So much of fun writing is just getting rid of shame. That’s what Armentrout does with this series—making liberal use of vampires, werewolves, sex, allies to enemies to lovers, gods, mates, and more create a potent, fun, guilty-pleasure mix. The writing itself is not good. The pacing can get bogged down in over-indulgent, tedious internal dialogue. The characters are test-tube loveable fantasy. I have read every concept, and it feels like nearly every scene, somewhere in fantasy before.
But FBAA’s delighted shamelessness got me to buy in. I stayed up late to read it. All the tropes it embraces it embraces far more recklessly and wholeheartedly than even Maas ever has. I didn’t come for a mature, measured piece of literature, I came for absurdly high-stakes fantasy and an epic central love story (which definitely carries the series).
Author: Jennifer Armentrout
Genre: New Adult Fantasy
Link to Goodreads: link
Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.
The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.
NARROWING YOUR FOCUS
This series probably isn’t worth it if you aren’t here for the romance. Armentrout’s tone is lifted directly from the likes of Sarah J. Maas, Cassandra Clare, and P.C. Cast. However, there’s less polish to the writing—almost like the author doesn’t care about the writing being passable if the dialogue is angsty and banter-y enough.
The banter itself is enjoyable (though also derivative, this time of Holly Black). At least, for the first book it is. As the two sequels unfold, our star couple has the same conversations over and over and over again, to the point where I could skim their interactions without losing anything.
The worldbuilding isn’t anything new, but it takes about one hundred pages to get to the point where you are no longer learning new concepts—and that can create reading fatigue. Especially when the worldbuilding is lazy even to the untrained eye, scenes without our resident Tall Dark and Handsome are a slog. This is an issue especially because the first book has the most scenes of heroine Poppy without her leading man—unfortunately, the weakest scenes.
My other personal scruple with Armentrout’s laisses-faire approach to the world-building is the way she writes space. Or rather, it doesn’t seem like she’s really put any thought into editing once she writes the world. In fact, I suspect she didn’t actually flesh out the world in her own scheme until the second book.
The map makes zero sense. Towns the same size as mountains and kingdoms? Where exacrly are all the walls, and is there any space between them? None of the distances fit together. People in this world can cross a whole mountain range in half a day. Everywhere is inexplicably reachable in a week’s time. And here’s what made me the most angry: apparently, horses in Armentroutland are tireless machines. You cannot just gallop all day on the same horse, day after day. There are no post-stations to switch horses in this mythical land, and the ground our heroes cover on horseback makes no sense. Nor do the scenes on horseback. Just one lesson in horseback riding would have made the second two novels of this series eminently more readable.
Finally, this world has electricity, but lacks even a hint of any other kind of industrialization, nor does it have any firearms or even primitive cannon. While I’m fine with soft worldbuilding—that is, the approach that doesn’t think about logistic questions like this too much—going as far as electricity and running water without any other markers of progress just doesn’t track.
SPOILERS FROM NOW ON
Poppy Galathynius, is that you?
Poppy is the a test-tube 2021 heroine. Her personality is perfectly not-quite-perfect. She only has to dig a little to find that endless well of badass warrior strength Katniss Everdeen first debuted as a winning template. In our tumbler, book-twitter, morally-gray-character-loving day and age? She’s a focus-group wet dream.
And that’s annoying.
Every time she does something that the text tells us should have us clutching our pearls, her inner dialogue goes: but I didn’t regret it.
Every time. Poppy makes no real mistakes, feels no guilt except the heroic, long-suffering kind over things that aren’t actually her fault. Most of her internal conflict is about things that seem to the reader like foregone conclusions: is she going to utterly reject the oppressive regime that abused her and murders babies? Will she get over the insecurity over her scars and realize she’s hot? Is she going to get together with the hot prince she’s already in love with and who’s obviously not the villain he halfheartedly was for a page or two?
This all isn’t to say that the waiting doesn’t pay off in utterly sinful scenes between our two steamy leads. If you’re looking for sex—and a book basically manipulated to include satisfying, hot sex scenes—all that other mediocrity may well be worth it.
Finally, AND THIS IS A BIG SPOILER, Miss Poppy goes full Aelin Galathynius in the third book (that’s aside from both characters’ use of the scarred-but-beautiful trope). Aelin, the heroine of Maas’ first series Throne of Glass, gets more powerful with each book until she’s a queen of several nations and probably the most powerful fairy in the world.
Well, move over Aelin because Poppy is literally a god.
Which I predicted—which is easy to predict, even—but is still fun.
To my friend who just finished the first book, who said something like, “I like the banter and the sex,” I replied something to the effect of, “the banter is essentially the same thing over and over again, but that’s okay because the banter is Poppy saying “I will stab you,” followed by Casteel saying, “That’s hot.” Which, in the opinion of my two remaining brain cells, is fantastic banter.
The sex in these books is really good.
Like, it’s written well, and it’s between two hot people, and there’s lots of different places and situations in which it happens. It’s a little dark, a little kinky, and (at least after the marriage which happens in the second book) frequent.
This may be slightly controversial, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong or toxic about the central relationship. They’re both powerful and horny. They have fun. Armentrout doesn’t spare us any details. There’s only one scene in which Casteel refuses to stop lying on top of Poppy in bed, but in the context of their entire relationship, if she really wanted him to get off he would have faster than you could say gentleman prince who loves eating p**** and body worship.
They’re a great couple. Romance readers will love this love. It’s…well, romance-book love. **quickly blinks away heart eyes**
Adjectives and Adverbs
Let’s get petty.
In this series, a god is the most powerful being, because duh. But one notch of power beneath them are deities. Which doesn’t make any sense. Because deity is just another word for god. The definition of deity is god and this irks me to no end.
“You’re beautiful.” His head tilted, and I gasped at the feel of his lips on the longer scar of my cheek. He kissed that one and then the shorter one, above my eye. “Both halves, and you should never question why anyone would find you utterly, irrevocably, and distractingly beautiful.”
The skipping was back, but I ignored it. “That is a lot of adjectives.”
Hi. Those are adverbs, Poppy. You can tell because they have the little ly at the end. And if Poppy doesn’t know that, two-hundred-year-old Casteel definitely should.