Plot Summary (from B&N): The once glittering ballrooms of Regency England now lay desolate. A plague has ravaged the countryside. The government has fallen. What vestiges of order remained have been consumed by the endless funeral pyres.
Grayson, once the Baron of Harwich, sought only to protect his people. Rescuing a half-dead woman was not among his plans. But something about her pulled at him. Perhaps it was her beauty, still evident beneath the pallor of loss. Perhaps it was the recently fired rifle at her side. Or maybe he simply tired of death. All he knew was that the plague had taken too much already. He couldn’t let it take her as well.
Lady Juliette Adair had been ready to die with her brother. She didn’t expect to be shown mercy in a world that had no room for mercy. When Grayson saved her she questioned his motives but soon found herself intrigued by him, drawn to him.
Societal rules were a thing of the past, dead along with the ton. Juliette had no manner by which to measure her growing closeness to Grayson any longer. But when she discovers he may not be the man she thought she knew more is at stake than just her heart. The secrets she carries could make a king or destroy one.
Do I even need to talk about how right-up-my-alley this book is? Yes? OK:
- Smart, keeps-cool-under-pressure heroine? Check.
- Strong, sensible, also-smart hero with a heart of gold? Check.
- A plot that is mystery/romance/post-apocalyptic horror with a side of political intrigue and a heaping dollop of hope? Check, check, checkity-check.
- Stands the sometimes-tired genre of Regency romance on its well-coiffed head? Check.
K. Reed’s debut novel is an action-packed, tense, imaginative look at an alternate history in which the scattered remnants of a population are forced to navigate a world that has descended into horrific chaos, tragedy, and struggle. It also appears to be the first in a series, and while you know by now how we generally feel about that ’round these parts, I will say that there was enough resolution in this first story to balance the satisfaction of finishing one book, and the anticipation of reading the next installment, fairly well.
Far and away, the strength of Dark Inheritance: Fallen Empire is the overarching story. As I was reading, I caught myself marveling at the amount of plot that is packed into this book. The narrative is precise, with the right amount of detail; I never felt like the plot was dragging or that I didn’t understand what was going on, and the story’s pace kept me turning pages well past my bedtime. In addition to the storyline, I found Reed’s characters delightful as well. Grayson is an alpha-but-not-narcissistic-man-child hero, weighed down by his responsibility for and commitment to the people he has sworn to protect. Juliette’s level of mistrust edges very close to my “just TALK to him already!” threshold, but her behavior makes sense in light of her backstory and I quite enjoyed her tenacity. And unlike so very many Regency romance novels, the main villian in Dark Inheritance: Fallen Empire isn’t a pampered society princess or a cruel over-indulged rake: instead, these characters are forced to adapt, in their own ways and according to their own morals, to a world they never dreamt they would ever encounter. In that way, this novel shows a level of character growth and pragmatism that I didn’t expect, and it pleasantly surprised me.
While I have considerable praise for K. Reed’s storytelling in general, though, I thought the romance in this book could have been stronger. The love scenes between Grayson and Juliette seemed repetitive and cursory; I do love me some sexytimes in my fiction, but I started skimming those interludes after the first two or three because they started to feel pretty cookie-cutter. More variety, in both word choice and interaction, would have kept the romance more interesting. Also, something in the writing style, or possibly the editing, rubbed me the wrong way. The narrative felt choppy in places and slightly unfinished–short paragraphs, sentences that all belonged together but seemed to be in slightly the wrong order, and a few errors that could have been either vocabulary, or typographical (for example, “condensation” instead of what I presume should have been “condescension”)–but I noticed this more at the beginning of the novel. Either I adjusted to it as I read, or it smoothed out over the course of the book. Either way, it’s not egregious, but as something of a stickler for these things, it jarred me out of the experience at times. Since this is a first novel, I have high hopes that Reed’s style and voice will continue to evolve.
The Verdict: Dark Inheritance: Fallen Empire is a refreshingly different take on dystopian fiction, with strong elements of both mystery and romance. The engrossing story and intricate plot make this an ambitious and generally well-executed debut novel. I am looking forward to seeing the author grow, and the story evolve, in later books in the series. I give this novel four out of five guarded barricades.
- K. Reed’s website, with links to her blog, Twitter feed, and other goodies coming soon
- The virtual book tour, which we just missed!
The above post was based on a review copy of Dark Inheritance: Fallen Empire, provided by the author to The Readers Café. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.