This kind of surprise can be a double-edged sword, though, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. When your expectations going into a book are “probably going to DNF this,” anything compelling will feel better than it probably actually is. With that said, however, I think there are genuinely some things to love about this series! Even with some of the uneven writing. (And apparently it is a HUGE improvement over the author’s first series, which I won’t be reading.)
I would say this is probably a new adult fantasy (and fantasy romance at that) rather than true adult. The hallmark of new adult fantasy seems to be plots that feel more YA but with adult themes. That describes this book pretty well, with the caveat that I found the plot interesting, and the worldbuilding intriguing. It just didn’t feel like your typical adult high fantasy. It felt like someone who had grown up reading YA was trying their hand at fantasy.
The main character here is Lore, who I thought was complicated and felt like a real person while all this crazy stuff was happening. Lore can channel Mortem, which is death magic, but the way she channels it is not like the way other people do. She is caught on the streets after reanimating her horse (Horse) and taken before the Presque Mort, an order of people who also channel death magic in service of their religion. The punishment for necromancy is death, but because she’s so powerful and has been working as a spy, the king decides to employ her as a spy as well. He tells her that he thinks his son is a traitor, and he wants her to stick as close as possible to him, and report back. He also wants her to interrogate some dead people, because entire villages have started dropping dead with no discernible cause of death.
Oh, and I forgot about the dead god! This is a world where the gods were once real, and the dead body of one of them, Nyxara, remains underneath the city, leaking Mortem into the world. The other gods bodies have long since stopped leaking magic, but Nyxara is still going strong. It is this magic that Lore has a link to, in more than one way.
Anyway, the majority of the book features Lore navigating the court of the Sainted King (and befriending the Sun Prince, Bastian, who isn’t as feckless as he wants others to believe he is). She also has a guide, Gabriel, a Presque Mort who has a history with the court and the prince. The court believes he is her cousin, but they really have the hots for each other, but can’t do anything about it because Gabe is INCREDIBLY conflicted and weird about his religion. Bastian, meanwhile, hits it off with Lore right away, and thankfully the ruse doesn’t last long on him, and the plot gets more complicated from there. Why is Lore really there? What is the King up to? And why are all of these people dropping dead?
Something random which I shouldn’t have noticed, but once I did I couldn’t stop thinking about it: The author does that weird thing contemporary authors do sometimes where we see practically every conscious moment of this character’s life, and we get to see what she eats and detailed descriptions of what she’s wearing (I think there were two moments where her actions were unaccounted for, and they were both small time jumps). And in all that detail, these characters never bathe, and they never go to the bathroom. If you’re going to overly describe where the characters are and what they’re doing, make sure to include these important details! There’s no way that characters being held in manacles for hours didn’t pee themselves. And the months this woman is at court without bathing! Lord, all the pretty lace dresses in the world couldn’t cover the stench.
I keep waffling on the rating. In the middle of the book, I wanted to round down to three, but at the beginning and end, I wanted to round up to four. But it’s definitely a 3.5 star book. I think for now I’m rounding down to three stars because even though I was intrigued by a lot of the plot here and the magic, I didn’t fall in love with the characters. It also didn’t help that I predicted the ending within fifty pages. She really telegraphed what she was doing, and I don’t think she meant to.