If you’re in the mood for a classic-feeling fae-based YA fantasy, this will be right up your street!
Book: These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan
Publication date: 20th July 2021
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge via NetGalley. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Violence, injury, and death; death of parents (prior to story) a prominent theme; discussions and memories of being caught in a house fire; main character is given inhibition-lowering drugs and there is a subsequent sexual scene, though not with anyone related to the drugging.
Brie hates the Fae and refuses to have anything to do with them, even if that means starving on the street. But when her sister is sold to the sadistic king of the Unseelie court to pay a debt, she’ll do whatever it takes to get her back—including making a deal with the king himself to steal three magical relics from the Seelie court.
Gaining unfettered access to the Seelie court is easier said than done. Brie’s only choice is to pose as a potential bride for Prince Ronan, and she soon finds herself falling for him. Unwilling to let her heart distract her, she accepts help from a band of Unseelie misfits with their own secret agenda. As Brie spends time with their mysterious leader, Finn, she struggles to resist his seductive charm.
Caught between two dangerous courts, Brie must decide who to trust with her loyalty. And with her heart.
This is one of those books that’s quite hard to review – it’s so tropey it should by rights be annoying, but I actually had a blast. I was tempted to it by the concept of a thief needing to pretend to be a highborn lady to woo the prince in a contest, which sounded like it would hit so many of my favourite tropes, but the story took a different path almost straight away; less courtly shenanigans, more sneaking around with rebels. A flame-haired heroine with a sister to protect, mysterious powers manifesting, and a secret heritage; a dangerous throne up for grabs; a hot prince love triangle – you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a book from the heyday of post-Hunger Games YA fantasy!
In fact, the only thing about this that feels more 2021 than 2011 is how sexual it is. I am very much in favour of YA being sex positive and reflecting the whole spectrum of teen experiences, but Brie spends most of the book either ogling or touching the two princes, and the sex scenes are pretty much on a level with some of the adult historical romance I read in their detail. It’s not that I object to the content being there, it’s that it makes up a larger proportion of the book than some of the more significant subplots, and I think that’s fairly atypical for the YA bracket! You can definitely see the author’s adult romance roots peeking through. I am notorious for picking the wrong side to support in a love triangle, and this is only the first book in a duology, so I won’t tell you who I favoured, but you can probably guess if you know my opinions on friends-to-lovers and enemies-to-lovers romances!
The story itself (when not involving the love triangle) is fast-paced, and I really enjoyed the depiction of the Seelie and Unseelie courts. A lot of reviewers forget that neither Holly Black nor Sarah J Maas invented the fae, so ignore anyone who says these elements felt derivative; in fact, they draw nicely on a lot of older fairy tropes. Some of it was a little eye-roll worthy (you’re gonna call your fairy king Oberon? Really?) but honestly, if you just roll with it, there’s a lot of nice world-building here. There’s less court intrigue than I was hoping for, and the same is true for the heist vibes the blurb was giving me, but it’s easy to get swept away with Brie as she stumbles across
hot prince after hot prince secret after secret. Add a moustache-twirling villain and plenty of dramatic reveals, and the pages just fly by.
I may sound critical overall, but I had a lot of fun reading this! If you’re a fan of swoony drama, gorgeous gowns, and that classic YA feel, this is going to be a real hit for you – it’s perfect for fans of The Selection and The Cruel Prince. It’s not necessarily a book that will stick with me forever, but I’m keen to read the second part of the duology to see how it all pans out. Three and a half out of five cats.