Rating: 5 out of 5
Krista D. Ball’s The Demons We See (The Dark Abyss of Our Sins Book 1) is also found in: Beginnings: first novels in multiple series by Krista D. Ball (great way to figure out which of her series you might like). I don’t review a lot of fantasy, but sometimes it’s just too fun to ignore. This is one of those times. I already love Ms Ball’s “Collaborator” series, so I had to read more by her–the collection of firsts was perfect for that.
Allegra is the Contessa of Marsina. She’s also an elemental mage. The fact that she’s a mage is well-known; only her family’s wealth and position saved her from being tattooed or branded and enslaved. Almost no one knows she’s an elemental, however. Elementals are believed to be too powerful to allow in society, and many of them die within months while working in the mines. The general populace also believes that mages are created when a person has sexual congress with a demon. The fruit of mages’ sweatshop labors to create enchanted items is available to anyone with the money to purchase it. Allegra wants to stop this system, wants the inevitable war between mages and others to not occur. But she’s too afraid and comfortable to do more than send a snide letter to the Holy Father Francois, her childhood friend and now leader of the faith. Unfortunately for her, he decides to fire back with an offer to appoint her Arbiter of Justice, responsible for the peace talks. Both of them are surprised when a series of events causes her to accept the position. She doesn’t have much support among the Cardinals, but she has the help of Captain Stanton Rainier, a bona fide war hero who enjoys her for her wit, and his Consorts–the Holy Father’s personal soldiers. Will it be enough to stop a war?
Ms. Ball’s characters are her massive, shining talent. Allegra has a sharp wit and is quick with a verbal riposte, but she also has her fears and anxieties. When she’s forced to stand up for her beliefs in front of enemies, she’s terrified. Stanton is also fantastic. At first he’s unhappy about having to take on this responsibility, but he quickly starts to enjoy Allegra’s company. Truly, any character who shows up more than once is absolutely wonderful, from some of the more entertaining Consorts to an outlaw mage named Walter (or as he likes to tell people: “Walter Cram, Demon Lover!”) who has a history with Allegra. Even characters like Father Michael (the priest at the abbey where she lives) and her personal servant have personality that shows up even in small interactions.
One of the scarier things about how elementals are treated is that there’s no way to definitively prove that someone is or isn’t an elemental unless they happen to use their powers in front of you. So people weaponize accusations of being an elemental against political rivals, people whose property they wish to confiscate, and so on. It’s only a matter of time before someone decides to try that against Allegra.
Politics are not my favorite kind of plots, but Ms. Ball makes them interesting. Largely by giving those involved enough personality that their interactions are enough to carry the page count. Some of Allegra’s decrees have unexpected consequences–probably not surprising for someone who’s never delved into politics before.
I love the chemistry between Allegra and Stanton. And ah, I might have cried once or twice while reading this. Also, I stayed up two hours late just to finish this book because I couldn’t put it down. So, yeah, I’ll be picking up any other books in this series that I can get a hold of!
Content note for mild, brief sexual content.