Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Book Review: A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer

Title: A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers #3)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Publication Date: January 26, 2021
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Pages: 416
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Reviews for book 1 & book 2

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.

The Cursebreakers series has had a place on my favorites shelf since I read the first one as an ARC in 2018. I have loved following along on this journey with Harper, Rhen, and Grey, and I was so excited to get book three! I raced out and picked up a copy on release day and finished it by that night, but I realized fairly quickly that I was going to have some issues with this installment.  

A Vow So Bold and Deadly picks up shortly after A Heart So Fierce and Broken ends. Harper is in Emberfall with Rhen and Grey is in Syhl Shallow with Lia Mara. War is looming though neither side truly wants it. Although I fell in love with Rhen and Harper's romance in the first book, I hated Rhen by the end of the second and found Harper's actions questionable. In this one I was extremely disappointed by them. 

I knew going in that there would have to be a redemption arc for Rhen and I was eager to see how Brigid Kemmerer would bring me around to him. What I was not prepared for were the number of excuses for his actions by every character in this book, along with a ton of victim blaming. Here are some non-spoilery quotes: 

"Do you think it cost me nothing?" ... For the first time I realize that the bulk of anger isn't at the people around me. It's not about Rhen. It's about myself. He made choices here, but so did I. His choices were about Emberfall. Mine were about Grey. We were both wrong and both write at the same time...

Friendly reminder that his choices included torturing a 15 year old child along with Grey, and hers included saving them. 
He seems relieved. I think that's the most startling thing of all: his relief. I'd somehow forgotten that he doesn't want to resort to drastic measures, that at his core, he wants the best for his people.

This sounds remarkably like an excuse made for an abusive partner.  

I once begged him for mercy. He did beg. I remember. But is that all that matters? They spent an eternity together, enduring the most terrible things I can imagine, but their relationship will boil down to one poor choice? And even as I think that, was the poor choice Rhen's, when he ordered his guards to find some whips, or was the poor choice Grey's, when he decided to run, when he chose to keep his birthright a secret?

I... WHAT? This is the worst victim blaming I've ever seen in a book. Was the poor choice GREY'S??? And then there's this one: 

"But what do you want, Grey? Do you want Rhen as your brother? Or is this just a way to take advantage again?" 

Again!" He whips his head around. "When have I taken advantage?" 

"When you first went to Syhl Shallow. When you declared war. You knew he was broken and hurting. You knew he was still dealing with everything Lilith did to him." 

"I did not take advantage." His voice is tight. "His enforcers were slaughtering his people to get to me. He tried to kill [15 year old] Tycho. His guards would have leveled Blind Hollow. He would have-" 

"He would have listened to you, Grey." I pause. "If you'd told him the truth. From the beginning." 

More victim blaming that makes me want to tear my hair out. And here's the thing: I'm not mad at how it wrapped up in the end. I'm not mad at Rhen getting redemption because I expected it. What I am furious about is Rhen's actions being excused and Grey being guilt tripped for his own torture. 

All of that aside, I still loved the romance between Grey and Lia Mara. I still loved Tycho and Iisak. There were things I genuinely enjoyed about his last book in one of my favorite series, but the way the author went about redeeming Rhen left a disgusting taste in my mouth.

I'm honestly unsure of how to rate this or even where to put it on my shelf. I'm shocked I haven't seen anyone else talk about this. I love Brigid Kemmerer and I hate that I've had this reaction to one of her books, and maybe it's just how I'm reading it? For now I'll rate it 2.5 stars because I did enjoy it by the end and I loved Grey, but these things are just too much to overlook.