BOUND BY DUTY
After spending her whole childhood in seclusion, hidden away from the evil Queen Julia by her overprotective but emotionally distant father, Amelia is finally able to break away when she insists on leaving home for university. But, now exposed to the outside world, she finds herself pursued by mysterious people with extraordinary powers, and caught between her duty, and the life that she now knows is out there waiting for her – if only she has the courage to go after it.
Bound by Duty was published in 2014, and was Stormy Smith’s debut novel. It is the first book in the urban fantasy series, Bound, which continues in Bound by Spells and Bound by Prophecy (projected for release in November this year).
The premise of this book is quite gripping: Years ago, the evil Queen Julia killed off all the Elders – a powerful group of mages – but not before their leader was able to make a prophecy of her downfall, at the hands of a girl born of all “the five families”. Amelia is that girl, which I’m sure will come as no surprise to anyone who picks up this book. However, instead of trying to have her killed when she found her, Queen Julia arranged for Amelia to be betrothed to her son, the prince.
A lot of the book was romance-centric, but I felt that Stormy Smith did a good job in making sure that the romance didn’t overshadow the plot entirely – and Amelia probably spent about equal amounts of time agonising over her love life, and her duty and heritage, which was somewhat refreshing.
Amelia is the main protagonist in this book, and she’s a truly awful one. She’s whiny and selfish, and she throws ridiculous tantrums whenever she doesn’t get her way – and, worst of all, the other characters in the book almost always seem to act as if her behaviour is justifiable. She also has this incredibly hypocritical issue about people not telling her things (even when they have good reasons for it), but has no qualms whatsoever about hiding things herself – even when it’s important information that could potentially save their lives, and which she has no reason to want to keep hidden!
The character-rating for this book goes from “dire” to “okay” because of two of the side characters, however. The first is Micah, who was undoubtedly the most interesting character in the book: He’s initially portrayed as a rather sketchy character (and his backstory is something of a mystery), but he does his best to help Amelia out, even though she doesn’t fully trust him. The second character is Aiden, who spends the majority of the book seeming like your usual stereotypical dream-boy – wildly attractive, inexplicably devoted to Amelia, and distinctly lacking in the personality department – but towards the end, he began to show some promise.
There are a few other important characters, too, who I should probably mention – but none of them are particularly interesting, I won’t say too much: Bethany, Amelia’s beauty-queen best friend; Cole, her overprotective brother; and Queen Julia, about whom we’re told nothing, except that she’s evil.
ROMANCE & RELATIONSHIPS [1/5]
First off, you should be warned that the main romance in this story (between Amelia and Aiden) is heavy on the insta-love, which I know a lot of people find off-putting. I personally don’t mind it, as long as it’s done well (e.g. Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy), but in this book it really isn’t – mainly due to all Amelia’s annoying character traits that I discussed above. They just make the whole relationship seem incredibly shallow and contrived. The other romance in this book is that between Bethany and Micah, which seemed initially like it might be quite interesting, but unfortunately we never see much of them when they’re together.
As for the platonic relationships, the most prominent ones are Amelia’s relationship with her brother Cole – which is strained due to his long absence from her life – and her friendship with Bethany, which I found decidedly unconvincing: We’re constantly told that they’re the best of friends, despite the fact that, as first-years at university, they can’t have known each other for more than a year. This might be believable on Amelia’s part, since she’s never had any friends her own age before (except her brother), but on Bethany’s part it’s definitely not.
The prologue of this book reads like the introduction to an epic high fantasy novel, but this is misleading. The series is actually an urban fantasy, set in our own world, but featuring a hidden society of magic users who are divided into four races: Mages, Hunters, AniMages and Elders. Nothing about any of these groups is ever explained, however – we’re told that AniMages can turn into animals, that Elders are very powerful, and that all the Hunters are on Queen Julia’s side, and not much beyond that – and nor is the presumably-hidden world that they live in.
World-building is certainly something that I think there’ll be more of in the second book, but with fantasy series in particular, I really feel that a good amount of the first book should be dedicated to introducing the reader to this new world – something that Bound by Duty utterly failed to do.
The writing is probably the best thing about this book. There’s nothing that really stands out about it, but it’s incredibly engrossing, and it flows really well – factors which combined to make it quite difficult to stop reading.
OVERALL IMPRESSION [2/5]
An interesting, well-written story, which is, unfortunately, completely overshadowed by unconvincing relationship dynamics, and the most irritating lead character I’ve ever come across.
Fans of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series might like this, as the the books are quite similar in their attitude towards romance, and the writing was somewhat reminiscent of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s work (but less witty). The relationship between Amelia and Bethany may also appeal to those who liked Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, though Cath’s friendship with Reagan was portrayed much more realistically.