In Thanopolis, magic is rare–and closely controlled. Those blessed–or cursed–with power are kept under constant guard, assigned to undead spirits who watch their every move.
Ever since her father died to save her from this fate, Rovan has kept her magic a closely guarded secret–until an accident exposes her powers for the world to see, and her tenuous freedom comes crashing to an end.
Brought to the royal palace against her will, and thrust into a maelstrom of intrigue and deception, Rovan is drawn to two people she cannot fully trust: Lydea, a beguiling and rebellious princess struggling against her own destiny, and Ivrilos, the handsome, powerful spirit she has been bound to, who can control Rovan, body and soul.
Together, they uncover a terrible secret that could destroy everyone in Thanopolis–the living and the dead. To save them, Rovan will have to start a rebellion in both the mortal world and the underworld, and find a way to trust the princess and the undead spirit vying for her heart–if she doesn’t betray them first.
Blood magic, revolution, and queer romance collide in A. M. Strickland’s In the Ravenous Dark. What can I say about this Greek-inspired dark fantasy? It has a little bit of everything: vampires, dark conspiracies, undead spirits, and a whole lot of death. It’s incredibly intriguing from the first few pages. The book wastes no time dropping us directly into the action–and betrayal. Within the first chapter, the main character finds her entire world unraveling and her secrets exposed. At that point, things escalate very quickly into a conflict that spans the world of the living and the dead.
As someone who appreciates messy characters, this book does not disappoint. Rovan, the pansexual mage at the center of a royal intrigue, is impulsive, reckless, and sharp-tongued. I enjoyed her immensely, especially as she failed to temper herself against the palace royals around her. Her behavior, while often frustrating, never feels unwarranted.
Ultimately, I wanted more time with the characters to off-set the breakneck speed of the plot. Given how interesting they all are, I wanted to see them spend more time together. I wanted to see more of Rovan outside of her romantic pursuits or the royal plotting. Given how quickly we jump into the story within the first few chapters, the fast pace of the novel prevents the opportunity for contemplation. Transitions happen suddenly, often with a character drunk or knocked out. Then, the story jumps ahead by several days to the next important thing. The book lacks many smaller, more intimate moments that happen in between the big plot points.
The characters don’t get enough time to be still, especially as the narrative bounces from dark to light and back once again. However, the tonal shifts aren’t distracting so much as incomplete. If anything, I wanted more of those moments. I wanted a chance to explore Rovan, her love interests, and her friends in greater depth. I wanted to see her interact with the court-and society–to get a better feel of how she fits into the story.
As a reader, love triangles rarely appeal to me. Most of the time, they end up far too one-sided and predictable. Fortunately, Strickland sidesteps the concept entirely. She lets the characters take a different approach to the “traditional” forms of romance and relationships with delightful results. It’s great to see a fantasy world not confined by the social norms and expectations of our own. Even as the book dips into the rigid social and gender norms expected of Thanopolis society, there’s no constraints against queer relationships or polyamory. The book treats them as casually as any other romance.
Strickland shines in her worldbuilding abilities. Thanapolis, and its death-obsessed culture, feels grounded and realistic. Heavily inspired by ancient Greek culture with some philosophical elements, the world feels lived-in. Often a lackluster part of fantasy books, I loved the magic system of In the Ravenous Dark! Blood magic remains appropriately grim while still intriguing. With their bloodlines inked into their skin, blood mages are then bound to “guardians” who keep them loyal to the crown. The outside population sees them as powerful while they remain leashed by the religious power of the crown. When Rovan seeks to save herself from her fate, she finds out that there’s a lot she doesn’t know.
While this book is technically classified as Young Adult, it fits better as a New Adult novel as it contains sexual content and darker elements. As the synopsis suggests, there is a lot of death, bloodshed, and gore. While it’s never seen on-page, sexual assault is mentioned in the book. However, I don’t feel that it is egregious in any way, especially considering how these elements tie into the larger narrative.
In the Ravenous Dark is lush, brooding, and magical. However, I felt like the ending was tied up too neatly and too soon. It didn’t feel as if the characters had time to process their choices and how the resolution would affect any of them moving forward. The complex plot might have been better served by expanding the story into two books. However, I do appreciate a good stand-alone fantasy novel, and In the Ravenous Dark accomplishes just that.
Overall, I enjoyed the story and found myself appreciating the care taken with developing the world. I’d recommend it for anyone looking for a good dark fantasy novel with solid queer representation and a unique take on the darker elements of magic.