I received Promising Light (digital copy) as an early review copy from the author. The main protagonist is Grace, daughter of one of the king's generals, who has always led a pampered, albeit sheltered, life. At the opening of the story, we learn that Grace is involved in a secret relationship with Dar, a young noble from a family that Grace's father disapproves of, although she doesn't know why.
[Minor spoilers below]
Very early into the story, Grace is warned by a mysterious stranger that she needs to end her relationship with Dar, because it is "dangerous." Grace is confused, but Dar seems to understand the stranger's warning, and breaks off their relationship.
What seems like an extremely short time later, Grace begins a courtship with the prince, who seems nice enough. He asks her to accompany him on one of his upcoming trips. She accepts, but while on the road, Grace is kidnapped and thrust into a magical world she never knew existed. She learns about the history of Dar's family and why the stranger warned her to end the relationship. Soon she has to make a choice: her love for Dar or her loyalty to her father and the prince.
The story is mostly told from Grace's point of view, but it occasionally shifts its perspective between Dar and his cousin's wife, Sierra.
The premise of Promising Light is interesting. It has all the elements of a great story: romance, action, suspense, political intrigue, layered backstory, magic, an assortment of potentially likable or despicable characters. I kept reading because I was curious to see how the author would tie all the various strings together, and if the story would be brought to a satisfying conclusion. Ultimately, I felt the story resolved decently, although I would have appreciated a couple more chapters regarding the fallout of Grace's ultimate decision.
The problem I had with Promising Light was in the execution. Ms. Ward is a talented writer, but throughout much of the book, I felt like I was reading decent fanfiction, not a standalone novel. She often resorts to using Grace's inner monologue to ask questions she should be leading the readers to through the events in the story. Grace's incessant internal questioning quickly seemed to be an unnecessary gimmick designed to force readers down a certain path of thought instead of letting them find their own way there naturally.
Additionally, although many of the characters had the potential to be extremely likable, none of them really felt fully developed. Even Grace and Dar, whose relationship is the catalyst for most of the events in the book, didn't seem fully fleshed out. I never really understood how they were so motivated by their love, when neither of them even seemed all that sure they were really in love to begin with. They definitely enjoyed kissing each other, but Grace asks herself numerous times what her true feelings are for Dar, and he questions his feelings for her. Yet by the end of the book, we are suddenly to understand that they have a deep and true love, even though nothing seemed to really happen to propel their relationship forward.
Evan, Sierra and Matilda also had potential to be interesting, but since their mysterious history together is never fully explained, I didn't feel very connected to them either.
The numerous magical families were intriguing, but after a while, some of the magic started seeming a little too deus ex machina, especially when Matilda started to make people selectively invisible by "muttering a few words in the Cosa language." I am a huge fan of magic in stories, but the magic needs to have some sort of rules to govern it. The magic of the families in Promising Light had very few restrictions, and mostly all their difficulties were solved by finding a member of the magical family that has the particular power they're looking for - and these families conveniently never live more than a couple days away on horseback.
The shifting in POV was also mildly disconcerting. Sometimes the story would be told from Grace's POV for chapters at a time; other times it would shift around between Grace, Dar and Sierra for just a couple paragraphs. While sometimes the shifts were necessary to the narrative, at others there didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason behind the shifts. It actually felt like the author had forgotten whose POV she had started out in and switched to another character accidentally.
One comment more about the editing than the writing itself: the copy of the book I read contained numerous typos, to the point of distraction. Most of them were verb tense and pronoun errors.
Ultimately, Promising Light was a nice story with a lot of fun elements, that could have been great with some more character development and depth, and more believable world-building. If I was allowed to give a 2.5 star rating, that's what it would be, but I decided to round up.
I was honestly completely surprised by my reaction to this book. I was winding down from a bad day, and decided to just take a peek at the first chapter, to see if I was in for an okay read or a big stinker (I was in a bit of a pessimistic mood at the time).
Next thing I knew, it was past midnight and I had torn through half the book. The only reason I forced myself to put it down then was because I have small children who WILL be up at 7 am, no matter how late I stay up, and they don’t let me stay in bed if they’re awake.
Savvy was funny and sassy, and I liked her immediately. My heart went out to her poor fumbling spy-wannabe father, and I was guessing about the other characters right along with Savvy for most of the book. And the Parisian setting was a lot of fun, even though all the pastries made me ridiculously hungry.
The pacing of this book was very quick, and the chapters felt like they were just flying by. Each time I’d reach the end of a chapter, I couldn’t just stop there, so I’d read “just one more.” There is a good amount of action, escapes and intrigue, and while I predicted some of the plot twists, some of them definitely took me be surprise.
I did have a few issues with the book. The first (and I have this problem with YA heroines a lot) is Savvy’s willingness to just let things go, or not ask about them out of spite. Without getting into spoiler territory, I’ll just say that something shocking and potentially catastrophic will happen, Savvy will be consumed by curiosity…and then someone with the power to clue her into what’s going on will annoy her, then offer her the missing information. And she will pass, because she’s being spiteful. I kind of wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her. Doesn’t the knowledge of why someone is trying to kill you trump your bruised ego? Apparently not.
Also, I found Savvy’s reactions to the romantic story line far-fetched. One minute she’s cowering in fear, afraid that her discovery could lead to her torture or death, and the next minute she’s…kissing? I could buy it if it was done in a spy-like way, using her feminine wiles to get herself out of a tricky situation, but that’s not the way it happens. Instead, she seems totally at the mercy of her hormones, which are utterly oblivious and independent of her fear and anger.
I’m sorry, but even as a teenager, if I was afraid the boy in the next room kidnapped my friend and was trying to kill me, I am pretty sure my hormones would be dormant, if not completely extinct. I don’t care how cute he is.
And I was a fan of the crazy roller coaster plot right up until the end. A couple new elements were introduced to the story line close to the end of the book that I felt muddled the plot rather than helped resolve it. I would have been happy just learning who was trying to kill who and why, without bringing in new characters and associations.
But despite my complaints, they really didn’t do much to detract from my enjoyment of this book. I could overlook them because I was enjoying the pacing and the characters so much. This was a fun, witty, fast-paced book that I’m thrilled I agreed to review. Thank you, Laura Pauling, for having faith in a new blogger. I’ve now read enough great indie titles to know that indie does not = bad, and I’m glad I overcame my unfounded misconceptions to read this book. I enjoyed it immensely, and am excited to read about more of Savvy’s adventures.