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Saturday, October 6, 2018

'Heart on Fire' The Kingmaker Chronicles #3 by Amanda Bouchet

From the BLURB:
Who is Catalia Fisa?

With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin's role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step - reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn't kill her will only make her stronger . . . we hope.

‘Heart on Fire’ is the third and final book in American author Amanda Bouchet’s fantasy romance trilogy, ‘The Kingmaker Chronicles’ released in 2018.

Bingeing a completed series has its up’s and down’s. Instant gratification is always nice, and being able to feel intimately connected to the characters and story for an intense period of time … but unlike reading at the real-time release-pace, it also probably affords you more scrutiny of the series, when you’re able to take in all the moving parts as a whole and see how the long-game mapped out. In this sense, I’ve got to say that Amanda Bouchet’s third and final book in ‘The Kingmaker Chronicles’ trilogy falls maddeningly short. It’s not enough to taint the previous two books (I maintain that Book 1 ‘A Promise of Fire’ also works as a brilliant stand-alone!) but there’s no satisfaction in the end here, and that’s a frustrating note to leave on (for now).

One of the shortfalls of ‘Heart on Fire’ is actually that Amanda Bouchet has done too good a job with her secondary characters, and its highlighted in book three especially when I often felt more inclined to go off on their tangents rather than keeping with Cat. For one thing – it’s the Beta Team trio that I’m sure fans have come to love in Carver, Flynn and Kato. All of these men have had really full characterisations and future-journeys set-up, and they never work better than when off with Griffin and Cat on an adventure. So it’s maddening when Griffin and Cat go off on their own for a majority of this book, breaking the brilliant spell of camaraderie that had so endeared it previously. Never mind that the set-ups for Flynn, Kate and Carver are never followed-through, left dangling for readers to hope for a promise of spin-offs and more …

It was also the addition of a new secondary cast in Cat’s sisters Ianthe and Bellanca who joined at the end of Book 2 – these two are so fascinating, and while Bellanca’s set-up as a possible match for the world-weary brother Carver was a hopeful glint in the distance, Cat’s younger sister Ianthe strikes a truly fascinating bargain with leader of the cantaurs, Lycheron that is 100% worthy of its own series. Bouchet must have realised this somewhat too, because we get (a somewhat unnecessary) independent scene of Ianthe and Lycheron interacting and clearly loving that had me so desperate for the possibilities. And probably a sign that things weren’t concluding satisfactorily enough for me in ‘Heart’ was when Ianthe rode Lycheron off into the distance; I desperately wanted to follow after them and their story …

The last-half of ‘Heart on Fire’ was actually this really strange story of isolation for Cat, that introduced another new character who felt like there was more to them and he was being introduced so as to launch into something new … it’s maddening to meet interesting characters in the literal last-half of a final book. It’s not a cliff-hanger at that point, but a dangling annoyance. And further adding to this was the sad and frustrating end to one character, that also hints at more to come.

And while Bouchet has said she does intend to revisit the ‘Kingmaker’ realm with spin-off stories in future (something I wholeheartedly welcome!) it will be a while before readers get any kind of satisfaction, since Bouchet is launching a new series next year in the urban fantasy ‘Endeavor’ (described as Robin Hood in space). I would have been fine if Bouchet had left readers with such an unsatisfying conclusion if there was definite promise of those spin-offs launching from next year onwards … but instead we’re all painfully aware that she has a new series to invest her time in, so it’ll be a long time before we get any true satisfaction from the ending of ‘Kingmaker Chronicles’ and that’s not the half-full feeling you want to leave readers with in a finale.

It’s also that the Big Bad Arc was underwhelming executed in the end too. More a whimper than a scream, and it’s probably partly wrapped up in how many new characters had nabbed my attention, and how frustrating not knowing where favourites ended up that also dulled the final blows … but overall this was indeed a maddening wrap-up of poor pacing and patchy characterisation that doesn’t quite taint the series whole, but also doesn’t leave readers with a great taste at the end. A shame.


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