Lady Veronica Elal has been freed from her tower—and entered a life of servitude. It doesn’t matter that her wizard master has odd ideas about circumventing Convocation tradition and making their relationship equal. Nic prides herself on her practicality and that means not pretending her marriage is full of hearts and flowers. Besides she understands that, despite her new husband’s idealism, they face obstacles so great the pair of them could be crushed to nothing, even without dashing themselves brainless trying to fight the Convocation.
Lord Gabriel Phel has come this far against impossible odds. He was born with powerful wizard magic, the first in his family in generations. He’s managed to begin the process of reinstating his fallen house. And—having staked his family’s meager fortune to win a familiar to amplify his magic, a highborn daughter to be mother to his children, his lady, and lover—he rescued Nic in a distant land, successfully bringing her home to House Phel. Though she’s cynical about their chances of success, he’s certain they can defy their enemies and flourish. Together.
But, the more Gabriel discovers about working with the fiery Nic, attempting to learn the finer points of wizardry and marriage, the more illicit fantasies plague him. His need for Nic—and the dark cravings she stirs in his black wizard’s heart—grow daily. Though Nic has reconciled herself to being possessed by Gabriel—and indeed yearns for even more from her brooding and reluctant master—creating a new life for herself isn’t easy. Especially when Gabriel seems determined to subvert the foundation of her world. Starting with her father.
This is a good sequel to Dark Wizard, which I reviewed and enjoyed. I’m a bit grumpy that it ends on a cliff hanger, although I appreciated that the cliff hanger doesn’t have to do with Nic and Gabriel’s relationship. When I reread this book, I struggled a bit with the pacing, but I also found it fairly absorbing both times I read it. I would not recommend picking up this book before reading Dark Wizard because it follows closely on the events that ended Dark Wizard. Nic and Gabriel have to navigate their relationship and how it differs from the one they had imagined, figure out what their life together will look like, and deal with the repercussions from their actions in the previous book. That last part is a bit of a spoiler.
The book starts the day after the events at the end of Dark Wizard, with Nic and Gabriel opening their mail over breakfast. Throughout the book, their preconceptions of what marriage would look like pop up. Nic first thought she would be a wizard, and thus the powerful one in the marriage; when she turned out to be a familiar, her mother taught her that she could still control the marriage through subterfuge. Neither of these two concepts involved communicating openly with the other person in the marriage, or having shared plans and goals. Also, Nic is all right with some aspects of the magical relationship that make Gabriel really unhappy. Gabriel really wants to have a partnership with Nic, where they are coequals, communicate what they want and how they plan to get there, and build a life together. But in a way, he was also hoping that his marriage to Nic would not drastically change the way he lived–that Nic would be a beautiful addition to his life, but that he could keep her sheltered and he could continue being a farmer, which was what he had grown up planning to be. Obviously, this is not going to actually work. Not only has Gabriel managed to marry a magically powerful familiar, but he has upset many powerful people in the process, and he doesn’t intend to take the hide-until-something-more-upsetting-comes-around route for dealing with that. So a lot of the tension in the book comes from Nic and Gabriel resolving these two competing ideas for their relationship.
The other thing they need to resolve is what their life together will look like on a daily basis. Nic is fully prepared to act as Gabriel’s familiar–namely, his magical portable battery, for lack of a better analogy. Gabriel isn’t too stoked about this, because it feels to him like he is using Nic for his own benefit. Nic also wants to bring Gabriel’s living arrangements up to the level she’s accustomed to. In this world, things like hot water, speedy communication, and basically anything else that takes a certain amount of what we consider technology is done through magic. But these conveniences are not readily available to people who don’t already have a certain amount of magic of their own. Gabriel is the first in many generations in his family to have a lot of magic, so his family has been living more or less like non-magical folk for a while. This also means Gabriel doesn’t really understand how to move through the magical society–from sending letters to structuring his household. For powerful magical people, this looks a bit like a medieval/renaissance noble’s household, where other families would send their children to be fostered/trained by an ally or particularly powerful noble, and where people who weren’t related to the noble were under their protection. Gabriel doesn’t even really have servants. This is slowly getting sorted out when the two big bad things happen in the book and all that kind of gets shoved off to the side.
Here is where I pause to tell you very sternly that this is a bit of a spoiler, especially if you haven’t read Dark Wizard already. Nic and Gabriel upset Nic’s father with both their actions in Dark Wizard, but Nic was hoping for much of this book that her father would get past that and honor her betrothal and marriage to Gabriel. Nic and Gabriel also upset the [convocation] in Dark Wizard, and they still want payback for that. Plus, there is some extra political intrigue that is coming in. All of this happens closer to the end of the book, and ends on a cliff hanger, so we don’t really know what Nic’s relationship with her parents is anymore, or what exactly the [convocation[ will do to Nic or Gabriel’s family.
And that is why I struggled a bit with the pacing. It felt, at the end, like there wasn’t room to breathe, what with everything bad happening all at once and then the book ending how it did. Tying off all those threads will be a huge juggling act for Kennedy. However, I was fascinated by the worldbuilding and characters, so it was still enjoyable; I’ve definitely dealt with bigger cliff hangers than this one. As with many of Kennedy’s other novels, I think the romance and fantasy elements are well-balanced in this book; we learn just as much of the magic in this world as we do about Nic and Gabriel’s relationship.
I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series. I recommend this book, as long as you’ve already read the first one; if you would rather wait for all three books to be out, I won’t judge you in the least.