*Editor’s Note: >.> OMG I’m going to go with “it’s Aidee not me” because 😜 it’s always her reviews right? But! This one I felt was necessary because we’ve never done it before. I don’t have the spoons to do the plug ins and coding for hide tags for spoilers – so I just made the font white, so in order to read the spoiler you have to highlight it. We’re taking it back old school and low tech.
She ran from him… but couldn’t escape her heart.
Lord Gabriel Phel wants one thing: to rebuild the shattered fortunes of his people and restore his ruined house to its former station in the Convocation’s highest tiers of elegant society. Fortunately, through a wild chance of birth, he was born with powerful wizard magic, the first in his family in generations. If he can obtain a familiar to amplify his magic, a highborn daughter he can marry, to be mother to his children, he’ll be that much closer to saving his family. With her by his side, he can ascend to such a position of power in the Convocation that he can destroy it forever.
Lady Veronica Elal, captive in her tower, has only one way out. To her bitter disappointment, she will never be a wizard. Instead, through a twist of fate, and despite her expensive Convocation Academy education, Nic is doomed to be a familiar like her mother. Forced to participate in the Betrothal Trials, she receives a wizard suitor for one night each month. Whichever man impregnates her will bond her to them forever. With no choice but to serve the one who wins her, Nic has one hope for control over her life: a wizard she can manipulate.
Gabriel Phel seems like the perfect choice for Nic’s gambit—he’s desperate and untutored in wizardry—but within moments of meeting him, she feels the bonds of magic tying them together. Afraid of losing her will to the compelling wizard who touches her heart like no other, Nic does the unthinkable: she runs. Pregnant and alone, Nic eludes monstrous hunters, searching for a safe haven. But when Gabriel catches up to her, their adventure has only begun.
I love fantasy and I love romance, but it has been difficult to find a book that balances both genres well. I’m pleased to inform you that this book does that. The fantasy world Kennedy has built for this series is not the kind that has dragons and giants; it is closer to political intrigues and magic at an intimate level–I say intimate because it is used for things like providing light and heat without using a match, or getting clean drinking water, which is surprisingly complicated, or having a perfectly tailored gown without lots of buttons or a zipper. And because the way magic happens is through a symbiotic effort; the wizard directs the magic into spells, and to be most effective, uses a familiar that is more or less a battery, providing more magic for the wizard. This relationship affects the society that exists in this world, and consequentially Veronica and Gabriel’s relationship. And before I get too carried away, Veronica’s child is not in danger in this book. However, there are mentions of rape and abusive relationships throughout the book. If you prefer strictly HEA endings, I would suggest waiting until the series is completed, because this book ends on a Happy For Now ending.
The book is told from Veronica and Gabriel’s points of view in alternating chapters. I enjoyed going along with Veronica and Gabriel as they navigated their relationship, especially seeing their knowledge of the world and how that affected their interactions. I would have liked to see what their relationship looked like after the final major internal challenge was dealt with, but I suspect that will be handled in the next book, which should be coming out later this year. The main conflict between Veronica and Gabriel is that they have different expectations for their relationship; they also have different levels of knowledge about the magical world.
[The Convocation is both the name for the governing body of this world and also what the group of magical families is called. They are not exactly the same thing. Wizard is not a gendered noun in this world, it’s just what someone who can actively direct magic in spells is called. A familiar is someone who has magic but can’t do anything with it, other than feed it to a wizard. The Betrothal Trials are encounters arranged by the Convocation where familiars and wizards meet one-on-one for a night. If a pregnancy results from that meeting, then the wizard and familiar are magically bound and married. While this makes it sound like all sex is consented to, it is important to remember that consent isn’t that straightforward.]
Veronica is driven by two motives in this book; to not be subjugated like her mother, losing all control over her life, and not to be emotionally vulnerable to the wizard she serves. In this book, familiars are essentially second-class citizens. They have to drain off their magic to a wizard, or they go crazy, to paraphrase Veronica. But they also can end up forming an emotional bond to the wizard they serve/marry, which gives the wizard even more control over them. At least, this is what all the relationships between wizards and familiars look like; at best, the wizard takes the familiar for granted, and at worst, the wizard imposes their will over the familiar’s. That is why Veronica promptly gives up any plans to be the power behind Gabriel and runs for it. But the Convocation–which is the governing body in this world–and her father are keen on capturing her and it isn’t entirely clear that either of them will treat her kindly when they do catch her. Veronica is aware of some of this, but not all of the details when she decides to run. Her evolution as a character is twofold–realizing that the Convocation is more terrifying than she already knew and trusting herself and Gabriel enough to be emotionally vulnerable with him. Her personality doesn’t change with this evolution–she is still sarcastic and fairly practical for someone who grew up in the lap of luxury.
Gabriel wants a familiar and a wife; not in the way Veronica understands these relationships to work, but as a true partner, whose happiness and input matter. But he is willing to do anything to make sure that Veronica ends up with him. This is not great, ethically speaking, and because it sets up a potential conflict between himself and the Convocation. [SPOILER: He uses a spell to make sure Veronica will get pregnant, not satisfied to rely on lots of awesome sex.] He is also worried about Veronica and doesn’t want her to end up in the hands of the Convocation or her father. So, he does his best to get to Veronica first. We get to know him from his reactions to the Convocation, and from his plans for a life with Veronica. He is ruthless, but not interested in controlling Veronica.
Like I said, I wish we could have seen more of Veronica and Gabriel’s relationship after the final major obstacle is dealt with. I also would have liked to gotten to know more about Gabriel’s family. We get a lot of insight into Veronica through her family’s dynamic, and I think it would have helped to understand why Gabriel is so driven if we knew more of his family’s dynamic. This book also doesn’t get into the whole idea of destroying the Convocation, which is mentioned in the blurb. I’m hopeful that these are things that will be explored in the next book.
I really enjoyed this book for how it handled complicated world building and character development. I’m hesitant to wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone I see because it does deal with intense materials, and while I think Kennedy handles these intense issues well, not everyone is in the market for a book where abuse is baked into “normal” society the way it is here. I am looking forward to the rest of this series.
You can buy a copy here.