Series: Cursebreakers #3
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.
I’m supremely conflicted about this one. A Vow So Bold and Deadly concludes the trilogy that has shot Brigid Kemmerer to amazing heights. Don’t get me wrong, I loved her prior works (particularly the contemporaries) but I’m not sure her fantasies have done it for me.
Here is why it just left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction and confusion.
Rhen (as a whole)
Prince Rhen, the OG character from book 1 and fan favourite prince. Unpopular opinion, but I never loved him. Not even from book 1. He’s just meh to be honest. Just another spoiled prince who had to learn that he isn’t the centre of the universe and a girl helped save him from his demise. Great. But his personality needs some working on, especially as we went into book 2 where everything goes to hell with him. Like literally. I have no words for how angry I was at the choices he made, even in the name for his country and people. He chose wrong, gave into fear instead of mercy, the latter which I consider a strength. He was a spoiled prince who had no understanding of what he grew up with, the luxury at the expense of others, and while I do not fault him for being sheltered, I do fault him for the choices he continues to make from a standpoint like he is owed something from the world after all the suffering he endured with the evil enchantress who cursed him. That people must listen and love him, it’s practically expected because he is PRINCE.
The narrative around Lia Mara
Here’s the other HUGE problem. Lia Mara, our protagonist in book 2, I absolutely ADORED. Another unpopular opinion, but everyone berates her for being spineless and weak. I think it’s the opposite and love that Brigid has created her in such a manner. Maybe it’s because of the big comparison between Lia Mara and Harper, our girl from book 1 who dives headfirst into everything and is fearless/reckless. But strength doesn’t always come from acting first without thinking. Lia Mara wants peace and to rule her kingdom with compassion. Are we saying we cannot be loving in order to be strong? Are we saying that love for others makes us weak? She wants change, and that doesn’t happen overnight so of course it seems like she doesn’t DO anything. Taking everything by force is EXACTLY like how her cruel mother had ruled for decades and she wanted to be nothing like that. I love this girl because it takes strength to be different, especially when everyone wants to tear you down and it’s easier to react in anger/hate.
Issues very present in Rhen and Harper’s relationship
Back to Rhen and Harper. Even in this book, I was afraid what they would be like. I like Harper more, but she confuses me too with regards to her relationship with Rhen. I will touch more on that later. But Rhen feels regret in some ways for what he did to Grey in book 2, but he’s not the guy I at least mildly liked in the beginning. Together with Harper, they spur each other on in reckless behaviour disguised as heroism. They may have great intentions, but how one goes about doing it matters and should matter too.
“You and Rhen are drawn to such extremes – of heroism, of generosity, of rescue, Harper – yet you both seem determined to accomplish these feats without assistance, without even the consideration of how your acts will be viewed by those around you.”
I can appreciate Harper’s strength at times in her fearlessness when it doesn’t border absolute recklessness, and her ability to keep fighting even when others would’ve given up. What I can’t understand or appreciate is how she sticks by Rhen when he does the most despicable things, like contemplating killing someone as an example or forgoing mercy by whipping people. She even wondered multiple times in this book if her staying with him even when her brother left with Grey was akin to their mother staying with their father with all his problems. I like that she doesn’t want to give up on him, but it perpetuates a dangerous idea that women can change a man by staying in a relationship with them. This is not true. The other person needs to be willing to change themselves or else you just end up getting hurt holding on. Many women have found themselves in such relationships for years and I don’t condone this idea, especially for a target audience who are generally young females. It doesn’t mean they are a bad guy, but her commitment to him isn’t set in stone or anything. Distance can be a good thing while he works on his own personal issues.
The exceptions among the characters
The only sane people in this book are Jake, Harper’s brother, and Noah. Or maybe it’s because I agree with them, but it’s nice that SOMEONE is acting rationally and compassionately.
“Harper once told me that when Lilith threatened to kill her and Rhen, you offered your life to spare them.”
I keep my eyes on the horizon. “I did.”
“I told you before,” [Jake] says. “Rhen had an eternity to be your friend, and he wasn’t.” He pauses. “He had time to be your brother, too, but he sent soldiers after you when he learned the truth.”
This book likes to ostracize the choices Grey made, particularly in Harper’s POV, but it made sense why he’s wary after being hunted by his brother’s soldiers, not willing to tell them he is another heir to the throne. He did it because he didn’t want to cause problems, yet everything that came to be was because Rhen acted on the information in a cruel way. Out of fear of the magic Grey holds inside of him.
I haven’t yet mentioned Grey directly, but from my defense above, you can tell I think fairly highly of him relative to the other protagonists. While he’s not perfect, he tried to do the right thing, whether spare Rhen a fight initially, or understanding why he got them whipped or giving Rhen time to prepare for war with Lia Mara’s people. He never chose the conniving way that deliberately meant to harm those he professed to care about. He had an uphill battle to fight here as he tried ruling Syhl Shallow, a land that hates the essence of who he is with his magic.
I will mention I’m not 100% sure why he wanted to rule over Emberfall as he is not equipped from birth for it. But that doesn’t mean he can’t learn, nor does it mean he doesn’t care about the people under him. From his character, one can tell he is a man of integrity, willing to fight for people to even the laying his own life for them, and fair in treatment of those he could consider enemies like Rhen’s men.
“Perhaps we stumbled on some luck that Grey encountered a soldier he once knew.”
“It’s not luck” Noah’s voice is steady, somber. “You don’t luck into that kind of trust, Lia Mara. You earn it with every minute you do the right thing. So does Grey.”
I personally think it makes sense for a bit of a change. Let Rhen rest from the burden, to be something else for once. His worth doesn’t have to be dependent on his title. And from his actions, it might take a while for trust to be rebuilt, that fear is not the way to inspire loyalty that lasts in the people you want to support you.
Other story elements that could’ve been better
So, I spent a lot of time on people and why I did or did not like them. The other stuff I will keep brief. At this point, I had a headache trying to trudge through the story. The pacing was dragged in some ways. While others may think there is a lot of repetition about what happened in the previous books, particularly book 2, I find it’s not such a bad thing if it’s been a while since you read the previous novel. Plus, it’s not like it’s a misplaced cut-and-paste segment just drolly telling you what happened previously like some boring recap. It fit into the narrative of how those events directly relate to what is happening now.
No, the pacing was slow because we get there’s not a lot of ACTION happening. It’s jumping from Syhl Shallow to Emberfall and back again. It’s just talking about their unresolved feelings that obviously, do not get resolved until nearer to the end, and being angry with each other (this solely with Harper and Rhen’s POVs). In Syhl Shallow, I enjoyed it more because there is an underlying mystery happening. Someone is trying to kill Lia Mara, and it’s hard to determine if the motive is for her in particular or because of Grey. There is also the tension of gaining trust in a kingdom that mistrusts magic and “gentleness” like it’s something you spit out. While in Emberfall, it’s just Rhen acting out (due to circumstances) and Harper reacting (in haste a number of times), and making up when it’s due to miscommunication (which was a lot of the time). I get Harper’s anger, especially initially, but to be fair, sometimes it was due to her ignorance of what was going on.
I think I ranted enough, and you have an idea of why this didn’t work for me. It may work for some, since I’m weirdly the unpopular opinion about this series and perhaps this book, but the values of Lia Mara and Grey mean more to me than what seems to be highlighted in Harper and Rhen’s POV, who are the two that everyone (minus me) fell in love with in book 1. I liked them initially, but that doesn’t mean I should continue to like them when they look nothing like the people I empathized with anymore. The storyline is also oddly open-ended so perhaps Brigid plans on exploring this place further. Hopefully with new main characters to follow.
(Should I put a disclaimer that this is an unpopular opinion?)
A Vow So Bold and Deadly concludes the “epic” trilogy following Rhen, Harper and Grey. My annoyance at Rhen’s actions in book 2 continues and amplifies in this one. Harper’s continued stance of sticking by him emotionally, even when he was clearly wrong in how he treated Grey and Lia Mara, I could not stand. It’s like their recklessness and pride are calculated as strength and self-sufficiency, but Lia Mara’s gentleness and Grey’s fairness are hailed as weaknesses. Only these 2 and Jake/Noah’s calm voices helped me get through this book. I wanted more about the lands they lived in, the history of magic banishment, and who the heck was trying to kill Lia Mara. Unfortunately, we get a 400+ page book about miscommunication, unresolved issues between the 4 protagonists and little action (even battling). I have so many unanswered questions – like those listed above – that have not been fully addressed. So if Brigid writes more in this world, I will pick it up, but I sure hope to God it’s not about Rhen or Harper.