Robyn Reviews: In The Ravenous Dark

‘In the Ravenous Dark’ is an enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy romance with excellent LGBTQIAP+ representation and a fun cast of characters. The twists are relatively predictable and the plot simple, but it’s a solid read if you’re not looking for something complex.

In Thanopolis, those with magic are both prized and feared, bound to undead spirits to guide and control them. Rovan’s father gave his life to keep her from this fate – but when an accident leads to her revealing her powers, she’s thrust into a world of magic and politics that she barely understands. Her situation is further complicated when she finds herself falling for the beautiful Princess Lydea – and also Ivrilos, the undead spirit now bound to her for all eternity. Unsure who to trust, Rovan must uncover a centuries old secret at the heart of Thanopolis – and possibly betray everyone she loves in the process.

Rovan is a solid protagonist. Raised in an isolated village for her own safety, she understands little of city politics or royalty – and combined with a tendency for bluntness it leads to some hilarious, if cringe-worthy, situations. A powerful but untrained bloodmage, Rovan is capable of extraordinary feats, but regularly finds herself out of her depth. She’s so overpowered it does take some of the suspense and drama out of things, but despite this its impossible to dislike her with such an amazing matter-of-fact attitude.

The two love interests, Lydea and Ivrilos, are polar opposites. Lydea is a princess, but otherwise much like Rovan – fun-loving, relaxed, and unafraid of breaking the rules. Sparks fly almost immediately and the chemistry is palpable – however theirs always feels like a more surface level relationship. In contrast, Ivrilos is the stereotypical male fantasy love interest – quiet, brooding, and mysterious, a protector in the background betraying his family for the one he loves. He starts very two-dimensional, however as more about his past and personality is revealed, he develops into arguably the most interesting character in the book. His relationship with Rovan is a far slower burn, and feels more realistic for it.

It’s unusual to see polygamy portrayed in mainstream fantasy, and whilst the instant acceptance of anything might seem unrealistic, there’s enough tension in the plot without needing relationship friction to add to the drama. LGBTQIAP+ characters aren’t fully accepted in Strickland’s world – Japha, who is non-binary, is treated as male by the King, and lesbian Lydea is expected to marry and produce children with a man – but Rovan’s pansexuality and polygamy is never treated as abnormal. It’s great to have healthy representation of non-monogamous relationships, and whilst the overall ending is a bit too happily-ever-after it does make a pleasant change from all the LGBTQIAP+ characters dying at the end.

The plot is mainly focused around political intrigue and scheming, but it’s fast paced and engaging. It does feel very trope heavy, with most of the revelations easily predictable, but the tropes are written well. The main issue with the plot is that all the villains are a bit caricaturic. The protagonists are undoubtedly good, with the possible exception of Ivrilos, compared to the true irredeemability of their enemies. There’s a twist approximately two-thirds into the book which will likely divide opinion, but personally I found it an interesting addition if a bit out of keeping with the rest of the books mythos.

Overall, ‘In The Ravenous Dark’ is a solid addition to the fantasy romance genre, mostly notable for its depiction of a healthy polygamous relationship and LGBTQIAP+ diversity including pansexual, asexual, and non-binary representation. Recommended for fans of new adult fantasy romance, love triangles done right, and political intrigue.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 18th May 2021

Robyn Reviews: The Beautiful Ones

‘The Beautiful Ones’ is very much a novel of manners – one sprinkled with fantasy elements, but far heavier on the romance. Like all of Moreno-Garcia’s books it’s beautifully written, but there’s an element of detachment from the characters that prevents it being a fully immersive experience.

Antonina Beaulieu, known as Nina, has travelled to the city for the season – and the opportunity to join the city’s elite, The Beautiful Ones, thanks to her well-connected cousin and his scheming wife Valerie. However, her debut has not gone to plan. A country girl at heart, she lacks the decorum expected by high society – not to mention, she keeps losing control of her telepathy, a flaw which has earned her the nickname The Witch of Oldhouse. Enter the famed telekinetic entertainer Hector Auvray. Nina is dazzled by his skill, and Hector intrigued by her innate ability. However, its not only Nina’s telekinesis that draws him to her – and as Nina falls in deeper, Hector’s secrets threaten to tear them apart forever.

Nina is undoubtedly the highlight of the book. Forthright and naive, Nina is entirely out of place in a society run on unspoken rules and appearances, but she’s determined to have a good time anyway. A keen naturalist, Nina cares more about beetles than she does about securing an appropriate husband, and while she frustrates everyone around her she’s a delight to read about. While she might seem innocent and childlike, Nina is also an intelligent woman, and she picks up on more than those around her believe. Really, Nina is too good for any of the other characters, but in this sort of novel you always know how it’s going to end.

Hector Auvray initially comes across as very unlikeable, but as the story unfolds, he starts to evoke more sympathy. Hector is a performer, very different to the high class Beautiful Ones, and he’s worked hard to get to his station in society. However, he’s also become so adept at hiding behind a mask to fit in that he’s forgotten who he is without it. Hector makes a lot of mistakes, and Nina deserves better, but he isn’t a bad man.

Valerie, on the other hand, is on the dark side of morally grey. Consummately selfish, she’s been forced into a situation that she hates and regrets with every fibre of her being – and she reacts by tearing down everyone around her. Valerie’s situation, simultaneously the height of privilege and a tottering precipice, is a reminder of how difficult society used to be for women – even the wealthy ones.

The plot is predictable, following the well-trodden tracks of regency-type romances since the days of Austen. That doesn’t make the twists any less powerful when they inevitably come, Moreno-Garcia’s writing beautifully evoking tension and feeling. However, she also chooses to write her characters in a very Austen style, maintaining a degree of propriety and distance from them. This will likely appeal to stalwart fans of the regency romance genre, but personally I prefer to feel closer to characters, and this posed a barrier to becoming fully invested in the story.

The fantasy elements are well-woven, fitting the story without playing a large role in it. However, their absence wouldn’t greatly affect the plot or feel. This is definitely a romance novel that happens to feature fantasy rather than anything else.

Overall, ‘The Beautiful Ones’ is a well-written novel of manners that will appeal to fans of classic romance, Bridgerton, and fantasy-lite. For Moreno-Garcia’s fans, it’s very different to her previous work, but still a worthwhile read.

Thanks to NetGalley and Jo Fletcher Books for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Jo Fletcher Books
Hardback: 27th April 2021

I review another of Moreno-Garcia’s books, Mexican Gothic, here.

Robyn Reviews: The Midnight Bargain

‘The Midnight Bargain’ is a regency romance with a fantasy and feminist twist. It makes a quick and easy read, and whilst the ideas and setting would have allowed for more depth and complexity, as it is it tells an enjoyable tale.

Beatrice Clayborn has always dreamed of being a sorceress, seeking magic in hidden grimoires and practising her art in secret. She dreads the day she’ll be married off and locked into a collar, unable to access her magic so she can safely carry children. However, her debt-ridden family have staked everything on Bargaining Season, and Beatrice must find a husband to save her family from ruin. When Beatrice stumbles across a grimoire with the key to becoming a full Magus, she thinks her troubles have finally come to an end – only for the book to be taken from her hands by Ysbeta Lavan, one of the most influential young women in town. To access the book, Beatrice and Ysbeta strike a deal – but the more Beatrice becomes entangled with Ysbeta and her handsome brother Ianthe, the more complicated her choices become.

Beatrice makes an engaging protagonist. Her forthright feminism and strong attitude makes her polarising in society but quickly wins the reader’s sympathy. She makes regular social faux pas – to the horror of her very proper younger sister Harriet – and is far too naive, but these flaws almost make her more endearing. Beatrice is clearly an intelligent woman and a powerful sorceress, but her position as an unmarried woman leaves her almost powerless, something she simultaneously rages against and is forced to submit to. The way she’s torn between warring desires is well written, with the reader feeling every inch of her frustration.

Ianthe is a very classic regency novel love interest – ridiculously wealthy, handsome, and completely besotted by the heroine. The chemistry between him and Beatrice is excellent, but there’s an element of insta-love which is frustrating. Beatrice is clever, loyal, and unintentionally hilarious with her lack of knowledge of social norms – their relationship could develop slower and more organically. Its still a sweet and believable partnership, but in many ways the romance is the weakest part of the book.

Ysbeta, on the other hand, is an excellent character, and her relationship with Beatrice is far more complex and intriguing. Ysbeta has no interest in love or romance. Beatrice has always wanted to pursue magic and therefore resigned herself to not marrying – Ysbeta, although unstated, is probably on the aromantic spectrum, and finds a joy in magic that she could never find in a relationship. Her desperation to study magic is rawer than Beatrice’s in a way Beatrice can’t quite understand. The two make a formidable team, with a heartwarming friendship – but there’s also a gulf between them, with neither quite understanding the others point of view.

The world is quite clearly regency inspired, with the magic system is worked in seamlessly. CL Polk avoids info-dumps, deftly weaving the magical elements into the overarching narrative. They also create a harsh but believable patriarchal society – at first, it can feel a bit much, but it quickly becomes apparent how such a huge divide between the genders has been created.

Overall, ‘The Midnight Bargain’ is an enjoyable fantasy romance, likely to appeal to fans of Bridgerton and similar series’. A great, uncomplicated read at the end of a long week.

Published by Orbit
Paperback: 13th April 2021