James Faulkner, the most powerful witch in the world is facing some pretty bleak times. Elise has been taken by her worst enemy and greatest nightmare - and he is at least partially responsible
She seems beyond rescue, but there’s at least his family he can take care of and get to safety… and some old friends who he definitely owes
But when even that derails he turns back to Elise - even is rescuing her may mean walking through hell itself
The last book saw a massive change in the direction of the series with the transformation of Elise and the exploration of her past, her purpose and all the plots around here
And this is the one that really follows those plots and tells their story by not even including Elise. Elise is lost for this book, a prison of the very god she was designed to slay. This story follows James and his early history with Elise, what the whole deal is with his cover anyway, their links to Netarayon and what they were actually doing all along
I… can’t say I especially like it. Though James showed a whole lot of growth and development from his early days, the fact the whole coven had a less than great history with Elise and that James in particular had a very fraught history really puts a whole very negative slant on all the previous books and the relationship between James and Elise which was such a central concept of the story
This was kind of the one thing Elise had. When everyone else died or fell short, she had her relationship with James was still there… even strained. And now it’s been very badly stained and I’m not sure it can come back from that. We learn that James has been magically fascinated by her since he first rescued her from the garden, from when she was 16 years old, vulnerable, terrified and traumatised. Yes it’s presented as magic compulsion but honestly there’s no way “I’m sexually enthralled by a fragile, helpless 16 year old who is dependent on me” can ever be a good look.
I mean he doesn’t take it to a romantic or sexual level at any time when she was so vulnerable and he did stop her when she did kiss him. And ultimately he did definitely develop real affection and emotional connection with her after several years together and we’ve already seen how powerful it is - it has been a cornerstone of these books. But because this is something of a revelation it means we’ve missed James fighting his “duty”, resenting his oath, trying to find loopholes et al that would have made this… an onerous duty rather than something he seems comfortable going along with
We also can’t ignore that he did end up having sex with Elise… and he didn’t tell her the truth first. Oh he agonised over it, apparently, but it remains that he didn’t - he slept with her without ever telling her he was magically compelled by her presence, he slept with her without telling her he was sworn to hand her back to god one day, he slept with her without telling her that far from being her saviour, he had been her warden for about a decade and he slept with her knowing he was going to betray her
I can’t see that as not undermining this whole epic relationship. I can’t help but feel like an epic part of these books have been betrayed and fatally wounded by this. That doesn’t mean the series is - but it means James now has some consequences to face and to come back from this.
I also don’t like what it added to Hannah - especially given how she is so disposed of in this book which felt less like a plot or character moment and far more about getting an inconvenient character out of the way (which along with Betty’s death and Elise’s mother being a not prevalent or great character and the generally male world that Elise already lives in adds to problems). In the last book we had James building a relationship with her, willing to defy this whole epic legacy to be with her. And then it’s like “magic Elise, what does Hannah look like again?” and that’s like, a line or two. And so ends Hannah’s part in James’s life? I mean, is that it? Is that all she’s worth?
While I’m not exactly thrilled with the wrecking job on Elise and James’s relationship, I do very much like James’s adventures, even with Malcolm (I actually like how they bounce off each other - clearly neither likes each other much, but there’s respect there and Malcolm is growing on me). He’s often somewhat in the background - but here we get to see what the often repeated “most powerful witch in the world” actually means with James and his likely even more powerful son. It was nice to see James step out and show just what all that power means and set the Union back hard before jumping on various dimension hopping quests to find Elise
But I also liked that the epic quest of isn’t-James-awesome was tempered - by both Nathaniel’s obviously equal if not greater power, him needing help and his own moral conflicts because the Union is far from an evil organisation - and the people who make it up cannot be killed with impunity. And I liked Alison - a witch he regarded with considerable contempt as being far beneath him managing to set back his ego quite perfectly. Yes he’s powerful, incredibly so, but even he has his limits.
And this part of the plot? It was epic. It was awesome, it was shiny and impressive and excellent to follow and made for a great story I really want to follow later
This book has given me lots of epic, lots of world building and some fun explorations on different elements of hell which is great fun as well as some nice visits with the old demons of Reno, I like that because these last few books have taken such a turn away from that it’s nice for a callback. And nice to see they’re not all dead
Which does remind us of interesting female characters Numa and Jericka who are also in a relationship - which would matter more if they appeared as more than brief helpers when James needs a leg up. Still I have hopes that this won’t be the last of them. Same with Bree, the naieve and I’m-slightly-suspicious-of new coven leader
We have some racial diversity among the Union but they’re not exactly super established or important characters. I actually found them more of a nuisance and distraction about half way through the book even with the massive and important damage Zetel causes.
This book leads me torn - I love the epic, I love the dimension hopping battling and I do like more of the world… I don’t like the turn of James’s character - or the revelation much. But at the same time I appreciate the plot hooks he brings and how, even in a book full of epic, there’s something meatier there as well which more will be built on in future