Goodreads: A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Series: Cursebreakers #3
Published: January 2021
Face your fears, fight the battle.
Emberfall is crumbling fast, torn between those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and those who are eager to begin a new era under Grey, the true heir. Grey has agreed to wait two months before attacking Emberfall, and in that time, Rhen has turned away from everyone—even Harper, as she desperately tries to help him find a path to peace.
Fight the battle, save the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Lia Mara struggles to rule Syhl Shallow with a gentler hand than her mother. But after enjoying decades of peace once magic was driven out of their lands, some of her subjects are angry Lia Mara has an enchanted prince and a magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.
As the two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and a dangerous enemy returns, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.
After the ending of book two, I knew A Vow So Bold and Deadly would likely disappoint me. While Kemmerer shines as a writer of contemporary romance, the need to create a fully-realized fantasy world with its own internal politics and intrigue was clearly proving a struggle. A Vow So Bold and Deadly highlights how underdeveloped this world is, while also depicting confusing characterization in what appears to be an attempt to make the characters more complex. In the end, A Vow So Bold and Deadly reads like a bit of a mess, with Kemmerer belatedly trying to convince readers that characters who did wicked things are really good, and that characters with a moral compass are just as bad as the people they are fighting. I am not entirely sure what to make of the book because it quite simply does not make sense.
Jumping into book three without a recap of the prior books was admittedly confusing for me. I could not quite remember why Grey and Lia Mara were going to war with Emberfall since they both claimed they did not want to, but “had to” “for peace.” (They kept referencing the need for a trade route, which seemed more like national self-interest to me, but who am I to discredit their high moral-sounding talk?) I did not understand why Grey, who was initially reluctant to be king, so much so that he went into hiding, was now determined to take his throne by force. I did not understand why Rhen, if he was convinced of the legitimacy of Grey’s claim, would go to war to preserve his status as king. (His manipulation by Lilith did not seem to account fully for his actions, in my opinion.) I did not understand why Harper, who was supposed to be the character who recalls Rhen to his better self, was now aiding him in apparently propping up a false claim to the throne–an action that would cost the lives of soldiers. And, wow, I did not understand how Harper could spend the entire book wondering if she was in an abusive relationship and then justify everything Rhen did. I mean…it seems like she is, but the book is trying to tell us that she is not?
Perhaps the characters never had a chance to seem reasonable when they were set up in a scenario as bizarre as this. However, it really bothered me that readers were apparently meant to see Grey’s decision to go into hiding once he learned his identity as the true heir as on par with Rhen’s putting two men up against a wall and publicly flogging them. Considering Rhen’s extreme reaction to learning he might lose the throne, Grey seems entirely justified in trying to disappear. In an ideal world, yes, he would have gone to Rhen and maybe they could have privately worked out a peaceable solution, but Rhen comes across as so volatile that avoiding him certainly seems like the safer option.
Things only get worse when Rhen and Harper mutually agree that Rhen “had no choice” but to whip Grey because “hard decisions must be made for the good of the country.” Harper, who once was Rhen’s moral compass, has sunk to his level and now helps him justify imprisoning and whipping people. Suddenly, what was initially depicted as an outrage in book two is being depicted as part of the necessary duties of an effective leader.
This emphasis on the need for violence to rule is reiterated in the depiction of Lia Mara, who, in book two, seemed poised to be an effective, yet gentle queen, but who is now shown to be struggling to keep her crown–all because she is too nice and does not have the guts to hurt and kill people to prove a point. Readers never get to see how Lia Mara’s gentleness could be her strength. Instead, she needs her sister and Grey to do the dirty work for her, so she can keep her throne. Maybe the goal here is to suggest that there is no good, right way when one has a country at stake, but it just feels disorienting for the book to suddenly switch sides, so to speak.
Rationalizing Rhen’s current behavior because he was tortured by Lilith does not help much, either. Suggesting that he should be forgiven for terrorizing people because he apparently is suffering from trauma is not exactly as nice as it was probably meant to sound. Rhen is still responsible for his actions. And he needs help, not people rationalizing his poor life choices, thereby enabling him to continue. I guess his final actions were meant to redeem him, but he has a history of being all over the place, so one useful action does not make me understand Rhen to now to someone I would cheer on or want on the throne.
My best guess is that A Vow So Bold and Deadly is meant to depict how leading a country is hard, and sometimes there appear to be no right choices. And, normally, I would find such a book fascinating. In this case, however, the characters were not shown to be trying to do right, but sometimes failing or making a hard call. They were more like different people every time we met up again with them. The way they acted in book one seems very different from how they acted in book two and again in book three. The characterization was everywhere! And normally characterization is Kemmerer’s strength. In the end, it seems rather like Kemmerer was not quite sure how to create her own fantasy world that has rules and politics that make sense–and the whole book suffered as a result.
Read Briana’s review.