Review: Whispers of Shadow & Flame – L. Penelope
by L. Penelope
Series: Earthsinger Chronicles #2
Also in this series: Song of Blood and Stone, Breath of Dust & Dawn, Hush of Storm & Sorrow
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
The Mantle that separates the kingdoms of Elsira and Lagrimar is about to fall. And life will drastically change for both kingdoms.
Born with a deadly magic she cannot control, Kyara is forced to become an assassin. Known as the Poison Flame in the kingdom of Lagrimar, she is notorious and lethal, but secretly seeks freedom from both her untamed power and the blood spell that commands her. She is tasked with capturing the legendary rebel called the Shadowfox, but everything changes when she learns her target’s true identity.
Darvyn ol-Tahlyro may be the most powerful Earthsinger in generations, but guilt over those he couldn’t save tortures him daily. He isn’t sure he can trust the mysterious young woman who claims to need his help, but when he discovers Kyara can unlock the secrets of his past, he can’t stay away.
Kyara and Darvyn grapple with betrayal, old promises, and older prophecies—all while trying to stop a war. And when a new threat emerges, they must beat the odds to save both kingdoms.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »suicidal ideation, depression, PTSD, fantasy violence and death, slavery (including assumed rape, off-page), torture « Hide Spoiler
Moving on in my reread, to my favorite so far of the Earthsinger Chronicles – assassin vs her target! I’m not sure what it is about that trope that really pulls me, but it’s also one that can go wrong so quickly if the betrayal aspect isn’t handled well. That’s not an issue with this book, so I’m a huge fan of Kyara and Darvyn. While this is the second in the series, the events happen parallel to the first book, so it could be read on its own.
Kyara is the Poison Flame, the True Father’s assassin, capable of rapidly killing her victims – and, well, anyone around her – by using her magical powers, called Nethersong. Feared by the citizens of Lagrimar, what they don’t know is that she’s controlled by a magical binding, forced to do whatever the Cantor – the left-hand magician to the True Father – orders. She hates herself, her role, and her powers, but it’s only when she’s ordered to kill a legendary rebel, the Shadowfox, that things begin to unravel. Darvyn has been assisting the rebel Keepers since he was four years old, and his powers as an Earthsinger set him apart from even the rest of the rebels. When he receives word that the Mantle – the only thing keeping the True Father from invading neighboring Elsira – will collapse soon, his only hope is preparing the Elsiran and the Keepers for the upcoming conflict. He certainly doesn’t need the added complication of his attraction to Kyara, the mysterious woman who suddenly joined the rebellion, nor does Kyara need any distractions from figuring out the identity of the Shadowfox.
“The power she held was fascinating. Part of him feared the unknown magic, but part of him was excited to learn of something new, even if it was lethal. He well knew the hazards encountered by someone who bore a power that few could understand. He knew how it felt to be different.”
The rebel wunderkind – who’s known for making farmland out of desert – and the evil king’s assassin may seem like they don’t have a lot in common on the surface. What binds them at first, though, is their guilt – hers for taking so many lives, both under the magical binding and through lack of control of her powers, and his for being the reason so many lives were sacrificed to protect him. In a lot of ways, the book, especially Kyara’s POV, is quite bleak. At the beginning, her only hope is that she’ll get killed somehow and all of this will be over. The Keepers and the other rebels, including Darvyn, seem childishly optimistic to her. Having personal experience with the True Father, she knows exactly how he crushes any attempt at rebellion. But as she spends time with Darvyn and the other Keepers, she realizes that perhaps she does have something to live for. What I appreciated most is that while a good chunk of that is for Darvyn, she also learns to appreciate herself and her own worth. While their chemistry is instant, the romance between Kyara and Darvyn is slow burn by necessity (you know, betrayal and all). I was especially touched by the way the betrayal was handled and Darvyn’s response to it. I fully bought in to their relationship.
“No one had endured more contact with the Queen Who Sleeps than Darvyn, and no one trusted Her less.”
The world building is expanded even farther in this book. I was especially interested in the the Lagrimari folktales of the nine houses – supposedly the first nine Earthsingers – and how they connected to Darvyn’s and Oola’s heritage, though a lot is left tantalizingly vague. There’s more background on calderas and the Cave Folk, as well as some interesting new players – the Avinid and the Yalyish. The plot is fast-paced and non-stop, which made it very hard to put down the book for things like, oh, food and sleep. This ends very much on a cliff-hanger, so while this is romance, it’s definitely a to-be-continued sort.
Overall, this is another strong entry in the series and one that very much leaves me impatient for more!