by A.M. Strickland
Publication: May 18, 2021
I was quickly hooked as the book opened with Roven’s dad sacrificing himself to try to conceal Roven’s identity from the bloodmages sent to retrieve him and any family he might have. Some years after her father’s death, she reveals her powers to save someone. Her mistake leads to her whole world being uprooted. She is thrust into the palace and forced to conform to her new role, but she’ll stop at nothing to escape. While the book initially held promise, my hope began to unravel as I delved into Thanopolis and the palace intrigue awaiting Roven. Although there is a lot to like about the book, I couldn’t quite overcome the parts I didn’t like.
With its sigils, blood magic, and bloodlines, the magic system was primarily the most interesting part of the book. I was entranced by the complexity of the system and wanted so much more information than was provided. The powers and the role of the guardians–spirits who inhabit the world of the living and are chained to bloodmages–were fascinating. I wanted more details about the ability of guardians and how they became guardians in the first place. The process by which magic is passed from one generation was intriguing. Then there was also death magic, which was not explained very well because only those who served in the necropolis had full knowledge of what it was. Although I wanted more information, it was enough to momentarily pause my questions about how it worked. It felt like Strickland only scratched the surface of the magical system created, and more stories could be built around it in the future.
The world appeared Greek inspired from the structures to the language to the clothing but I couldn’t visualize much from the descriptions provided. The focus was mostly on the government in place and the magic system. Queer representation was present. One of the love interests Princess Lydea is a lesbian. Japha, who is the first to befriend Rovan in the palace, is non-binary, and Rovan is pansexual. While the world appears queer normative, there is still a perceived duty that individuals must procreate for it to be acceptable. Love between multiple individuals is also acceptable.
While I mostly stick to reading about monogamous relationships, the book deviates from my norm with a polyamorous relationship. I was curious to see how this would be written, and if I would be swayed to like one love interest more than the other; however, it turned out that the romance is likely one of the most disappointing aspects of the book. The problem doesn’t lie with the number of people Rovan potentially loves but in the absence of emotional depth in each relationship pursued. Lust and attraction immediately transform into deep affection with the word love easily escaping from the mouths of those supposedly having fallen into it. I, on the other hand, was still trying to understand how and when love happened. There were hardly any meaningful displays of affection and rarely passion beyond the physical to sway me of these sudden attachments. Because love serves as motivation for some actions characters take, it was difficult for me to overlook the romances supposedly taking place. Aside from familial relationships, the only relationship slightly believable to me was Japha and Rovan’s friendship. Needless to say, I was let down in the romance area. It’s certainly possible that had the book been longer the execution could have improved significantly.
The book moves at a fast pace, jumping from one event to the next. While this didn’t work well with trying to build a foundation for the story and the relationships, it worked fairly well with some parts of the final third of the book. The pace helped build momentum toward what was to come during the conclusion, but the actual ending was not as exciting as I hoped it would be. Due to the quick pace, there were limited opportunities to relish what the book had to offer, with its greatest effect being my lack of connections with many of the characters. I wasn’t invested in anyone other than Rovan, and it didn’t matter much to me what would happen to the rest.
As much as I liked the magic system, I was a bit disappointed by In the Ravenous Dark. The very beginning held a lot of promise, and I was excited to read it. The last third was also interesting. Despite enjoying parts of it, I thought it was lacking in certain areas, particularly the romance. It was difficult figuring out how to rate this because even with all the things I did like about it, I just kept thinking about how the execution was lacking. I compromised with myself and decided to put it smack dab in the middle.