Serena’s Review: “The Foxglove King”

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Book: “The Foxglove King” by Hannah Whitten

Publishing Info: Orbit, March 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

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

Book Description: When Lore was thirteen, she escaped a cult in the catacombs beneath the city of Dellaire. And in the ten years since, she’s lived by one rule: don’t let them find you. Easier said than done, when her death magic ties her to the city.

Mortem, the magic born from death, is a high-priced and illicit commodity in Dellaire, and Lore’s job running poisons keeps her in food, shelter, and relative security. But when a run goes wrong and Lore’s power is revealed, she’s taken by the Presque Mort, a group of warrior-monks sanctioned to use Mortem working for the Sainted King. Lore fully expects a pyre, but King August has a different plan. Entire villages on the outskirts of the country have been dying overnight, seemingly at random. Lore can either use her magic to find out what’s happening and who in the King’s court is responsible, or die.

Lore is thrust into the Sainted King’s glittering court, where no one can be believed and even fewer can be trusted. Guarded by Gabriel, a duke-turned-monk, and continually running up against Bastian, August’s ne’er-do-well heir, Lore tangles in politics, religion, and forbidden romance as she attempts to navigate a debauched and opulent society.

But the life she left behind in the catacombs is catching up with her. And even as Lore makes her way through the Sainted court above, they might be drawing closer than she thinks.

Review: I really enjoyed Hannah Whitten’s “For the Wolf” duology. The first book came out back in the “summer of ‘Red Riding Hood’ retellings,” as I fondly dubbed it, and I think Whitten’s version was my favorite of the three I read over those months. “For the Throne” was also an excellent sequel, taking the characters and the world in directions that I hadn’t expected. All of this to say, I am fully on board Whitten’s train, and I was super excited when I saw that she was releasing a new book this spring that would be the first in a new series. Let’s dive in!

I’m going to forego my usual summary chapter, and instead talk a bit about the fact that I think the official book’s summary is a bit misleading. It’s not truly important, but I think Lore’s connection to the catacombs is much more complex than “she escaped a cult and is in hiding.” I also think there are simply bits of the few sentences about this aspect of the book in the summary that are just factually wrong. I’m always mildly fascinated when there are discrepancies like these in book summaries. Was there some purpose behind this choice? Did the summary writer only skim the book and this was an accident? Who knows? Beyond this, the rest of the summary seems clear enough.

First, let’s talk about worldbuilding, particularly with regards to the magic and gods of this world. I think it’s interesting that this is now the second series that Whitten has written where her magic system involves magical forces directly interacting with the body, often resulting in mildly horrifying temporary changes to one’s physical self. I mean, I guess if you know what you like in a magic system, just go for it? I just found that interesting.

I will say, however, that it took me a bit to truly understand how this magic works, not only Lore’s abilities but also Mortem itself as used by others in the form of consuming poisonous substances. At a certain point early in the book, I had to consciously choose to stop trying to understand this and just go with it. As I continued reading, some of these details did become more clear, but honestly, I’d still struggle to write down a concise explanation of how it all worked. I’m not sure if this was a failing of the system itself or how it was described, but readers should be prepared to devote some thought and reading time into absorbing this aspect. I do think it is worth it, however, since as the book continued and I felt more comfortable with the concepts, this magical conceit opened up a lot of interesting story lines and theories.

As for the gods, I thought this part of the book was a bit familiar. There are a lot of fantasy books that deal with a religion that has been built up around one god after the destruction of a larger pantheon that came before. So, too, the relationship between a god of life/light and a goddess of darkness/death. The book played its cards pretty close to the chest with these themes, however, leaving a lot of questions still to be answered in this area. But I also feel fairly confident that I know where this is going, and it might read familiar to other readers as well. Who knows though? As I said, we don’t get any clear answers here, so Whitten could still surprise me!

Lastly, the characters and, most importantly, the love triangle between them. Yes, a love triangle and if you skip to the end of the review, you’ll see that I gave this book a good rating, so what’s going on here? Well, I’ll say that the success of this particular love triangle comes down to one key thing: all three of these characters are fully realized individuals with their own arcs and struggles within this book. Yes, it’s mostly Lore’s book. But the story does an excellent job of also setting up Gabriel, a young man who has been shaped by a great tragedy in his past, and now must struggle with dueling loyalties to Lore and to the religion and its leader who gave him refuge during that tragic event. Bastian, too, is a fully realized character, and his story explores themes of responsibility, power, and trust. Truly, the “romance,” such that it is, between all three characters is very much in the background to the growth that they experience as individuals, as various pairs, and as a group of three together.

I’ll also say that the romance plays out in a very non-traditional manner, in some ways. Part of my problem with love triangles is that I always feel as if the true love interest is telegraphed so clearly and so early that the second romantic storyline just feels like rather boring subterfuge. Here, I almost had the opposite problem. At various points in the story, both characters feel as if they are being set up as the end game couple. But then at different points in the story, each does something that I would typically say points to them being ruled them out as the end game partner. I found myself not only confused but intrigued, and I’m now half-wondering if Whitten is pulling a fast one on me and neither character will be a true love interest by the end of the series.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I think some aspects of the world-building were a bit confusing, on one hand, and overly familiar, on another. But it’s also clearly the start to a series, so both of these questions could be resolved in follow-up books. I do think the story lives and dies on the strength of its central three characters, and I, for one, was completely sold on them all. If you enjoy character-centric stories and want a more complex look at a love triangle, this is the fantasy novel for you!

Rating 8: Like the book’s own magic, Whitten perfectly balances darkness and light to create a new fantasy world and leading lady that feels both dangerous and opulent, ferocious and soft. An intriguing start!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Foxglove King” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Most Anticipated Adult Fantasy, 2023 and Poisonous Plant Fiction Titles

2 thoughts on “Serena’s Review: “The Foxglove King””

  1. I’m intrigued! Saw this from the latest releases, and the book cover got me. Although I just recently bought some, but they’re just always never enough 😅 Thanks for this review, I’m gonna go ahead and check this one out 😄

    Liked by 1 person

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