Science fiction and fantasy
by Grace DravenRadiance, an opposites-attract romance following the human Ildiko and the non-human Prince Brishen. This story is set a year after the events in that novel. Brishen is a minor Kai prince who lives far from his scheming mother, the queen Secmis, and he isn't ambitious to rule.
We see disaster unfold from the point of view of Kirgipa, a nursemaid who flees the city with a precious baby and a couple of palace guards. Kirgipa wants to find her sister, but has to protect her charge by keeping a low profile and staying away from the crowds, so making a public plea to find her sibling is out of the question.
As the crisis deepens Brishen and Ildiko open their stronghold to refugees. But as the food supplies dwindle they soon realise that they can't continue to take in everyone without risking civil war. And they also have to reach out for help from other kingdoms and unexpected sources, and to try to make alliances. Otherwise the demons will eventually destroy all life in the world.
The situation has elevated Brishen to king. Ildiko is afraid she'll lose him because as the ruler he will need an heir, which she can't give him, and she's afraid he will have to renounce her in favour of a more acceptable queen. And the threat of the demons means taking the risk of a brave but desperate attempt to put things right, even if it leads to Brishen's death. So there's a lot of poignancy as they prepare for the worst outcome. At stake is both the survival of the whole world, and the deeply personal stakes such as a couple's love and the survival of an innocent child.
It's interesting that Brishen is damaged whilst Ildiko is considered ugly by her adopted people, so neither has conventional beauty on their side. Brishen's hard-as-nails cousin Anhuset has a flirtatious subplot simmering with one of the characters, which is a sweet counterpoint for a terse character who is so proud and martial that it's easier to imagine her kissing a sword than a man.
The story combines steamy romance, betrayal, high peril, poignant sacrifice, and a sense of growing horror as the dangers close in. It's a varied and enjoyable romantic adventure with sympathetic main characters. There are twists, but the foreshadowing was such that I didn't find them totally unexpected. This isn't a high concept fantasy that challenges readers' assumptions or plays with multiple layers of metaphor. Yet it does succeed in bringing out emotions as imperfect characters try to live up to others' expectations of them whilst they keep heavy secrets and try to handle their own emotional baggage.
19th February 2019
If you like this, try:Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian
Death decides he wants a bride, and stops taking souls to the afterlife until he finds the one he is looking for. The first book in the Cobweb Bride trilogy.
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy