A Guest review by Jenre
Summary review: The fourth book in the Lost Gods series is the weakest so far. Whilst the fantasy elements were as strong as ever, the romance lacked a little for me.
Nine gods ruled the world, until the ultimate betrayal resulted in their destruction. Now, the world is dying and only by restoring the Lost Gods can it be saved.
Verde is ruled by the mortal reincarnations of their Lost Gods: the Faerie Queen, the Pegasus, and the Unicorn, slain nine centuries ago at the base of their Sacred Oak. Every one hundred years, the tragedy repeats itself, plunging Verde ever deeper into despair.
Now, the Tragedy of the Oak draws near and Gael, the Unicorn, grows increasingly afraid because of a dark secret kept by the Three: If he cannot find a way to break the tragic cycle, the Twelve White Beasts and his secret lover are cursed to die right alongside him.
I’ve been greatly enjoying this Lost Gods series and was looking forward to reading this one. At the end of the last book, we had been told that the Faerie Queen of Verde was possibly the one who supplied the poison to kill the god of death, so that immediately gives the reader a clue that all is not well in Verde. At the end of book 2, Prince Ailill, who was on a quest to retrieve precious objects for the Queen, had been poisoned and returned to Verde to recover. This book picks up almost a year after the end of book three. Ailill has recovered from his poisoning and now feels an uncomfortable return to his duties as one of the nine white beasts of Verde. The people of Verde are shifters, ruled over by nine white beasts and three mortal reincarnations of gods – the Pegasus, Unicorn and Faerie Queen. In three months the ritual to restore the gods will happen but for 900 years the ritual has failed leaving all the white beasts and gods dead. As the book begins all is well with the triad of gods, but soon things begin to unravel as the white beasts are poisoned one by one, leading to civil unrest and unease among those left in the court.
As with the other books in the series, this book is full of lots of excellent world building. The story is more claustrophobic than the previous books with the setting being mostly contained to the royal palace with occasional scenes set elsewhere. I found this a little disappointing because, although the confining setting allowed for increased tension and paranoia in the palace, I’d enjoyed the breadth that a wider setting produced in the previous books. Although the romantic focus is on two main couples, there are a lot of other characters, especially the nine white beasts. Aside from Ailill and one other character, the white beasts were sketchy at best and I found it a little difficult to keep who was who straight in my head. However, I can allow that it wasn’t exactly necessary to know each of these characters in depth so I suppose the lack of rounded characters here can be excused.
As I said, the romance follows two couples. The first is Ailill and the character Ivan – or Vanya as Ailill calls him – from book 2. They met and had a brief romance in that book and it is rekindled here. Whilst it was nice to see them find their HEA, there was no real romantic tension between them because their romance had been established in a previous book. The second couple is that of the Unicorn, Gael, and his secret lover Noire, who is the ‘Voice’. The Voice carries important messages throughout Verde and is highly respected. It is also one of the few important roles which is chosen, rather than being born into. Again, their romance is already established as the book starts, and although their relationship forms a catalyst for other events in the book, there is still very little romantic tension. I missed this aspect, which had been very strong in previous books. There was another secondary romance which was also used to carry the plot forward but most of that happened off page. The main four characters were very well rounded and I liked Noire in particular. The author had done a good job in showing both his pride in his position and his anxiety because of his half-breed status. Gael was also a sympathetic character with the push/pull of his position and duty warring with his love for Noire. These two were by far the most interesting characters in the book.
What the story lacked for in romance it made up for in rather a tense and dramatic story which touched upon the theme of past lives, the inevitability of fate and how one spark of change can alter fate. The story builds nicely with a race against time to find the poisoner, whilst attempting to control a dangerous amount of civil unrest. It’s not difficult to work out who the culprit is, although the motivations are kept secret until quite near the end. In some ways I wish I’d had more from that particular character, but they remain largely unknown and quiet for most of the book.
The book ends on a dramatic point with the careful and effective use of flashback to get all the characters in place for the finale. There’s only one more god to go now before all nine gods are in place and I shall look forward to seeing the mysterious and greatly feared land of Schatten in the next book, Chaos.
Overall, this was a very good addition to this series but I wasn’t as engaged with the characters and romance as I had been with the previous book. Too many characters meant not enough time was spent on them all and so it felt a little flat at times. However, the worldbuilding was excellent as always and I liked the four main characters. Poison may not be my favourite book in this series so far, but it is still worth reading and I would recommend it.