A bit of a let down
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 28, 2021
A Kingdom Of Flesh and Fire follows on straight where we left off in From Blood and Ash. At the end of the last book, our heroine, Poppy had discovered that everything she had ever believed about herself, the kingdom in which she had been raised, and the man she had fallen in love with, were all lies. This book follows Poppy as she adjusts to these new truths, that the real enemy are the Ascended, those who raised her, and want to use her for their own gain. Yet so does Prince Casteel, otherwise known as the Dark One, or Hawke. He lied to her in order to use her, but now he proposes an alliance, such that they might both get what they want - namely to save both their brothers and to bring peace between the kingdoms. It just so happens that this alliance involves them getting married.
For all its flaws, I actually really enjoyed From Blood and Ash, and began this second book with high hopes. Unfortunately, the flaws in this second book outweighed the positives for me, and my biggest gripe was simply the sheer length of the book, when for what the actual plot is, it should have been half the length. The story takes ages to actually get going, and then just when you think it has, it stalls again, and so the pattern continues.
I assumed the book would change setting to the kingdom of Atlantia, where our heroes are journeyed, fairly early on, yet they actually only begin this journey over a third of the way in, and don't arrive till the last 2 or 3 chapters. The whole book is taken up with just the getting there, and nor does really all that much happen along the way. Yes, there are some action sequences interspersed throughout the book, mostly all involving attacks from the Ascended, and 1 encounter with a violent tribe of people known as the Dead Bones clan. Other than this the book focuses mostly on the relationship between Poppy and Casteel, and yet not in a good way.
I enjoyed their relationship as Poppy and Hawke in the first book, and I do think there was a lot of potential in how things could have been handled and explored in the wake of Hawke, aka, Casteel's betrayal of Poppy and the rebuilding of trust between them, yet the way it was actually handled was just too adolescent for me personally. I appreciate this is a Young/New Adult series, but the writing and depiction here was just cringey in parts. There are endless repetitive arguments and conversations between the characters, not to mention lengthy, endless internal monologues from Poppy's point of view where she deliberates over the same things. It is so obvious that both she and Casteel have feelings for each other, such that this whole 'pretending' business that goes on for more or less the whole book, and general angst around their relationship just feels so unnecessary and contrived, though towards the end this then switches to just sickly-sweet levels of being in love, with Casteel forever telling Poppy he is not worthy of her, blah, blah, blah.
In terms of characterization, I liked Poppy in the first book, and particularly the angle of her being the Maiden, with this destiny and veiled existence that means she lives in a gilded cage, with her torn between duty and her own desires. But that all falls to the wayside here, and there is not really anything about her that stands out from other YA fantasy heroines. She is now just the typically feisty heroine, who seems to have these strange powers no-one quite understands, that grow through the book. Yes, she is still compassionate, wanting to help those in pain with her powers, but otherwise her character seems to be served by either constantly asking questions, for narrative purposes, or being angsty.
In my review for the last book, I mentioned I was unsure about my feelings towards Hawke at the book's end, though I had overall liked his character as Poppy's personal guard. Here, we essentially get to know the real Casteel, who as predicted, is a much more complicated character than Hawke. Certainly he has an interesting backstory, that makes for a tortured character, however, again this was just handled in too Young Adult a way, with too many vibes of Rhysand from the ACOTAR series by Sarah Maas, such that he didn't feel original.
I did enjoy Kieran's character and the fact we got to know him better. I liked his sense of humour, and easy-going way, and also his loyalty to Casteel. There are other new characters introduced, but none that I could say I feel too strongly about. Alastair seems rather too obviously dubious to me personally.
We do get a lot more information on Atlantia's heritage I suppose, learning more about the different types of Atlantians and Wolven, varying bloodlines and links and ancestry to the Gods. There is a lot of speculation throughout the book regarding which bloodline Poppy, who is half-Atlantian, descends from, though the answer is never resolved, if anything the cliff-hanger ending just throwing more questions to this regards. I am interested in the world-building with regards to Atlantia, and towards the end of the story things happen that suggest we still don't know the truth about Poppy, which again I am interested in, as well the wider story of the Atlantians and Ascended, unfortunately there just wasn't enough of that story in this book.
I will at some point read the next book in the series. I had initially thought it was a trilogy, but it turns out there are more books planned, and even a prequel book that relates to the Gods, which I am particularly interested in. I would have thought for the main series though, 3 books would likely have been enough, and the fact that I know the next one is not the last, makes me worry it is yet again going to be filled with endless filler. As such, I think I will be taking a break from this series for the time being, and will likely come back to it at some point.
Overall more of a 2.5 star rating, though I've rounded it up to 3 stars.
3 people found this helpful