Today’s book review is about THE FOXGLOVE KING by Hannah Whitten. It’s a dark fantasy with a dollop of forbidden romantic pining and more than a spoonful of death magic and debauchery.
Author: Hannah Whitten
Series: The Nightshade Crown, #1
Age Category: New Adult/Adult
Publish Date: March 7, 2023
Print Length: 480
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In this lush, romantic epic fantasy series from a New York Times bestselling author, a young woman’s secret power to raise the dead plunges her into the dangerous and glamorous world of the Sainted King’s royal court.
When Lore was thirteen, she escaped a cult in the catacombs beneath the city of Dellaire. And in the ten years since, she’s lived by one rule: don’t let them find you. Easier said than done, when her death magic ties her to the city.
Mortem, the magic born from death, is a high-priced and illicit commodity in Dellaire, and Lore’s job running poisons keeps her in food, shelter, and relative security. But when a run goes wrong and Lore’s power is revealed, she’s taken by the Presque Mort, a group of warrior-monks sanctioned to use Mortem working for the Sainted King. Lore fully expects a pyre, but King August has a different plan. Entire villages on the outskirts of the country have been dying overnight, seemingly at random. Lore can either use her magic to find out what’s happening and who in the King’s court is responsible, or die.
Lore is thrust into the Sainted King’s glittering court, where no one can be believed and even fewer can be trusted. Guarded by Gabriel, a duke-turned-monk, and continually running up against Bastian, August’s ne’er-do-well heir, Lore tangles in politics, religion, and forbidden romance as she attempts to navigate a debauched and opulent society.
But the life she left behind in the catacombs is catching up with her. And even as Lore makes her way through the Sainted court above, they might be drawing closer than she thinks.
I received a free advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
THE FOXGLOVE KING is a cryptic tale of the macabre interwoven with religious opulence. This new series by Hannah Whitten will pull you under with its rich imagery and mythology. I absolutely loved it. After reading S.T. Gibson’s A DOWRY OF BLOOD, I decided I have a newfound fascination with religious themes and THE FOXGLOVE KING fits that bill.
When entire villages die overnight, Lore, the main character, finds herself blackmailed into spying on the king’s son. Given her death magic is otherwise a death sentence, Lore accepts the bargain. As things always go, spying is never simple and soon Lore uncovers more questions and riddle than answers.
I found the religious system, which is also essentially the magic system, fascinating. The culture is polytheistic and each god has control of a specific element, such as life or death or an elemental magic. However, they revere one god, essentially the god of life, over the others. And that god bestowed upon a specific family his powers in their line of succession before ascending. This essentially mimics what our real, historical kings claimed is their divine right to rule. But others can channel death, which society fears, rather than reveres, and sees as a curse rather than a gift from a fallen goddess.
One prominent theme of this book is the contrast of luxury associated with religion and state compared to the paucity in which the rest of society lives. The fact that Whitten associates riches are with both religion and the state (king) is no mistake. This showcases how entwined each is with the other; there is no separation between the two. Moreover, this theme highlights the indulgences of the rich, in both a religious and literal sense. (For those unaware, an “indulgence” in Catholicism is “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.” Society commercialized and abused indulgences during the Middle Ages.)
Naturally, an abundance of riches and skirting around rules of piety leads to hypocrisy and and a reinterpretation of an established narrative directly from the god. Without going into too much detail, there is a way to stave off death that is illegal, even if it’s to help one’s family. But if one has enough money, then suddenly no one bats an eye.
There is also the theme of light and dark, synonymous with life and death, known as the law of opposites. I may be reading into things a bit too much, but as I think about it, it seems Whitten subtly plays with these themes in setting and clothing descriptions. Light and life equates to “goodness” and ruling (which is a patriarchy). Dark and death, however, relate to unnaturalness and deviousness. These also happen to be qualities and powers of a goddess fallen from grace. Thus, Whitten weaves in the undertone of the subversion of female divinity to suit the male power narrative. (This, in turn, reminded me of Mary McMyne’s THE BOOK OF GOTHEL.)
I’m usually pretty decent with predicting the turn of events in a book. But I genuinely had no idea what to expect in THE FOXGLOVE KING. I was purely along for the ride and utterly enthralled by this sinister story. I soaked up every word despite wanting to binge read it and loved the philosophical teasers and one liners about religion. There wasn’t as much romance as I expected, but hopefully that leaves room for development in the next installment. Regardless, I enjoyed reading about all of the main characters–Lore, Gabe, and Bastian–despite their flaws.
Overall, I absolutely recommend this book. THE FOXGLOVE KING is an iconoclastic sojourn that explores the effects time and power have on religion and rule.
Content warnings: gore, death
Reading format: Paperback (ARC)