Hi everyone! I hope you’re all doing well! Today I’m back with a review of a highly anticipated queer YA fantasy that I actually read with Bertie (if you haven’t checked out their blog you definitely need to!), and it was so much fun!
Title: In the Ravenous Dark
Author: A. M. Strickland
Genre: Fantasy, LGBT+, Young Adult
Synopsis: A pansexual bloodmage reluctantly teams up with an undead spirit to start a rebellion among the living and the dead.
In Thanopolis, those gifted with magic are assigned undead spirits to guard them—and control them. Ever since Rovan’s father died trying to keep her from this fate, she’s hidden her magic. But when she accidentally reveals her powers, she’s bound to a spirit and thrust into a world of palace intrigue and deception.
Desperate to escape, Rovan finds herself falling for two people she can’t fully trust: Lydea, a beguiling, rebellious princess; and Ivrilos, the handsome spirit with the ability to control Rovan, body and soul.
Together, they uncover a secret that will destroy Thanopolis. To save them all, Rovan will have to start a rebellion in both the mortal world and the underworld, and find a way to trust the princess and spirit battling for her heart—if she doesn’t betray them first.
I’ve had my eye on this book for a while – I love dark, bloodthirsty fantasy books and I love books with queer polyamory representation even more – and it definitely didn’t disappoint! In the Ravenous Dark follows Rovan who has hidden her blood magic for years, for fear that she will end up with a spirit assigned to her and forced to become part of the land’s army, after her father died so that she could keep herself secret. But, when she accidentally reveals her powers while saving someone’s life, she is taken by the royal guard and forced into palace life with a spirit tethered to her to keep her in check. But something isn’t quite as it seems and Rovan, desperate to escape to her father’s homeland of Skylea, enlists the help of a rebellious princess and the mysterious spirit she’s stuck with to uncover a deadly secret.
When I first picked this up I was so sure that it was the first book in the series, but after finding out that it is a standalone, for about the first 50% of the book I was so sure that Strickland wouldn’t be able to wrap all that the book encompasses up at the end of the novel. I was so wrong, and the second half of the book had so much action and so many plot twists that I was on the edge of my seat trying to keep up with it all! Something that was evidently strong from the start of the book, though, was the magic system. I adored how unique it was – there are two types of magic in the world and the main king (blood magic) that Rovan has control over is passed down through generations via bloodlines and is cast by drawing sigils in the air with your fingers. I loved how visual this magic system is and, although I wish we’d got to see more of the death magic, it’s definitely one of my favourites I’ve seen recently!
Another thing I loved about the book was the characters. Although at first it took me some time to figure out who everyone was, I quickly grew fond of Rovan, Japha (her new best friend) and the princess Lydea! Rovan’s voice was so witty throughout the novel and I like how Strickland took the often stereotypical image of the male fantasy main character who loves drinking and sleeping around and turned it on its head by showing Rovan enjoying these things in a much more healthy and sex-positive way! Japha is a nonbinary person of colour and I loved their flamboyancy when it comes to clothes as well as their hilarious comebacks. I also really empathised with their feelings of inadequacy, particularly when it comes to their father. Lydea was so strong and her confidence contrasted so well with her fear of being as ruthless and violent as her father and brother. I also really enjoyed the lesbian representation that we got from her – she honestly deserved so much better than what she got! As for Ivrilos – the spirit who’s tethered to her – ehhh I didn’t really love him. There’s a kind of hate-to-love romance between him and Rovan but I never really felt anything between the two of them. All of the romance in the book felt so much like it was told to us that it existed, but never really shown – and I think in this case, if it was perhaps a duology then it would’ve worked so much better.
As for the world-building and the plot, first of all I loved that it was set in an Ancient Greece-inspired world. Though I found it hard to imagine all of the clothing and armour that was mentioned throughout, that’s just me not knowing much about Ancient Greece in general, but I think otherwise, the worldbuilding was very well done! I’m loath to say much about the plot for fear of spoiling something, but rest assured, there are so many twists and turns that I ended up with whiplash by the end of the book, and there are some more gruesome and gory bits near the end, too, which I didn’t see coming but that I think worked so well with the rest of the plot.
Overall, this was a really great read and I’m so glad that Bertie agreed to buddy read it with me, because having them to chat to about everything really made the reading experience all that more immersive! If you’re a fan of darker adult fantasy but love the vibes of YA fantasy and some excellent queer rep, definitely check this one out on its release!