Book Review: “A Cloak Of Red” by Brenna Gawain

A Cloak of Red: A Book of Underrealm (The Tenth Kingdom 1) by [Brenna Gawain, Garrett Robinson, Karen Conlin]
Cover of “A Cloak Of Red” by Brenna Gawain.

Warning: This book review contains spoilers for “A Cloak Of Red” by Brenna Gawain. If you don’t want spoilers, you may want to avoid reading this review.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “A Cloak Of Red” by Brenna Gawain! This is another book in the Underrealm literary universe and the first book in the “Tenth Kingdom” series. A free ebook version of this book was given to me in exchange for an honest review. I’ve read many, many books in this universe before, and I was happy to pick this one up (especially given the uncertain times we live in right now). Here’s the summary so we know what it’s about:

“Theren has only recently left the Academy for Wizards, in full command of her magical powers. But all the spells in the nine kingdoms cannot save her from the fate she fears.

Theren’s patron, Imara, sees her as a possession — a toy to be paraded before other nobles as a symbol of strength. Theren would do nearly anything to escape such a life.

Her resolve is tested when she is offered a position with the Mystics: warriors who serve the High King and serve her ultimate justice. But Theren has suffered punishment and torture from the Mystics in the past, and joins them only with the utmost reluctance.

As war rages across the nation of Underrealm, Theren and her lover, Lilith, must navigate treacherous waters. She will have to make peace with the redcloaks who have harmed her, even as she makes war against the rebels who seek to overthrow the High King.

And deep in the traitorous kingdom of Dulmun, she will discover a plot that could bring everyone she loves to a bloody, violent death…”

Plot Development: 4 out of 5 stars

Remember how in “Chronicles of Underrealm,” there were short stories written in the Underrealm universe by different authors? “A Cloak Of Red” is the first full-length book written by an external author (aka, not by Garrett Robinson). Because of this, I was a bit worried that character development and/or already established plot and worldbuilding developments would be messed with badly or retconned, but thankfully this book doesn’t mess with any of what has already been established. In fact, it actually works off everything that’s been established, and grows it all from there, including the overarching plot in general. It can’t be easy taking the reins of something already so-well established and taking it in a new direction, so kudos to the author for that overall, because she did a great job!

For those new to the Underrealm series and are starting off with this book alone, it will be harder to understand the current political situations going on in the book, as well as  certain plot points and established character developments such as Lilith and Theren’s established relationship, and Theren’s distrust of the Mystics due to past traumatic incidents involving them. I recommend reading at least the “Academy” series before reading this book, since the main character in this series, Theren, first appeared in the “Academy” series (that includes the books “The Alchemist’s Touch,” “The Mindmage’s Wrath,” and “The Firemage’s Vengeance”). A full general idea of everything going on in the Underrealm universe (aka read every single book that comes before this one was published) would be handy to have going into this book, especially as plotlines and stories from various series in this universe all start crossing over with each other to an extent.

The bulk of this book’s main plot focuses on the Mystics and Theren and Lilith training and working with them (with more emphasis on training than actually working with them for the first half to two-thirds, while the actual working happens more in the last third). The overall pacing of the plot lags a bit, at times, but it is filled with some wonderfully-written combat scenes, as well as Theren and Lilith’s developing romance. Even the travelling-to-and-from-destinations scenes are fun opportunities to read more into what the characters are thinking about the whole situation so far, as well as learning more about each other and themselves (especially in Theren’s case, given that the reader sees all of this through her eyes).

Character Development: 4 out of 5 stars

The main character of this series is none other than Theren, who was one of Ebon’s classmates in the “Academy” series. The reader sees events in Theren’s point of view, such as how working with the Mystics (who actually once tortured her) affects her,and how it affects her beloved Lilith, who comes along for the ride due to her own noble family connections (as the Yerrins are a rather powerful force, as established throughout this universe). The main characters are fun to read because of all of these new situations they get themselves into, as well as their reactions and attempts to make the right choices for both themselves and for others. I really loved reading Theren’s gutsy personality and see how she has to struggle with making peace with working with the people that once tortured her.

Those who have read the books in the “Academy” series will be very familiar with returning characters such as Lilith (who takes a secondary protagonist-role in this book, given that she goes along with Theren wherever she goes for various political and plot-related reasons), Ebon, and Kalem, as well as Dasko and Jia. Even familiar faces like Adara will be mentioned. However, we also get a taste of new characters as well, such as Vivien, Daro, etc., and all of them are definitely an interesting bunch to read in this book.

Romance Development: 5 out of 5 stars

Because the book focuses on Theren and Lilith as the main characters, this also means we the readers get more of their established-by-now romance—and this book certainly delivers! Not only are there many times for Theren and Lilith to talk current-situation-related things out as a couple (such as Theren’s decision to join the Mystics, etc.), but they also take the times inbetween all the chaos of the main events to consider what they want to do when things get better. Heck, their relationship progresses to the point that they’re discussing making a home together (which could mean a wedding in future books, who knows?) in the future. Though this progression may seem quick to those new to the series, one should keep in mind that these two were exes prior to the beginning of the “Academy” series and then got back together during that time, before the events of “A Cloak Of Red.”

I, as a reader, hopes that Theren and Lilith get the chance to really make a home together in later books. I hope neither of them die in this literary universe. These two are adorable to read in their romantic moments as well as how their relationship develops overall, and I have to give this romance a full score because of this.

Worldbuilding Development: 4 out of 5 stars

Most of the worldbuilding in this book expands on how the Mystics are trained and how they are organized, as well as giving more political background in the grand scheme of things. I also like how this book has more Mystics that are more sympathetic to the reader this time around, especially given that 1. Theren suffered from the Mystics’ torture in the past and 2. the general view of Mystics has either been on the “we trust them” field or the “we can’t trust them at all” field with not much room for considering the inbetween. There is a lot of depth on what kinds of codes the Mystics follow, how they’re trained and assigned to do the work they do, and so on. I’m very interested in seeing how all of this will be impacted by the current major conflicts going on in this universe, and how, in turn, this will affect Theren, Lilith, and other characters.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4.5 out of 5 stars!

This is a great debut for a new series in the Underrealm universe! As I mentioned earlier,  however, it would be wise to read the “Academy” series first before reading this one, to understand a lot of the general worldbuilding, character development and established relationships so far.

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