There has never been an easy peace among the countries of Maricol. When the capital city of Ashion burned in the Inferno, destroying the city and all those with magic in their blood, it seemed to be the end of the Rourke royal family line. With the queen dead and the city in ruins, it opened the door for neighboring Daijal to begin to attempt to take over Ashion, expanding their influence over the continent. Eimarille Rourke, the ten-year-old Ashion princess, was taken in by the Daijal king and raised as their own, setting up a future joining of their nations. But while most thought she was the only Rourke child to survive the Inferno, there were two more.
Soren was raised as a Warden, one of the elite team of fighters charged with protecting Maricol from the revenants. The zombie-like creatures are an ever-present threat, monsters who could easily decimate an entire town. Soren has always felt a draw to his magic, a burn inside him he has tried to ignore. What Soren doesn’t remember is that as a young child, he was rescued from the Inferno and brought to the Wardens to raise, but like Eimarille, he is Rourke royalty and an heir to the Ashion throne. When Soren meets the crown prince of Solaria, Vanya Sa’Liandel, the two form an unexpected bond, a Warden and the future ruler of Solaria. The two have given their hearts to one another, even as they struggle to have their lives and their loyalties align.
Blaine Westergard comes from a family that always protected the Ashion throne. He was ten years old when the Inferno came and he helped smuggle out a secret. The queen had recently had a baby, one no one knew was born. Blaine carried that baby out of the city with the help of a Star god, placing her with a foster family to raise. Now, Caris Dhemlan is a skilled inventor, having a way with crystals that few others do. She is a strong, determined woman with a secret affinity for magic she knows she must keep hidden. What Caris doesn’t know is that she too is an heir to the Ashion throne, the baby no one know existed and who has been kept hidden from all.
With the Daijalans determined to gain control of the empty Ashion throne, danger is around every turn. The Clockwork Brigade in Ashion fights to protect their country from the Daijalans, but their network of spies can only do so much. Particularly as Daijal is ruthless in their methods, coming up with ever increasing horrors that threaten everyone in Maricol. Eimarille is not content to be used as a puppet to bring Daijal to the Ashion throne; she has set out to take that throne for herself. But with two other secret heirs and spies willing to risk their lives to protect Ashion, the battle for the throne is one not easily won.
Rating: 5 stars
The Prince’s Poisoned Vow is the first book in Hailey Turner’s new Infernal War Saga, and this is an incredibly epic story. I couldn’t put it down and Turner has really come up with a masterpiece here as she brings together all of these characters and story threads into a richly built and fascinating world. The story opens in the immediate aftermath of the Inferno, as all three Rourke children are being brought out of the burning city. But while everyone is aware that Eimarille is being taken by the Daijalans, no one even knows that Soren and Caris are alive. The book sets the stage, introducing us to a host of characters one at a time and laying all the pieces out on the table. The tale then jumps ahead about fifteen years as we reconnect with everyone and see how things have developed.
This adventure is told in multiple storylines to great affect. In the hands of a less skilled author, it could have been muddled with so many characters and so many plot threads, but Turner really manages it deftly. When the book first opens and we meet so many people at once, it is a little overwhelming, but I was surprised how easy it was to pick up after the time jump and follow along with this cast. The threads of their stories often appear disparate, but they actually weave in and out of one another and slowly we see how all the various moving pieces come together. Think of it as sort of Game of Thrones-style storytelling, with multiple characters and storylines happening all at once, but as a group, they are telling one big story. I was constantly amazed at how little tidbits dropped in one place ended up coming back around in another plot thread and the way it all connects together so beautifully. The story is engrossing and fascinating and, at times, horrifying and it just all works so well.
While there is a lot happening here, the stories mostly center around these three Rourke royals, one known and two hidden secrets (even from themselves). The main plot focus is on the empty Ashion throne and Daijal’s attempt to take over their neighboring country as a result. They hope to use Eimarille, but she has plans of her own. Eimarille is a fascinating character, because she should be sympathetic, being a child who was kidnapped from her home after her family was killed and raised in a foreign land. But there is a ruthlessness to her determination and a willingness to engage in horrific atrocities to get what she wants. Then we have Soren and Caris, neither of whom have any memory of who they are, and it is just fascinating as we watch them grow and forge their own relationships, knowing these secrets will inevitably come out. So this is an epic battle for a throne that is just starting to play out here.
The other main plot idea surrounds the revenants, creatures much like zombies who are infected by bites or by poisonous spores that float in the air. Wardens are charged with not only fighting the revenants and keeping the towns safe, but also carefully marking the boundaries of where the revenants are located. They are trained as children, exposed to poisons and toxins to make them immune to the bites. I found this whole piece of the story really fascinating, and we have a first-hand look at it all through Soren’s eyes. As the story continues, we learn some horrifying things about the revenants and it is clear the danger is far worse than imagined.
I would describe this book as epic fantasy with a steampunk twist. There are airships and some other steampunk devices, as well as magic and gods that play a role in the story. But this reads much more like a fantasy than anything else, so if you are looking for really hard core steampunk, this may be too light on that for you. But I found Turner does such an incredible job with this fantasy, I have never read anything quite like it in the genre. From a romance end, we do have relationships among the various characters, including Blaine and his husband, Honovi; Eimarille and her aide (and ruthless assassin), Terilyn; and Soren and Vanya. The focus here isn’t heavily on the romance, but the relationships are nicely woven into the larger story and add some urgency and a personal side to the big picture storyline.
I feel like I could talk about this book forever and only scratch the surface. At well over 600 pages, this is an epic story and it is only getting started here. We leave the journey in progress, and while the various pieces are moved into position, there is no resolution for most of our characters at this point. As I said, this is a huge story with so many moving parts, and things are just beginning here. I absolutely adored this book and cannot wait to see what comes next. If you enjoy fantasy or multi-plot stories, this book is one not to be missed.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Turner has once again created an intricately detailed and fully fleshed out world that drew me in and kept hold of me. It is an amalgam of steampunk and fantasy, magic as wholly integrated as gears and steam, and the combination offers a fascinating feast for the brain. There are gods at play and working at odds against each other. And numerous characters, each with their own agenda, who flesh out the story and drive it along.
It starts at the beginning, with the Inferno that sets the whole saga in motion, and with each page, more details about Maricol emerge. Each country is vastly different from the other, in culture and in practice, and the entire world is at odds with one another. The land itself is trying to kill its inhabitants, but the political intrigue and machinations of its people are certainly helping it along. There are twists at nearly every turn, and it is so wholly engaging that I read it straight through, despite its length. And it is very long, with multiple POVs from not just the most main characters, but others as well. I’m not sure there are truly any “secondary” characters here as, at any moment, someone could be become a main player.
As with any book written in this vein, I find myself drawn to certain characters and, consequently, care more about their storyline than anyone else’s. To the author’s credit, I found more than my usual few to care about, and so was gripped tightly throughout most of the book. But there were times when jaunting off into someone else’s POV was frustrating or even irritating. While objectively I understood the need for a chapter from a different POV to drive the next stage of the story, my reader’s heart wasn’t entirely pleased with getting the interruption to what I felt were more interesting storylines. At times, even, I felt that the particular information being delivered would have been best served as remaining untold. I trust in the author and her process, so I have no doubt eventually I’ll realize that every bit of information came at the right time. This is only the first book of a trilogy after all. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that every shift in POV didn’t work well for me.
The pacing throughout is generally good, which is not easy to manage with so many moving parts. The author does a good job balancing all the storylines and developing the characters, their growth, the romantic subplots, and the drama. I didn’t feel a specific lag in the pacing that could be attributed to a need for tightening up the narrative. Instead, for me, the slow moments were because I was dragged away from a particular storyline that had my attention wholly. Though we bounce to different storylines throughout the book, it’s told in a fairly linear fashion, and each storyline clearly is interwoven with all the others, though the characters themselves do not know that yet. Turner has laid the groundwork, slowly and carefully, and I’m sure this will continue in the second book.
This book also ends in several giant cliffhangers, though it’s no surprise. Well, there was one surprise. As each storyline progressed, it was clear they were heading for a turning point, and that it would be big. I expected to be left dangling, and Turner didn’t disappoint. For me, it builds anticipation for the next part in the saga and, when I finished the book, I had to stare at a wall for a few minutes, just allowing my brain to process the way things were left for multiple characters.
Overall, I really enjoyed the first installment in the trilogy. It laid the groundwork of this amazingly detailed world, while also putting the reader on the journey along with all the characters. There’s action and intrigue, love and loss, magic and machines, all told with engaging characters. If you’re a fan of this author, steampunk, magic, and/or most importantly fantasy, then I definitely suggest you pick this one up.