REVIEW: In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder & Stoughton, for accepting my request to read and review this title via NetGalley.
In the Ravenous Dark is an ambitious standalone fantasy novel focused on life, death and love.
Rovan has always kept her blood magic a secret. Her father warned her that she needed to conceal her true identity, and after seeing him get killed in front of her the message couldn’t be any clearer to Rovan: if people discover her blood magic, she will die.
Unfortunately, she reveals her abilities and she’s left to deal with the consequences. Taken to the palace, Rovan is paired with a guardian called Ivrilos. Ivrilos is a shade: a spirit serving their country from the underworld. Rovan hates Ivrilos, as being paired gives him the power to control her actions and stop her from openly rebelling against the royal family. However, Rovan’s not the only one with a grudge against the powers in charge of Thanopolis, so rebellion might be possible after all…
A.M. Strickland combines blood and death magic in a luxurious Grecian-inspired setting. With characters wearing peplos, himation and chitons, and descriptions of marble buildings draped in greenery and flowers, Thanopolis is bound to stick in your mind for a long time.
As well as the setting, the cast of characters is superb. Ivrilos is a particular favourite of mine. It’s interesting when you meet a dead character, because there’s a lot of intrigue surrounding their back story. Finding out these answers from Ivrilos is a drawn out procedure which kept me engaged.
Two more characters who shone in this story are Japha and Lydea. Japha is non-binary, and they become Rovan’s first friend at the palace. Their on point fashion choices and sassy attitude make them a breath of fresh air in a fantasy book which isn’t afraid to dwell in darker moments. Meanwhile, Princess Lydea becomes (one of) Rovan’s love interests.
Rovan is troubled and acts childish at the start of the book, but that’s a powerful way of demonstrating the impact grief has on different people. Rovan was young when her father died and she was forced to grow up fast, using her blood magic to help her mother make enough money to keep their home. When we meet her, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol, spending as little time with her feelings as she possibly can. However, Rovan undergoes a dramatic amount of character development throughout this book. If you don’t like her at the start you will love her by the end. Rovan’s story has a lot of twists and turns which she has to learn to adapt to, and she’s very resilient.
Sadly, Rovan’s development felt rushed.
This is the only negative thing I have to say about In the Ravenous Dark: it shouldn’t have been a standalone. There is too much going on in this story – and this world – to cram it into 400 pages when it could have been fleshed out further and expanded upon. Rovan’s explanation of the sigil magic, the guardians and the bloodlines is compact, giving the reader all of the information that they need to understand this world in a remarkably short amount of pages.
I found it difficult to get my head around the magic system in this book when I first started it. That could have been my fault, as I read this at the same time as Ciannon Smart’s Witches Steeped in Gold. Unfortunately, there are similarities in the magic systems in both (one passed down from generation to generation after death, the other passed by transferring a bloodline – a literal line of bloody sigils – from one generation’s skin to the next). I hadn’t expected the two novels to have such similarities, but it does mean that if you have read and enjoyed either of these novels then you should pick up the other ASAP. That being said, I think the confusion would have been minimised if the information had shared a little less rapidly.
The short length also meant that I didn’t feel overly invested in Rovan’s relationships. Rovan being pansexual was a refreshing inclusion, and I enjoyed the discussions of polyamory (particularly the following quote).
“Even if they hadn’t been forced to be with anyone, and they wanted to be with more than one person… I wouldn’t blame them, either. We each have different gifts to offer, so why not share? Be a little beholden, but to more than one?”
Sadly, I thought that the polyamorous aspect was going to be a bigger part of the story than it was. I hoped the relationship would start before the book began, because Rovan meeting both of her love interests and falling for them over the course of the story didn’t feel realistic (especially not with everything else she had going on!). It detracted from my enjoyment of this book, as I wanted the enemies to lovers aspect to be a slow burn. Instead it seemed like a quick change of heart from both of the characters involved.
I can’t say all that much more without giving massive spoilers, so I’ll leave this review here. What I will say is that I wasn’t a fan of the ending, and that’s the main thing which contributed to my 3.5 star rating. The world and the characters were brilliant enough that I could have overlooked the rushed aspects of the plot, but unfortunately the ending wasn’t what I was hoping for.
If you’re looking for a book with a diverse cast of characters and a unique setting, I would recommend In the Ravenous Dark even though it wasn’t a new favourite for me.
Thank you for reading my review! If you’ve also read In the Ravenous Dark, please leave your thoughts down below.
See you again soon,