Society was rocked when the Church asked Allegra, Contessa of Marsina, to negotiate the delicate peace talks between the rebelling mage slaves and the various city states. Not only was she a highborn mage, she was a nonbeliever and a vocal objector against the supposed demonic origins of witchcraft. Demons weren’t real, she’d argued, and therefore the subjection of mages was unlawful.
But that was all before the first assassination attempt. That was before Allegra began to hear the strange whispers in the corridors. That was before everything changed. Now, Allegra, and her personal guards race to stabilize the peace before the entire known world explodes into war with not just itself, but with the abyss from beyond.
So much for demons not being real.
I’ve never done a full length review for this book and since I’m re-reading it I thought I’d go ahead and do that. Going to be a lot of summary and then some thoughts because I don’t think I can get all my feelings out without talking a bit about some of the things in the book, but it will be pretty spoiler free, or the things I talk about don’t really spoil any major things in the book.
My experience re-reading this was so different from the first time, mostly because I feel like my outlook the world has changed a bit since the first time around back in mid-2016. What a four years this has been, eh? Anywho. There are a lot of politics in this book. The set up is that there is a rebellion brewing in this world as the enslaved mages (and in some cases not even mages, just poor folk that have been accused as an excuse to enslave them because shitty people in power will always take advantage of those less fortunate) begin to fight back against those that have enslaved them. There are two levels of magic users here–regular mages and elementals. Regular mages are quite useful and can imbue items with all sorts of practical spells, such as making buttons or patches of clothing have protection or healing abilities. Elementals can do that as well, but they also have an additonal power to control a specific element and also open and or close portals to the Abyss, the place where their religion tells of demons living. Because of this power, the elementals are feared above all others and of course fear has turned to hatred and thus anyone accused of being an elemental can be arrested and have all their property confiscated without even getting a fair trial, then they are usually sent to the slave mines where they’ll have a short life underground and won’t be able to make problems for their accusers. So, you can see why the oppressed have had enough of this shit, especially when anyone can be accused of being an elemental without any proof.
Enter our main character, Allegra, Contessa of Marsina. She’s one of the richest noblewomen around but she lives as a recluse at an abbey while funneling funds to causes to help the poor and especially mages. She’s not active in court politics and mainly lives in hiding not because she’s a mage, but because of the secret that she’s been hiding as to what type of mage she is. Her childhood friend holds one of the highest positions in the land, essentially the head of the church and state religion. Because she’s so opinionated he appoints her to a position of Arbiter of Justice, essentially with a hope of staving off the rebellion by upholding the Churches law throughout the lands and making sure everyone is following the legal enslavement rules and not taking advantage. On one side you have folks that are abolisionists that want to get rid of slavery altogether that think Allegra isn’t doing enough in her position, and on the other you have many of the folks in power that are profiting from slavery (and especially the illegal arrests) who want no interference at all and see it as an affront as landowners, because shitty people are shitty!
In this book Allegra is constantly being assaulted and at certain points even by folks that you think would be on her side. She’s either doing too much or not enough. She’s trying her best to make the world a better place while also hiding a dangerous secret about herself. She’s being both physically assaulted and emotionally. I feel like this is what happens these days when you are very opinionated on the internet or in public. There’s a certain correlation there. It’s rage inducing and frustrating and also really sad. And that’s how I felt reading this book this time around. There’s so much injustice and it’s so obvious but there’s also plenty of people who are comfortable in their lives doing what they can and taking a back seat to fighting on the front lines and that’s where we find Allegra at the beginning, and she can do that because of her privilege as a noblewoman and also because she’s wealthy. Once she steps into her new role all of that changes in that she’s now a front line soldier in this battle and it becomes immediately apparent how far people will go when you’re trying to upset the life they’ve become accustomed to. This was all too real for me and I felt pretty enraged reading these parts of the book simply because I can’t help but compare it to the real world.
Okay, now that I’ve got the politics out of the way, lets talk about the romance and the characters because I love these aspects of the story. First off, Krista writes great characters, it’s probably her greatest strength as an author, although I do have to say the plot and world building in this one is quite impressive too (all the little details about food and clothing, I really latched on to them this time around and I loved those things). Allegra is a great character–sure she’s a bit self-righteous but she’s also very cognizant of her privilege and her own precarious position if her secret were to be revealed. She’s not without self-doubt and anxiety. Then you have Stanton, the captain who is assigned to be head of her personal guard in her new position. He’s very much a by the book person even though he may sympathize with the plight of others, his duty is to uphold the law of the Cathedral. Of course he believes elementals shouldn’t be free, they’re dangerous after all. So where does that leave him and Allegra once they start to grow close and she starts worrying about her secret even more? Honestly, I loved these two characters together, they have such a slow burn romance. It’s obvious they like each other but it takes forever for them to finally admit that to themselves, let alone each other. They both have reasons, but especially Allegra, as to why things won’t work between them so they keep putting of the inevitable. Part of their chemistry includes a ton of witty banter, so that’s always fun. I also adore some of the side characters such as Lex and Dodd, two of the other soldiers in her guard. They’ve all got their own things going on.
Bottom line, I think this book was even better on the reread. I think the first time around I honestly overlooked some of the political stuff in an effort to be enchanted by the romance brewing between Allegra and Stanton because who wants to be angry when love is in the air? But I think the politics in this are important and they totally should be rage inducing because the world can be rage inducing and we shouldn’t all hide away in an abbey all the time enjoying our privilege, sometimes maybe we should do our part to make the world a better place and stand up for what’s right. 5/5 stars.