Fun Fact: My cover of “Poison Princess” is way less… neutral than the one above. A wavy-haired blonde model clings to a broody looking young man, a lá 90s romance novels. Which makes sense, I guess, since Kresley Cole also writes in that genre. It’s a fact I was reminded of over and over while reading this series.
Wait, no, hold up. Don’t write them off yet. That’s not a bad thing – far from it. There’s a lot of romance in these books, including a dreaded Love Triangle, but Cole manages to weave the issues into the plot organically. (And is there ever a lot of plot to work with!) I got invested in this series the way my bff gets invested in telenovelas: I’m a little addicted and care way too much about the lives of fictional characters, but I can’t stop. It’s dramatic and convoluted and wonderfully aggravating all at the same time.
=SPOILERS START HERE=
It’s the apocalypse. There are Bagmen (a.k.a. the BEST ZOMBIES YET), a plague, cannibals, and slave traders. There’s not much of anything left on earth, not since the sun spiked a massive flare in our direction and wiped out… basically everything and everyone except our protagonists and the above mentioned boogeymen. But it was totally on purpose, because the gods need an arena for their champions – the 22 Major Arcana of Tarot fame – to duke it out to the death. The last one left standing is immortal until the next game starts, a couple hundred years later.
Evie, the protagonist, spends the first book coming to terms with her powers as the Empress card. In “Endless Knight,” her history with Death puts everyone in danger. Reading “Dead of Winter” is how I learned that Kindle ownership isn’t all its cracked up to be. When Cole ends with a lethal cliffhanger (not literally), I was tempted to throw my book at the wall – but no. I don’t think my warranty covers “plot rage.”
This is a heavy load and a lesser author would probably get tangled up in her own web, but Cole’s got this on lock. Instead, a diverse array of characters with clashing motivations navigate centuries-old politics, the end of the world, and constant imminent danger. The plot moves along at a comfortably brisk narrative pace and my suspension of disbelief isn’t drawn too thin. Did I mention she does all this without info dumps or extensive “Previously On…” sequences? Yeah. I’m having so much fun I don’t even care that the protagonist can’t pick a boyfriend (
Fair warning: this series contains underage sex. That’s about all I’d really say about it; I can’t judge a book for being honest about what teenagers would do if parental supervision was literally a thing of the past. It also contains a limited amount of Questionable Relationship Behaviour; Evie is either several years or several centuries younger than Death (depends on how you count) and both of her relationships are manipulative to varying degrees. On a Creeper scale of 0 to Edward Cullen, though, neither boy rates above a Mr. Rochester and Evie doesn’t put up with much.
There’s gore and psychological/physical/emotional torture, but your average Game of Thrones reader would consider it pretty light fare. Cole’s plot twists are often foreshadowed by the Fool Card’s incoherent warnings, but there’s not much that can’t be sussed out or guessed ahead of time. Point being? This book didn’t make me work hard for anything, and sometimes that’s nice.
Three sparkly wands out of five, with the potential for improvement in later books.