As the latest in a long line of Finestras, Alessa Paladino’s gift from the gods should magnify her Fonte partner’s magical abilities making it possible for the pair to combat the demons that threaten the island of Saverio. Every Finestra and her suitor face the Divorando and its hoard of attacking demons during their time–usually working together to end the cycle before retiring and waiting to train the next Finestra.
Instead, Alessa has had three ceremonial weddings and three funerals for each Fonte–all killed by her touch. Reviled by the city, under threat from her own soldiers, Alessa’s situation is dire even without the looming threat of the next Divorando.
Desperate to stay alive, Alessa hires Dante–an outsider marked as a killer–who is willing to keep Alessa alive for enough coin.
Working with Dante, Alessa begins to understand more about her powers and how she might be able to use them without killing her suitor. But with Divorando approaching and demons at the gates, it is Dante’s secrets that might tear Saverio apart in This Vicious Grace (2022) by Emily Thiede.
This Vicious Grace is the first book in a duology set in a world reminiscent of Renaissance Italy imbued with magic. Alessa is cued as white although there are varied skintones among the citizens of Saverio. In a society where marriages serve to enhance magic, the relationships Alessa forms are more reminiscent of political alliances than traditional marriages although it is worth noting that same sex marriages are welcome and seen as commonplace both for magic and romantic reasons.
Thin world building and ab abrupt start do little to situate the reader in the story although Alessa’s peril and her desperation are immediately palpable as she struggles to control her powers. This character-driven story focuses heavily on Alessa and Dante with banter, flirting and what could be seen as a slow-burn romance if only the main characters had more convincing chemistry. In other words, This Vicious Grace has a lot of pieces that make an entertaining fantasy for patient readers.
Unfortunately, Thiede also makes some strange creative choices including the use of antisemitic stereotypes that continue to give me pause.
Spoilers to follow: