Serena knows a few simple things. She will always be owned by a warlock. She will never have freedom. She will always do what her warlock wishes, regardless of how inane, frivolous, or cruel it is. And if she doesn’t follow the rules, she will be tarnished. Spelled to be bald, inked, and barren for the rest of her life—worth less than the shadow she casts.
Then her ownership is won by a barbarian from another country. With the uncertainty that comes from belonging to a new warlock, Serena questions if being tarnished is really worse than being owned by a barbarian, and tempts fate by breaking the rules. When he looks the other way instead of punishing her, she discovers a new world. The more she ventures into the forbidden, the more she learns of love and a freedom just out of reach. Serena longs for both. But in a society where women are only ever property, hoping for more could be deadly.
The synopsis for this one totally drew me in. I’m a sucker for marriage of convenience stories and high fantasy, so this was a nice mix of both. I got sucked into the story right away and had a hard time putting it down. It’s a little slow moving, knew going in that it was the first in a trilogy so that didn’t bother me too much. The subject matter was pretty heavy though.
The world building was unique. The country of Chaldonia has some very backward ideas about women. They are treated poorly, actually that’s an understatement. Women are nothing more than property, and not property that is treated well. Our heroine Serena especially had a hard life with a very abusive father. They have no rights and are really nothing more than baby breeders and punching bags. It was disturbing, but even more so when you think of the countries and religions around our world that do treat their women in a similar fashion. It’s heartbreaking to know there are women out there going through similar things. I am glad that the author wasn’t overly descriptive of the punishments and abuse. You know what has gone on, but nothing is overly detailed.
The romance was a bit lacking for me. I thought there was a lot of potential for Serena and Zade, but by the end it felt more like a friendship. Knowing Serena’s background I appreciated that they take things slow and that Zade wants to gain her trust. I believe her response to him was accurate. Considering her background, it would take a great deal of patience to earn her trust. I could understand why she was on edge and waiting for punishments, since that is all she has ever known. His kindness was totally foreign to her. So, I do appreciate that a friendship has been built and will make a good foundations for something more. I’m a sucker for romance though and would have liked to have that aspect amped up a little. While I liked Zade, I do wish he was a bit more of a charmer, like the guys from a Marcia McClure novel. I would have liked to see him actually fall for Serena. They didn’t have much romantic chemistry. You know he cares about her and her welfare, but I’m still not sure if it is more out of sympathy for all she has gone through. When together they mostly just talk politics, which is one way to get information to the reader, but ends up lessening the romantic bond. IMO. (hide spoiler)] I think if the romance had been showcased more it would have lightened an otherwise pretty serious book.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is a downer, but it is definitely more on the serious side and the treatment of women is at times pretty disturbing. Again, nothing is overly detailed, but the overall mood is oppressive. I liked the end, the last chapter or so things happen that leave you happy and hopeful for Serena’s future. I am curious about continuing the series and look forward to seeing what will happen next. Overall, I enjoyed the book. I liked that it was unique and the characters were likable. The world building and writing was well done, easy to get into and hard to put down.
Content: Clean. Nothing more than kissing, but it’s clear a woman’s main purpose is producing heirs, especially male heirs. Some violent themes, but nothing overly descriptive. Some abuse, but again, nothing too descriptive.