What a compelling and well-written book. Truly. Bravo! I haven’t read a tragic, Gothic novel in quite some time, and I must say that this was quite the satisfying read, scratching an itch I didn’t realize I had. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 03/10/2020
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
In the blackened heart of a cursed forest, a banshee haunts her crumbling castle with lethal screams.
Lady Vago is trapped in this place. She cannot fulfill her purpose as a banshee: to warn her loved ones of their deaths and watch over them while they pass. To solve the mystery of her imprisonment, she must sift through the rubble and ruin that surrounds her. By communing with old paintings, broken furniture, and even the stones themselves, she rediscovers who she was in life.
Before she was Lady Vago, she was Rovena Stoddard, a sharp-witted horse merchant’s daughter that caught the eye of a charming baron. Lord Kalsten Vago’s life as a wandering knight was over, but it inspired visions of a better life for his most vulnerable subjects. Rovena was far less afraid of bold change than his staunch and loyal steward, who saw her presence as a threat to Lord Kalsten’s success. Love and shared dreams alone wouldn’t overcome the controversy of the couple’s hasty and unequal union, as well as the trials of governing a fledgling barony—Rovena knew that. What she failed to recognize was the deeper darkness taking root in Vago lands and hearts…
Every memory of what Rovena loved is a reminder of what she lost, but she cannot let grief halt her search. Devoted spectres of ash are begging their lady for an end to their torment, and she will not let their agony–or her own–go unanswered anymore.
The novel starts out with a frame narrative; the reader is introduced to a banshee, haunting the insides of a castle’s ruins, burned and destroyed centuries ago. The banshee searches the rooms, halls, and revenants for clues to her past, trying to understand her pain and why she is tied to the castle. Through her explorations, the reader is transported back in time to the events that lead to the banshee’s existence. She is Rovena, the Lady Vago, and the book tells the love story between her and Lord Kalsten and the eventual downfall of their lives and their barony at the hands of jealous and prejudiced attendants and a wicked villain. The use of the frame narrative here is quite clever, because the overall tone for the book is set from the beginning; there is a frame of tragic sadness if you will, such that when we learn the details of our heroes’ demise, the sadness is that much more profound.
There were so many things I thoroughly enjoyed about this book; a few of the highlights include subtle aspects of the world-building that made for a less traditional setting (e.g. a complete lack of gender norms, prejudices focused on class as opposed to gender or race, etc.), character building (especially Rovena), and the frame narrative. I was also struck by the prose. To me, the prose in this book is beautiful. It hits the sweet spot for me (a reader that prefers literary prose) of being “elevated” without coming off as pretentious. I truly enjoyed this writing.
Tragic character archetypes are superbly developed and employed. Kalsten is set up as the archetypical tragic victim; he is honest, open, fair, and madly and unconditionally in love with Rovena for who she was as a person and not simply her beauty, his only character flaw a complete (albeit naïve) trust in everyone around him. The construction of his character was so adeptly done to serve the story and tragedy as the true, undeserving victim of the entire affair.
Rovena is presented as the archetypical tragic hero whose fatal flaw contributes to the traditional (Shakespearean) piling of bodies on the stage at the end of the final act. She reacts too quickly. She is rash. She has a bit of a chip on her shoulder that amplifies her belief that she knows better than others and that she sees the entire picture, even when she doesn’t. That little bit of hubris combined with her rush to judgement and action, drove her to making these two decisions, which ultimately contributed to her demise. But that’s what’s so great about a tragedy, right? You love the hero, and the hero is most definitely wronged. But the hero is also fundamentally flawed, a contributor to their own downfall, and that factor makes that downfall all the more tragic. Chef’s Kiss
Finally, there is Dugan, Lord Vago’s steward. His jealously and prejudice were significant contributors to not only the deaths of Lord and Lady Vago, but also the fall of the barony. Although he was not the ultimate villain, he was the hapless antihero that paved the way for the true villain to seize his power through wretched means. For whatever reason, these characters always trigger my disdain more than the villains themselves!
It should be noted that the tone and foreshadowing of the frame narrative still do not prepare you for just how jarring the tragic events actually are. This book definitely needs content warnings (especially with respect to infant mortality), because of the graphic nature of some of the final scenes. There were a couple of times I thought – how could this get any worse for Rovena? And then it does. But, the scenes were purposeful and effective; I did not find them gratuitous.
I will read on in this series. In fact, I am champing at the bit for book two! I absolutely have to know what happens next and whether the noble, female knight will be able to wrest justice from the architects of Lord and Lady Vago’s demise. Well done! Looking forward to more!