Forging Silver into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer (ARC Review, No Spoilers)

Information

Goodreads: Forging Silver into Stars
Series: Forging Silver into Stars #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Netgalley for review
Publication Date: June 7, 2022

Official Summary

When ancient magic tests a newfound love, a dark fate beckons . . .

Magic has been banished in the land of Syhl Shallow for as long as best friends Jax and Callyn can remember. They once loved the stories of the powerful magesmiths and mythical scravers who could conjure fire or control ice, but now they’ve learned that magic only leads to danger: magic is what killed Callyn’s parents, leaving her alone to raise her younger sister. Magic never helped Jax, whose leg was crushed in an accident that his father has been punishing him for ever since. Magic won’t save either of them when the tax collector comes calling, threatening to take their homes if they can’t pay what they owe.

Meanwhile, Jax and Callyn are astonished to learn magic has returned to Syhl Shallow — in the form of a magesmith who’s now married to their queen. Now, the people of Syhl Shallow are expected to allow dangerous magic in their midst, and no one is happy about it.

When a stranger rides into town offering Jax and Callyn silver in exchange for holding secret messages for an anti-magic faction, the choice is obvious — even if it means they may be aiding in a plot to destroy their new king. It’s a risk they’re both willing to take. That is, until another visitor arrives: handsome Lord Tycho, the King’s Courier, the man who’s been tasked with discovering who’s conspiring against the throne.

Suddenly, Jax and Callyn find themselves embroiled in a world of shifting alliances, dangerous flirtations, and ancient magic . . . where even the deepest loyalties will be tested.

Star Divider

Review

Brigid Kemmerer hooked me on the Cursebreakers series with the swoon-worthy romance in A Curse So Dark and Lonely, but Forging Silver into Stars is the book that has convinced me she’s finally come into her own as an expert fantasy writer. (Her contemporary YA has always been excellent, though not as popular.) With complex characterization, cleaner world building, and a plot focused on magic and assassinations and just pure survival, there’s a lot to keep readers turning the pages.

I have always loved the action and adventure, as well as the romance, in Kemmerer’s fantasy, but I had reservations about her attempts at nuanced characterizations. I always thought her attempts to paint characters (especially Rhen and Grey) in shades of, um, gray fell flat, as the book would try to excuse actions that seemed obviously cruel and wrong to me and suggest they were somehow necessary or sympathetic. This was much less of an issue for me in Forging Silver into Stars, and it really elevated the reading experience.

Kemmerer is still interested in what makes people tick, what choices they will make to survive or support their families or defend their questions. There are still characters who might be doing the right things for the wrong reasons or the wrong things for the right reasons, and the book still asks readers to consider whether the “villains” might have some valid points. It just . . . works a lot better in this book, and I love that Kemmerer continues to work through these questions and has landed on (for me) some more reasonable answers. There are still references to Rhen and Grey glossing over their past decisions, which I continue to find unconvincing, but I love all the newly introduced characters and all their complexities.

The politics, the disputes, and what exactly is at stake in the two kingdoms now that Syhl Shallow and Emberfall are allied through marriage are also smoother here, and I think Kemmerer has learned a lot about making the political issues logically click, as well.

With the characterization and world building ironed out, I was also able to focus more on the plot, which is engaging. While there were a few times I felt the book was a little long, in general I was extremely interested to find out what happened next, and I enjoyed the shifting of POVs among Jax, Callyn, and Tycho. There’s also romance to spare in this book, as well as cute family relationships, and a lot of questions about magic that have yet to be unraveled throughout the series.

If you enjoyed the Cursebreakers trilogy, you will certainly love this continuation. If you were on the fence, I think it’s worth picking this up and giving Kemmerer another shot, as her writing only continues to improve.

Note: This is a separate trilogy from Cursebreakers and takes place four years after A Vow So Bold and Deadly, so technically it can be read separately. However, so many characters from the original trilogy and so many events are referenced that personally I think it would make more sense to read the original trilogy before tackling this one.

Briana
4 stars

A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer (Spoilers!)

A Vow So Bold and Deadly Instagram photo

Information

Goodreads: A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Series: Cursebreakers #3
Source: Purchased
Published: January 26, 2021

Official Summary

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 magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.

As two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and an old enemy resurfaces who could destroy them all, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.

Star Divider

Review

Spoilers for the whole series.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly drops readers right back into the conflict between Emberfall and Syhl Shallow, which, frankly, is actually a conflict between Rhen and Grey. Accordingly, the story is fast-paced and exciting but really focused on the interpersonal dynamics of the characters– which is where it excels at some parts but fails at others. As in A Heart So Fierce and Broken, Kemmerer seeks to make her characters nuanced, but the execution sometimes just makes them seem cruel.

The entire A Curse So Dark and Lonely series is riveting. The first book caught my attention with its original twist on a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling and its swoonworthy romance, as well as Kemmerer’s attention to making her characters seem real: strong and brave but also flawed and with certain things they have hang-ups about. And I’ve continued to be engaged with the entire series, turning page after page wondering to find out what will happen next– even if what will happen next is sometimes a bit obvious.

However, after book one, I’ve struggled a bit with Kemmerer’s characterization, mostly of Rhen but also of Grey. In A Heart So Fierce and Lonely, Kemmerer seemed to be getting at the fact that Rhen is traumatized after spending a magical eternity being tortured (completely fair, and something I’ve been seeing more books address instead of just letting characters move on from horrible events with no apparent effect on their mental health). She continues that theme here, showing how frightened he is of magic and how far he’ll go to protect himself, his friends, and his kingdom from magic. However…none of this can erase the events of book two for me, where Rhen whipped his friend, whipped an innocent child to manipulate his friend, and then murdered a bunch of innocent people while mounting a manhunt to find Grey. The book ultimately latches onto a theme of, “Does one bad choice erase a thousand good choices?” but when the “one” bad choice is actually several, and Rhen literally killed innocent people, this theme isn’t as effective for me as Kemmerer probably hopes it is.

Worse, Kemmerer tries to set up Rhen and Grey as two halves of the same coin: that is, that both of them did something wrong, so they’re both at fault, they both need forgiveness, etc. However Grey’s “crime” is not telling Rhen he is the rightful heir (when he also knew Rhen was interested in killing the rightful heir). So it’s really hard for me to believe that Rhen’s and Grey’s faults are on the same level. I really do appreciate that Kemmerer wants her characters to be flawed and gray and to explore the idea that people in power sometimes make tough choices, and sometimes those choices are necessary and sometimes they’re just wrong, but I didn’t really come away feeling Rhen and Grey are nuanced, just that the book was dragging me back and forth saying, “They’re good! No, now they’re bad! Now they’re nice! Now they’re cruel!” It all feels a little disjointed.

Harper and Lia Mara are more evenly drawn, and I found the idea they were both more interested in peace than the men interesting, whether or not that was intentional commentary on the part of the author.

Overall, I truly did love reading A Vow So Bold and Deadly. It has action and magic and a few plot twists. It strives to do interesting things with its characterization and not just give readers pure heroes. I don’t think it always lived up to its goals, but story is still engaging, and I look forward to reading more from Kemmerer.

Briana
4 stars

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

Heart So Fierce and Broken

Information

Goodreads: A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Series: Cursebreakers #2
Source: Giveaway from Kelly from Another Book in the Wall
Published: January 7, 2020

Official Summary

Find the heir, win the crown.

The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.

Win the crown, save the kingdom.

Rumored to be the heir, Grey has been on the run since he destroyed Lilith. He has no desire to challenge Rhen–until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?

The heart-pounding, compulsively readable saga continues as loyalties are tested and new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war.

Star Divider

Review

*Look for Krysta’s upcoming discussion post on why she didn’t like the ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken!

When I reviewed the first book in the Cursebreakers series, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, I called it “an enchanting, romantic tale perfect for fans of fairy tale retellings who want a slow-burn, swoonworthy romance combined with a more active, political take on ‘Beauty and the Beast,'” so of course I was thrilled to pick up A Heart So Fierce and Broken, which continues the story but with different characters’ POV’s. While A Heart So Fierce and Broken does feature some complex characterization and another lovely romance, however, it has the same flaws as A Curse So Dark and Lonely, possibly magnified: the politics make absolutely no sense, and many of the characters’ actions and motivations are unbelievable.

Although I was invested in Grey and the new friends he makes on his new journey, I spent the first half the book wondering if he were not possibly creating most of his problems for himself. I then spent the second half of the book wondering if his (and other characters’) assumptions about how to make an alliance were completely wrong and if there weren’t an obvious solution to one of the major problems that everyone was simply overlooking (for plot reasons, I assume, as the book never clarifies why this could not be a solution in these particular fantasy countries). This was frustrating, to say the least, and I honestly thought I was going to rate this book two stars at several points while I was reading it.

I was also frustrated with Rhen’s character, which seems to deviate wildly from book one. Brigid Kemmerer seems to have gone Sarah J. Maas on me, by which I mean: characters apparently do things because they cause drama and facilitate plot points, not necessarily because their actions and motivations fit in with their previous characterization. Kemmerer throws a little bit of explanation to readers, but mostly I felt as if I were reading about an entirely different character than the one I met in A Curse So Dark in Lonely. I also really wanted a chapter with Harper’s POV, to get her take on his changes and the situation in general, but of course this book isn’t actually about her.

So why did I ultimately end up giving the book three stars? A lot of the other characterizations are great, nuanced and compelling. Grey gets more fleshed out than he was in book one, and his new love interest has many facets, as well. I also like the general idea of the plot: the kingdom is not as stable as Rhen and his friends hoped after book one, two brothers might need to fight it out for the good of the kingdom, magic might need to be reassessed, etc. It’s overall very exciting and raises excellent questions, and I really did want to keep reading to find out what would happen next.

As for book three…I have no idea what my expectations should be. The final chapter of A Heart So Fierce and Broken changes a lot of the stakes, and not necessarily in a way I like. I have no idea how Kemmerer is going to resolve all this, particularly when her grasp on court intrigue, politics, etc. seems so lacking and nothing anyone does to save the kingdom ever seems to make sense. I only hope the individual stories of the characters will be enough for me in the next book, as well.

Briana
3 Stars

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