Whispers of Shadow and Flame

Book 2 of the Earthsinger Chronicles
By L. Penelope
St. Martin’s Griffin, ASIN: B07PBMJ2YX
Paperback, 489 pages. © October 1, 2019

In Lagrimar, where the True Father rules and Earthsingers are required to pay tribute with their gifts, the Mantle is about to fall. Plans for the takeover of Elsira are already underway, and no one can be allowed to interfere. Forced by blood magic into the role of assassin, Kyara is sent to find Darvyn, the most powerful Earthsinger in generations, and bring him back alive to add his power to that of the True Father. This assignment is like any other, until she learns who he really is.

Darvyn hides among the rebels, who struggle to bring down the True Father, and help those Earthsingers who’ve managed to escape tribute. He doesn’t trust Kyara, who appears suddenly at one of their operations, but something about her makes him hesitate. When he realizes that she holds the key to secrets from his past, he must save her at any cost.

Whispers of Shadow & Flame is the second volume in the Earthsinger Chronicles. Where Song of Blood and Stone took place solely in Elsira, Whispers puts us in Lagrimar. This story starts in Song’s past, and unfolds at the same time. The True Father still seeks a way through the Mantle, and Lagrimar is still rattling its sabers. That set me back a bit. I’d expected it to continue from where book one left off, so was caught off-guard when introduced to all-new characters. I’m not sure whether it would have been possible, though, to mingle both threads of the timeline and see the stories unfolding side-by-side. Such a book would have been enormous, for one thing. For another, it would have divided my attention too much to allow me to truly invest in the stakes for either story. So I see why it’s separated in this way.

The worldbuilding is well done in Whispers, with descriptions that made Lagrimar come alive in my mind. After seeing the abundance of Elsira in book one, it was quite an interesting contrast to see the stark reality of life in Lagrimar. Here, the landscape is dreary, unsettling, wasted. I liked that in both these books, there is a mixture of seemingly familiar technology with more primitive works—cart horses and automobiles, oil lanterns and electricity. I’ve not read much steampunk, but I imagine this setting would appeal to fans of that genre.

Even though they were totally new, the strong characters in Whispers didn’t take long to win me over. Continuing the fantasy romance theme, Kyara and Darvyn are natural enemies who get caught in each other’s orbit and find themselves drawn together by curiosity, physical attraction, and unexpected connections from the past. She is disgusted by what she is forced to do, and would welcome death if it would free her from the blood magic that enslaves her. He is powerful, yet guilt-ridden over those lives he could not save through the years. There’s a fair share of angsting here, as in book one, which didn’t thrill me but it’s part of the genre. I figured out early on where the story was going, yet author L. Penelope managed to surprise me a couple of times with twists I didn’t see coming. Other characters play equally essential roles, with their storylines all weaving together as the tale unfolds. The further I got into the story, the more it held my interest.

Penelope brings politics into this volume, too, even in places I didn’t expect to find it—but probably should have. But instead of the racism and anti-immigrant sentiment displayed by the Elsirans in book one, book two focused on the struggle of characters stuck in life-time roles they never asked for and would change if they could, and how they react when thrust from those roles into even less favorable circumstances. Loyalty and betrayal is not always easily recognizable. What you see is not always what you think it is, a lesson the characters have to learn under fire.

Romance and steampunk aren’t genres I would usually read. However, while Whispers isn’t really the kind of story that takes me out of my own skin and really makes me think, it was an entertaining read. If you like angsty romance set in a dark fantasy world, this series was written for you.