This Cursed Light, the sequel to Emily Thiede’s This Vicious Grace, picks up six months after protagonist Alessa and her power-fuelled friends defeated the apocalyptic swarm of demons sent by the gods to attack their island home. Having almost lost her bodyguard-turned-lover Dante in the battle, Alessa is ready to put the traumas of the past behind her and live the happily ever after she’s always dreamed of. But it’s not quite that simple. Dante is haunted by the conviction that the gods aren’t finished with them yet. And without his healing powers, he’s not only vulnerable to external forces, but one kiss from Alessa could kill him. Which rather puts a dampener on their post-victory parade.
With Dante desperate to find a way to regain his ghiotte powers, and Alessa plagued by a growing darkness that threatens to consume her mind, their only option is to go in search of those who might have the answers. Enlisting the help of Alessa’s super-powered allies and her brother Adrick, they travel to a mysterious city where a community of exiles reside. Convincing the persecuted ghiottes to trust them is the first challenge, the next is persuading them to fight for a world that shunned them. As the gods’ final test is revealed, the Finestra and the Fontes are the last line of defence, and they’ll need the ghiottes if they’re to stand any chance of winning. Alessa and Dante once again hold the key to saving everything and everyone they love, but the sacrifice this time might be more than they’re willing to give.
A year ago he would have let the world burn. Now he had a month to save it. For her.“
When reading the sequel of any novel, it can often be difficult to remember the specific details of what happened in the book that came before. It’s been over a year since I reviewed This Vicious Grace and it did take a little while to reacquaint myself with the fantasy world, its characters and their shared history together. But, thankfully, Thiede’s characters are so well written and endearing that it doesn’t take long for the story to come flooding back. The back-and-forth bantering between Alessa and Dante was the first book’s biggest strength and it continues to be the sparkling highlight of this one too. Loyal, affectionate and compassionate, they’re a fantasy couple who are easy to love and even easier to root for. And though they spend a large chunk of the novel unable to kiss, it only adds to the smouldering chemistry between them. Those tender moments that transcend physical touch are all the sweeter because they show who these characters are as people beyond their attraction to each other.
Whilst This Vicious Grace was Alessa’s story from beginning to end, This Cursed Light has the benefit of a split POV, with Dante’s perspective claiming equal page time. Given this book centres so heavily on the ghiottes, Dante’s viewpoint is essential in understanding his people and their wild, bordering on reckless, ways. It also gives a greater insight into the steadfast bodyguard’s mindset too, showing us the people and community that shaped his formative years. If I loved Dante before, I’m quite besotted with him now. His protectiveness and unwavering loyalty towards Alessa make him one of the fantasy genre’s most genuinely honourable heroes (even though he’d never think of himself that way, which of course makes him all the more loveable).
Alessa spent most of the first book as an outsider. It made sense that she would gravitate towards Dante, another outcast. This book shows them as integral members of a devoted team and it’s lovely to see the characters working together, bickering good-naturedly and having each other’s backs. My main gripe with the first book was the lack of any wider world building and journeying to the city of ghiottes certainly adds another layer to the gods-given magic system of the story. However, whilst the world-building is expanded for the better, much of the novel feels like an extended montage scene of trust building and training for the upcoming battle. It’s cinematically fun but when it stretches across so many chapters, the pace stutters. Not a problem if you enjoy slow burn novels but there’s never a genuine sense of threat; it’s difficult to fear antagonists who only show up for the finale.
Even with the pacing issues and the absence of any real sense of danger until the big battle denouement, This Cursed Light is still a transportive and atmospheric romantasy novel, bolstered by its big-hearted characters, its witty dialogue (thank you Emily Thiede for yet more excellent innuendos) and a picturesque landscape that feels like taking a vacation to the shores of Italy. There’s a huge amount of warmth and love in this duology, not to mention a spirited camaraderie between the characters that makes them feel like a family. Complicated, yes. But what family isn’t? And it’s the found family at the centre of the story that will linger in readers’ hearts long after the book’s satisfying end.
This Cursed Light was published by Hodderscape on 5 December 2023