May Peterson contains universes – gorgeous, expansive universes that love words. The best way to enjoy them is to sink in and let them wash over you.
The third and final book in May Peterson’s The Sacred Dark series returns us to Vermagna and to Mio’s family. In a minor spoiler for Lord of the Last Heartbeat, Mio’s brother, Tibario, dies, but gets better, coming back as a cat soul – an immortal undead cat shifter. You should definitely read the first two books, Lord of the Last Heartbeat and The Immortal City because they are excellent.
The Calyx Charm weds high fantasy with romance seamlessly. Violetta and Tibario are the children of powerful enemies in a magical world with swords, witches, ghosts, undead shifters and dragons. Most in Vermagna know Violetta as Mercurio, the Honored Child, savior of the city, son of Lord Casilio Beneditti. Tibario is the eldest child of Seraphina Gianbellicci, who wants Lord Casilio dead and is willing to throw away her children to make it happen. Friends since childhood, Tibario realized he was in love with Violetta as he died. Having recovered, he wants to make a life with Violetta, but she has seen a future that shows terrible destruction and Tibario’s second and final death.
Violetta and Tibario are breaking free of their families and the roles imposed upon them. Their bodies have been useful for their parents, and because Violetta’s father is the head of state, her body has been useful to the state. From infancy, Violetta’s father has used her gift of prophecy and protection to uphold his own power. He is reluctant to let her be herself, separate from him, with her own agenda. He does not see a difference between his own interests and the interests of the state, and imposes his will on Violetta with violence. Parental bonds are hard to break and Violetta and Tibario struggle in different ways to establish their separate selves.
May Peterson writes beautiful and emotional prose. She keeps it grounded though with humor and curses. Her world building is sumptuous and detailed. The Calyx Charm is a relatively short book, but it feels bigger on the inside. Peterson weaves ideas of prophecy, dreams, reality, hope, despair, the savior child all grown up, into a beautiful and terrible world. Her world isn’t an easy or kind world, but her characters build families and magical pockets where they can be soft and tender.
CW: Threats of state violence against vulnerable populations, discussions of past sexual assault, discussions of past mental violation, discussion of suicide, murder, mutilation, and transmisogyny.
I received this as an arc from from the author, and from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.