t come. Instead, Cat essentially talked herself into staying based, at least in my observation, on very few truly positive qualities to be found in Griffin and his band. Again and again, Griffin would ignore Cat’s language rebuffing him. We the reader know that she’s into it, but he didn’t come around to any of the respect I need these alpha types to have to keep my scale balanced. This is one of the reasons I’ve liked the “From Blood and Ash” series so far; the hero there has all of the moments of respect and understanding of his heroine that I definitely need to see in my romances.

I also began to be annoyed by Cat’s inner dialogue. Initially, I found her spunky and fun, just the right tone of snark and sarcasm that I like in my action fantasy heroines. But then she said “Ack!” one too many times in her head and…yeah, I couldn’t stop seeing it from then on. I really dislike this writing technique. I’m not sure what it’s meant to add, but it made Cat seem childish and silly. Something I definitely didn’t need from a heroine who is supposed to be standing up to her alpha male captor. Definitely don’t need anything that tips that power imbalance to an even worse degree.

Some of the supposed reveals were also really easy to spot. I don’t think this would have been a problem had I not been already struggling with the romance and Cat’s inner monologue. I didn’t go into this book expecting epic style twists or world-building that shocked and amazed. But on top of the other flaws, these weaker aspects also began to hurt the book more and more as it went.

This was so disappointing. Like I said, it was worse because I was so excited as I was reading the first part of the book. I even had the second one all lined up on my library hold list, that’s how sure I was that I was going to gobble this series up. And then it just tanked. Again, this book has pretty high ratings on Goodreads, and it did have that fun, quick reading style that some (including me at times) love, so this may still be for you. I really think it comes down to your tolerance level with alpha male leading men.

Rating 6: The “hero” of this book was not so heroic in my estimation, and the heroine’s inner dialogue was very cringey at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Promise of Fire” is on these Goodreads lists: Slow-burn romance and (strangely) Sci-Fi/Fantasy with Healthy Relationships.

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