Once in a while a book makes the reader catch her breath in surprise and then forget there is a world outside the book. The author’s heroine blazes off the first pages with color and fire assaulting the reader’s senses with her wild indomitable spirit and that has been battered, bruised and beaten down, but never conquered until she meets her match in the warlord who comes looking for the prize- The Kingmaker!
The story opens with young Cat, one of the magic wielders of Fisa working as a soothsayer in a circus that performs throughout the predominately magic-less lands of the south and west in the country of Sinta. Those hunting for her will never find her because she wisely keeps her head down, draws no attention and goes about in the guise of a much older woman. She has been running since she escaped the cruelties of home and with the circus she has found a family with the other performers. All that changes when a brawny warlord and his men come to the circus. Cat is captivated by the warlord’s bearing, appearance, and that quality of strength and leadership that marks him. Then she is captured by him after he tricks her into a ‘test’ of her gift. She fights hard trying to escape, but she is also terrified because he seems to know too much about her even to how to keep her his captive.
But then this is no ordinary warlord, but Griffin, the Beta Sinta who with the help of the united tribesmen of the south rousted out the old corrupt regime and put his sister on the throne starting a new family of rulers in Sinta. Cat is amazed at their audacity to put a non-magoi on the throne and hope to hold it. But in the days spent with Griffin and his men, she has a good idea how they won and that there is a slender chance Griffin’s family will stay and do good. Cat is cynical, but a part of her is rooting them on for the good of the people. That said, she doesn’t want to be a part of this because it will draw attention to her that she does not need. She is the key because of her abilities that will be the difference maker when the royals and nobles of the other lands turn their eye to what they consider a weak Sinta. Can Cat help protect the Sintans and still stay one step ahead of those who are hunting her even while resisting that pull of attraction toward Griffin that if acted on would seal his fate?
Alright, this is a fantasy and so the worldbuilding is a crucial part of the story-at least for me. The author does a wonderful job of offering her own creative ideas blended with a classical Greek mythology. The reader is slowly fed the details of the fantasy world beginning with a smaller setting of the circus and it’s performers and then broadening out with each new encounter for Cat and Griffin and his men. There were no dumps of information just a steady flow so I felt I had a good grasp of the setting and players in the story. The pacing varied from exciting fight or flight scenes and scenes that were slower and took the time to develop the characters and new forming relationships.
Cat is the sole narrator and this is told first person point of view so this is her story. The other characters are introduced and gradually known as Cat gets to know them. The reader is privy to more insight than Cat has about the people and situations because Cat’s own disposition (roughly that of a teenage hedgehog) and her brokenness from her abusive past color her thinking and perception. She was brought up in a dog eat dog world. Literally. Her own family are the cruelest and worst so she has no trust for anyone, relies only on herself, doesn’t believe in camaraderie and love. Seeing Griffin and his men together for days on end and then encountering Griffin’s loving, supportive family are not just eye-openers, but unreal to poor Cat. She has fought so hard and so long to survive that fighting is all she knows. She’s like a wild beast with a thorn in her side that thrashes and won’t let anyone near to help remove the thorn so she remains in pain. I felt sad for her, but there was also a part of me that wanted to swing her over my knee and paddle her britches or stick a sock in her young, arrogant smart mouth that was always running. It was part of her defense system and Griffin’s snatching her from the circus and keeping her captive at first did nothing to inspire trust- I get that, but long after the average distrustful person sees how things really are and behaves accordingly she’s still thrashing about and antagonizing everyone in sight. It’s a little amusing, but a lot annoying. But I was definitely rooting for her and wanted to see her heal and find some happiness when all was said and done.
The overall plot is quite complex and is a mixture of series plotting and plots just for this book. There is a lot of intrigue going on. There is the immediate plot of Griffin needing Cat to use her magical gifts to help keep his sister on the throne and help their family win over all the nobles and shore up the weaknesses. While this is going on, someone is trying to get rid of Griffin or maybe Cat and someone else is trying to recapture Cat. Some is revealed while other stuff is kept tantalizingly hidden with just flashes of what is happening behind the scenes. I felt an excitement growing for the series and not just for this first book. ‘
There were exciting fight scenes. The magical battles with dragons and magicians, regular humans, mythical beasts, and of course the Greek gods interventions were riveting stuff. There is something more special than what has been revealed so far about Cat as she seems to have the attention of all the gods and she has their ears.
There are some sweet moments, some heated ones, some tragic ones throughout this story. Cat and Griffin have a very slow-burn relationship that starts as an enemies to armed neutrality to sticky friendship to finally something more. But she is keeping grave game-changing secrets from him and she is so damaged that a relationship like what Griffin wants seems out of the question at first and then pretty tentative long into the story. Griffin is a hardened warrior and is used to command. Cat antagonizes him from the beginning and the fireworks ensue each time they clash. But Griffin loves her fire and fight even as he slowly grows tender when she slips and reveals her past little by little. His focus goes from wanting to keep her so he can use her magic to needing to keep her because he realizes she is his everything.
All in all, this was one exciting and engaging series opener and I can’t wait for more. Those who enjoy action packed, intriguing suspense and passionate characters in a fantasy setting will want to grab this one as quickly as possible.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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New to Me #105 author/series
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