Embers of Fate
Series: The Fires of Treason, #2
Author: Michele Quirke
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: June 24th, 2022
Two months have passed since Elizabeth left Crompton Palace to join her brother Gregory in exile. Now she’s two months wiser, two months tougher. But the runaway princess is no closer to finding her footing beyond the palace walls- and keeping her identity a secret is becoming harder every passing day.
Fortune changes when Elizabeth meets Matthias, a pagan with a kind voice, a facial tattoo, and the most striking cerulean eyes she has ever seen. With Matthias as their escort, Elizabeth and Gregory find themselves far from Christendom in the heart of the dreaded Skuge Forest. Despite Balmoral’s pagan propensities, Elizabeth finds comfort in her new home- and her blossoming feelings for her rescuer. But when she learns of a prophecy that fates her to marry the village’s self-impressed chief, Elizabeth faces her biggest crossroads yet. Can she wed a man she can’t stand to secure her family’s place in their new home?
Or will she risk the wrath of fate to give her heart to a man she’d walk across hot embers for…even if he’s cursed?
Rating: Engaging, Solid characters
The First Review:
I received a free ARC of Embers of Fate. This has not affected my review.
Embers of Fate is a character novel with elements of a forbidden romance love story and a mystery (at least, I think so; I really haven’t read any mystery novels). Gregory and Elizabeth love each other as staunchly as ever, and none of their trials has made either of them regret having loved the other, but they are both very immature, and there are times that their relationship can get toxic. Greg finds himself questioning many of his decisions and unsure how he feels about many things, and his relationship with Elizabeth is complicated by the conflict within himself as well as by something more immediately related to their relationship: as long as he can protect Elizabeth, at whatever cost to himself, Greg has simply taken the cost and protected Elizabeth, but faced with the fact that there are things he cannot protect Elizabeth from, no matter how willing he is to suffer or work, he starts to put her safety before everything else, including understanding and loving her.
At the same time, Elizabeth is woefully naïve and immature. She does not think about the outside world and what it means. Some of this is not bad, and she has definitely matured in some ways. She no longer feels like bars of soap are an essential of life that she cannot do without, and she is actually able to enjoy herself and find the good in life under circumstances that would be terrifying and horrifying to most anyone else. One also sees the likeness between her and Greg, as she puts aside some of her prejudices and cares very, very deeply about other people. If their positions had been reversed, she might be a lot more like Greg, but while she has his compassion and strength of will, I’m not sure if she could ever have his sense of duty and responsibility (which I’m not actually sure is a good thing). She is utterly ignorant and unthinking about what her brother has suffered and done, and still apt to petty selfishness and thoughtlessness. At the same time, she refuses to let the demands of others crush her.
But the dynamic set up by Greg protecting Elizabeth from their abusive – not sexually – father, who so happened to be the King, and defining himself and his understanding of love as Elizabeth’s protector, while Elizabeth never realized what he was suffering, what he felt, or how he hurt, while idolizing him, will have to be worked through by both of them for their sibling bond not to be spoiled. Neither one of them may be at fault for their short-coming, but they both have to open themselves to the true needs of the other and grow together.
I have to say, I usually don’t relate to romances well, so I don’t have a whole lot to say about the development of the relationship between Elizabeth and Matthias. Just that Elizabeth is really kind and soft-hearted, and Matthias needs a lot of love.
And something isn’t right. Someone is lying about something, and whatever is going on in the pagan village of Balmoras is more complicated than it seems at first glance.
While I enjoyed Embers of Fate, I also found it somewhat disappointing. The Fires of Treason suggested something that I see very, very rarely, and really enjoy and look for. It’s possible that the third book in the series may return to that, in which case I won’t feel disappointed by Embers of Fate, since there’s nothing disappointing in it in and of itself, and I might like the books more for the turn the story takes in Embers of Fate. But, as it stands, I am slightly disappointed. To explain in depth would include spoilers, so I will do that in the next part of the review.
Also, I think I should note that I think some people may be put off by the fact that Elizabeth and Gregory, to greater and lesser degrees, make the same mistakes over and over and over again. However, I think this is a realistic portrayal of human nature and helps us get to know them better to see them fail in these ways.
The Continued Review (Spoilers are allowed to attend):
First, I’ll explain my disappointment and the situation that set up my disappointment. In The Fires of Treason, Greg is exiled because he only hung the leaders of a rebel army, instead of executing everyone per his father, the king’s, orders. Even speaking of what he did, he says to Elizabeth, “Everyone has a choice. I made the wrong one.” When he is banished, he repeatedly has people offer to get together an army in his name to reclaim the throne for him. Greg insists that it isn’t worth the blood-shed and eventually explains this in a way that makes Elizabeth understand. He renounces the throne, and eventually finds some sort of peace in accepting that this is actually an opportunity he’s always kind of wanted, to be away from the intrigue and mess that is Court. I was really, really hoping for a story that’s not consequentialist, that shows the ideal that one should make the choices that one feels are right for oneself, not that one should make one’s choices based off what other people will do. That one should commit a lesser evil instead of a greater one, or a lesser evil to prevent someone else from carrying out a greater evil. This explanation is, of course, simplistic. But I see these kinds of books, the notion that this way of life and thinking is not cowardice or naivety very, very rarely, and I’d like to see more of them. So I was really hoping.
In Embers of Fate, Gregory is consumed by bitterness and becomes domineering as he tries to protect Elizabeth and hates the fact that he actually isn’t strong enough, and torments himself with the knowledge of all the evil Bernadette is doing, because she sits on the throne (well, his father is still King, but she’s Crown Princess now) instead of himself. And he eventually finds some sort of peace in seeing that Elizabeth to safety and deciding that he’s going to go back and raise that army and fight for the throne. My feelings about this are not as simple as disappointment: I actually think this is a valid character arc, that has depth and feeling in it. Gregory’s character development taking this turn has a lot of sense in it, and I don’t even disapprove: my ‘idealism’ isn’t the notion that there is one right choice and everyone should live by the same set of values and make the same sorts of choices. I’m just disappointed because I was really hoping for something else, that I didn’t get. I was also hoping for some discussion of what exactly allows Bernadette to commit these atrocities. It’s not as if she does them all with her bare hands. As someone who has defied orders and been exiled for it, I expect that it might sometime occur to Gregory that if others would defy wrong orders, then these atrocities wouldn’t happen, and the real problem is people making the wrong choices. I don’t consider this a true disappointment at this point, yet. Gregory is working through a lot, most of the point of view is from Elizabeth, and the events in Embers of Fate are pretty stressful themselves. So I’m hoping this possibility may be explored in book three.
In fact, I’m not going to be actually disappointed before book three. A trilogy like this has to hang together, and everything is informed by everything else, both past and future. And even then, in itself the book isn’t disappointing. It’s more my disappointment in not being able to find something taking itself out on something that looked like it, and it’s not its fault, and it doesn’t make it worse, that it’s not what I held out hope it could be.
As for the rest of the book, I didn’t relate to the romance, but that happens as often as not. I enjoyed some of the interactions, I liked Matthias as well as Elizabeth and thought some of the scenes were pretty cool. This is a story that has a lot of just … life and interactions in it. Washing clothes. Baking treats. Going for a walk. Sloping (I’m pretty sure there’s a different word for riding a board down a snow-covered hill, but right now I don’t remember it). I found the book emotionally engaging, but there were times when I thought the interactions between the siblings and the rest of the village, especially Chief Erik, were a bit thin.
I already really enjoyed the relationship between Gregory and Elizabeth and how they start to try to work through their issues, and some of what I say here is going to be a repetition of what I said in the non-spoiler review. I enjoyed the portrayal of Greg, and I thought it was pretty interesting and touching on realities of human nature. Greg has defined himself and held onto himself through Elizabeth and being her older, protective brother, and as long as he’s been able to protect her he has not scolded her or tried to make her see that her actions have any consequences. Even when that’s meant he’s endured literal torture from their father. But that is a lot for a child to handle, and he has some deep issues, and now that he can’t protect Elizabeth from everything, since he’s defined himself around that, he’s tried to dominate her and becoming cynical and bitter. At the same time, Elizabeth, ever the pampered princess, has never noticed that actions have consequences or even such simple things as that work must be done to eat. She’s not so much idealistic (which I do not think is naivety, in case you haven’t noticed) as she is simply oblivious, and some at least of that obliviousness needs to be changed. She’s working on her idolatry of Greg (started, at the end of the first book), and now she has to come to terms with the fact she needs to work on her reliance on him, since he doesn’t actually exist to make life easy for her. Yet both of them absolutely love each other, and the purity of that core means they will eventually try to work things through.
And Greg isn’t always right while Elizabeth is wrong. In his desire to protect Elizabeth, Gregory tries to make her stay away from Matthias, who is supposed to be the Morken and cursed, while she’s supposed to be destined to marry Chief Erik (who is intolerable). Abandoning Matthias, who is a pariah excluded from social life and all friendliness, would be pretty cruel, as Elizabeth and Matthias both like each other (in more than one way) and Matthias has sort of rescued Elizabeth (though that was only because she got herself in trouble trying to rescue him first), and he’s already been the victim of a lot of cruelty. Now that he sees Elizabeth as being in danger, Greg starts to put aside thinking about what’s actually good for the goal of survival. And Elizabeth keeps on trying to connect and interact with Matt.
I also thought it was a neat portrayal of how someone can get things really messed up while having fundamentally good intentions, and how the problems parents have can propagate through their children, as Greg ends up taking on more and more of the flaws of the king while trying to take care of Elizabeth – or make sure she takes care of himself. And are his intentions fundamentally good? Does he even know if they are? I think they are, because he realizes the way he has been treating her isn’t actually love, while she realizes she hasn’t been loving him very well. And I admire her tenacity finding ways to meet Matt in secret.
Related to the subject of Matthias, the ‘mystery’ element of the book is worked out kind of interestingly, with Chief Erik being more of a dumb idiot with a whole lot of arrogance than an actual villain – the actual villain is someone else – and Matthias being the proper chief. This ties into the part of the prophecy that Elizabeth is destined to marry the chief, and I’m not sure what I feel about how it went from Elizabeth defying fate to be with Matt instead of Erik who she understandably can’t stand, into the prophecy always having said that Elizabeth would be with Matt.