Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles! Today’s review is on the longer side so I won’t waffle for long here except to say that while I’ve kept things spoiler free, I do draw comparisons between A Shadow in the Ember and From Blood and Ash. Again, in my opinion it’s all quite vague but if you’d rather go in with no knowledge of what to expect – come back and read this once you’re done!
Born shrouded in the veil of the Primals, a Maiden as the Fates promised, Seraphena Mierel’s future has never been hers. Chosen before birth to uphold the desperate deal her ancestor struck to save his people, Sera must leave behind her life and offer herself to the Primal of Death as his Consort.
However, Sera’s real destiny is the most closely guarded secret in all of Lasania—she’s not the well protected Maiden but an assassin with one mission—one target. Make the Primal of Death fall in love, become his weakness, and then…end him. If she fails, she dooms her kingdom to a slow demise at the hands of the Rot.
Sera has always known what she is. Chosen. Consort. Assassin. Weapon. A specter never fully formed yet drenched in blood. A monster. Until him. Until the Primal of Death’s unexpected words and deeds chase away the darkness gathering inside her. And his seductive touch ignites a passion she’s never allowed herself to feel and cannot feel for him. But Sera has never had a choice. Either way, her life is forfeit—it always has been, as she has been forever touched by Life and Death.
Overall rating: 3/5
Genre: New adult fantasy
Read if you loved: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Content warnings: Murder (including children), torture, violence
Let me start by addressing my general relationship with the FBAA series, which has always erred on the side of “unpopular opinion”. I really loved the first book, didn’t love the second, and enjoyed the third, which is sort of the exact opposite of general public sentiment. I basically only read for Poppy’s continued character development, and my one and only love Kieran. I hate Hawke and you can’t change my mind on this, so naturally the romance in these books annoy me. Yes, I know the romance is the point, and if The War of Two Queens doesn’t reel me back in, I’m probably going to drop the series altogether.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to A Shadow in the Ember – the good stuff! I won’t lie, I was hooked for the first 30%. I even texted my friend saying that Nyktos and Sera were so much more likeable than Poppy and Hawke; their dynamic felt fun and the setting was reminiscent enough of FBAA to illustrate the parallels while also being differentiated through Sera’s underlying motives. I love the build up of a romance, and this one had me salivating over the potential of their relationship. The worldbuilding of this series is also a big highlight for me and I thoroughly enjoyed the additional insight we gleaned – there is limited info dumping (likely because so much is set up in FBAA) and I found this chunky book to be an easy and quick read.
The problem, however, is that A Shadow in the Ember quickly devolves into a regurgitation of From Blood and Ash. All that prospect I was excited about? It completely fizzled out. I understand that the similarities between the two are intentional and meant to show history repeating itself…but you can do that without spitting out the exact same story. I felt like I could swap Poppy and Sera and have the exact same plot play out. Nyktos stopped shining once his identity was revealed, and I stopped caring for him the way I stopped caring for Hawke. Even the dialogue is the same!!! It got so boring and unexciting real fast, and I found myself skimming through the rest because nothing felt fresh. Everything was repetitive. Even the ending, which is the one thing I’ve loved about all the FBAA books, didn’t feel surprising. It doesn’t make me need to pick up the next book which is a problem when it’s meant to be a cliffhanger.
Also, I have to take a second to discuss my annoyance with Sera. Can we stop having pick-me girls as protagonists? If I have to read one more book where the heroine *hates* gowns and looooves pants, I will lose my mind. Being a badass and femininity are not mutually exclusive. Continuously bringing it up in a derogatory tone feels…dare I say it…misogynistic? I hated it, which sucks because I thought she was going to be better than Poppy.
For the first time ever, I actually wouldn’t recommend reading ASITE because you’ve read it already. I don’t think we learn that much new information to justify a 700 page story but hey, that’s just me. I won’t be continuing with the Flesh and Fire series (unless something changes my mind), and I’ll make a call on FBAA once TWOTQ comes out next year. At the end of the day, I hate being the person sharing negative reviews on later books in a series – if it’s not for me, I’d rather just drop it. How do you feel about these books? Let me know in the comments!