This book is so good and honestly, it's a crime that it doesn't have ten times the reviews that it has. THE DEMON OF DARKLING REACH is an incredible story, with amazing world-building, set in a faux medieval world where demons and sorcery exist. The story kicks off with Isla's father announcing her younger sister, Rowena's, betrothal to a sinister and sinfully handsome duke named Tristan. Rowena is in love with a local lordling and throws a hideous temper tantrum; she's too shallow to consider the more sinister implications of her engagement-- that the duke does not seem to be quite human, and there are rumors of dark sorcery and cannibalism.
Isla volunteers to marry the duke in her sister's place, freeing her sister from the engagement and putting herself in mortal peril. At first, he seems coolly amused and condescending about everything she says and does, but after a while, he seems to warm to her. And Isla, always the awkward elder child, begins to find a voice to express her many frustrations with the oppression and cruelty inherent in their society's rules and religion, as well as finding the words to express her own feminist principles and concerns.
If you're a fan of Grace Draven's work, I think you'll find this to be a similar story. The romance is slow-burn, and Isla and Tristan discover each other as people before they discover each other as lovers. Tristan is not a misunderstood figure who has earned his reputation unfairly; he is every inch the monster Isla thinks he is, and his ability to hide that is like a bejeweled sheath around a lethal blade. Sometimes this book seems slow because of many info-dumps that are clearly the products of extensive historical research, but couched in those long descriptions are some insightful meditations on religion, philosophy, love, and gender roles; and in between all of the comedy of manners and the gritty and yet still charming rendition of a medieval village, there are some truly horrific scenes.
THE DEMON OF DARKLING REACH is a book that will appeal most to a specific audience: people who don't mind waiting for a good payoff, who like literary romances that are smartly written and dabble in TED talk-like bursts of information and trivia, and dark anti-heroes who don't fit the typical cookie-cutter mold of the derring-do hero with the chiseled jaw and innately good heart. I can honestly say that this is one of my new favorite romances and I can't wait to read the other books in the series. It's free if you have Kindle Unlimited, but even if you don't, it's worth the price tag.
4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars