The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles #3) by Mary E. Pearson
Since this review is for the third and final book in The Remnant Chronicles, please be aware that it will have general spoilers for the first two books.
For those of you who don’t know, Mary E. Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles follows the story of Lia, the princess of Morrighan who runs away from her kingdom to avoid an arranged marriage she does not want. She lives in hiding as a tavern maid, and comes across two men: one who is the prince she basically left at the altar, and one an assassin from the ‘barbarian’ kingdom of Venda who has come to assassinate her. Lia does not know which guy is which, and neither does the audience – at least, not for the majority of the first book. The Kiss of Deception was alright; Pearson obviously made a bold decision with shrouding two potential love interests in such darkly veiled mystery, but I felt the book could have had more potential had their identities not been hidden. Because of this, I was hesitant going into The Heart of Betrayal. I shouldn’t have been, because that one was a big step-up from the first book.
And now The Beauty of Darkness. Wow, I had not expected this book to do so many of the things it did. Firstly, I did not expect it to be a 700-page tome full of non-stop, fast-paced, heart-pounding action. I did not expect it to have this level of political intrigue, of shaded, nuanced romance, of such tremendous character development, as well as some kick-ass battle scenes that felt like I was back in a Lord of the Rings movie (for real).
Let’s start with the politics. The Beauty of Darkness begins with a weak, severely injured Lia being carried out of Venda in Rafe’s arms. Lia is fighting for her life, and with a squad of Rahtan sharp on their heels, Rafe, Lia and Rafe’s men need to make haste towards a Dalbretch outpost so they can get to safety. We saw Morrighan in the first book, Venda in the second book, and though we didn’t get to see too much of Dalbreck in this one, we still got a vivid picture of how the kingdom works. Pearson explores the meaning of duty, of honor, of one’s responsibility to their countries and kingdoms so brilliantly. These kingdoms are fractured and in desperate need for some good leadership; our characters are thrust fully into these positions, and they need to figure out where their loyalties lie. Rafe and Lia are wildly in love, but Rafe’s kingdom is still reeling from Morrighan’s ‘slight,’ considering Lia left the Dalbretch prince on the altar. Kaden and Lia are friends, but he is from Venda, a kingdom from whence an army rides to destroy Morrighan. The complicated web of politics and friendship makes this a deeply nuanced, deeply complex novel.
Speaking of the characters, I distinctly remember not caring about any of the protagonists in the first book. As you may know by now, characterization is of the utmost importance to me; if I’m not invested in the characters, chances are that I’m not invested in the book. But they grew on me in the second book- I was still cool towards Kaden, but Rafe had become a dearly beloved, and I was beginning to appreciate Lia for who she was. But Pearson kicked characterization up several notches in her finale; the sheer size of the book coupled with the amount of hardships they are put through resulted in a very flawed, yet very real cast of people. Their development is so clear and tangible that you can pinpoint what parts of them have changed, what parts have remained the same, and what parts they still need to work on. I have become so sick of characters whose flaws are also endearing, and Mary stays far, far away from that trope. These characters’ flaws are not endearing- but they are understandable, and they learn from their mistakes.
Rafe, especially, is a deeply flawed person. Burdened with duty and his carnal desire to protect the people he loves, he has the tendency to turn into a full-on douchebag. And he does a few times in this book, but simply the way his character is explored and navigated gave me a new appreciation for his strength. It gave me insight into his character that I never had before. Kaden, too, grew on me in this book. I never wanted Lia and Kaden to get together, simply because I didn’t think Lia had any feelings for him. We all know Kaden loves her, but again- just the way his love for her is explored is so brilliantly done that I couldn’t find it in me to dislike him. Lia grew from a ‘meh’ protagonist to perhaps one that I will remember for years to come.
The romance was handled wonderfully, despite it being extremely complicated and topsy-turvy. Lia and Rafe both have duties to their kingdoms- duties that aren’t so easily ignored. They are no longer farmer and tavern maid; they cannot abandon their lives to stay with each other because their kingdoms are desperately in need. They make some huge mistakes with regards to each other. Their romance is not an easy one, and they genuinely need to walk through fire to be with each other. And there are so many times in this novel that my heart was pounding in my chest because I was sure my ship was going to sink. Pearson keeps you on your toes, and she tells her readers that this series was never about Lia choosing between Rafe and Kaden. This series was always about Rafe and Lia, and if they could work it out despite all the obstacles thrown their way. And until the very end, you don’t know what their fate will be. You simply don’t. This ‘trope’ of commitment and devotion is so rare in YA, and it was such a refreshing reprieve from the “who will she choose” thing.
“Love didn’t end all at once, no matter how much you needed it to or how inconvenient it was. You couldn’t command love to stop any more than a marriage document could order it to appear. Maybe love had to bleed away a drop at a time until your heart was numb and cold and mostly dead.”
Of course, no book is perfect. It had its flaws. But perhaps the biggest problem I had was that the magic-part of the world-building didn’t interest me at all, and I found myself losing track whenever Lia’s “gift” was mentioned. I was so invested in the politics and the characters without the involvement of magic that I simply didn’t see the need for it. I had also hoped that I’d gotten to see more of Dalbreck; the Dalbretch characters introduced were so well fleshed-out and lovely that they drew me to the kingdom, and I simply didn’t see much of it. But apart from those minor problems, this book was a damn-near perfect conclusion to a series I didn’t have high hopes for at all. Well, Pearson proved me wrong, and up she goes near the top of my Auto-Buy list.