Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “There’s a war coming […] I hope you choose the right side.”
Lila Merryweather, thief extraordinaire, has accepted her place in the Sinclair family as the family scion’s bodyguard but still plans on taking revenge on Victor Draconi when the time is right. He has to pay for his role in her mother and father’s deaths. Though she has taken great pains to keep her parentage a secret, when the head of the Sinclair family decides Lila will compete in the annual Tournament of Blades, Lila knows her days of anonymity are coming to an end.
A series of accidents aimed at the contestants of the tournament convinces Lila that someone wants to win at any cost. Add in an alarming number of troll deaths and a heavy suspicion that Victor Draconi is planning something against the other families and Lila is convinced that sometimes the scariest beings in Cloudburst Falls are human.
Dark Heart of Magic is the second installment in Estep’s newest fantasy adventure series. Heavily character driven with a strong youthful presence, Estep builds a world steeped in magic, mystery, and a hint of romance that seems to be settling itself comfortably right in the middle of her other two bestselling series. Fast pacing, humorous dialogue, and edgy action packed plot lines keeps the reader entertained as Estep revisits the most magical place on Earth and those that risk their lives daily to keep it safe for humans and supernaturals alike.
Estep has a voice for fantasy that is addicting. As always, I found myself falling down the rabbit hole with no problems, only to emerge sated and ready for book three. Her characters are realistic in their actions and attitudes; even being magically imbibed doesn’t automatically make them infallible. Though I wasn’t instantly enamored with book one, Cold Burn of Magic, due to the similarities to her other series, I found this one settled a bit and took great pains to emancipate itself.
Our heroine, Lila Merriweather, is an intelligent, street smart, somewhat anti-social seventeen year old whose destiny seems to lie with one of the ruling families of Cloudburst Falls, the Sinclairs. Her mother was a bodyguard for the Sinclairs before circumstances forced her to flee with Lila in tow. When she is murdered defending the Sinclair heir, Lila finds out her childhood is made up of a series half truths and omissions that can only be cleared up by the Sinclairs. Soon history repeats itself and Lila finds herself acting bodyguard for Devon Sinclair, the reigning monarch’s son. Though Lila is still somewhat of a loner, she seems to be adapting to having a ‘family’ to watch her back.
Estep advances the arc; giving us more intriguing hints to what exactly happened to her mother to force her on the run and the complicated ties that bound her to the Sinclairs and Draconis while giving us a resolvable conflict. The tournament games offer us more of a look into Lila’s personality and the fine line she treads between right and wrong. While her morals are skewed, Lila will always do the right thing eventually. Though she may complain about it. She is a teenager after all.
The cast of secondary characters only serves to further entertain and amp up the anticipation for what’s to come. Everyone has a secret- it only takes Lila asking the right questions to get the answers she needs. Devon Sinclair, the heroine’s unwanted love interest, ups his game and shows a great amount of patience when dealing with the intractable Lila. Mama Sinclair understands exactly what Lila is capable of and treats her with a combination of respect and concern. Max, Lila’s ‘handler’, slowly shares more of his life from the past, revealing his association with Lila wasn’t just because of his friendship with her mother. Oscar and Tiny are probably my favorite characters of the series with Oscar’s manic concern and Tiny’s acceptance of everything Lila.
The main conflict is an interesting who dun it that wraps up in a climatic finale. I did feel the tournament overshadowed the mystery somewhat and I wish the murder of the trolls had played a larger roll overall. Regardless, the ending is rich in tension as it reveals our villain and their reasoning behind the murders while continuing to brew up the war that is definitely coming to Cloudburst Falls. I definitely recommend this series to all ages of readers who enjoy action packed snarky YA Urban Fantasy with a strong abet vulnerable female protagonist. Bright Blaze of Magic, set to release April 26, 2016, is the final book in this trilogy.