Trio Review: The Marek Series by Juliet Kemp (2018-2021)

From left to right, all by Juliet Kemp: The Deep and Shining Dark (2018); Shadow and Storm (2020); The Rising Flood (2021)

Genre: Queer Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2018-2021
Buy Links: Elsewhen Press

I basically read this trilogy in one sitting. In the city-state of Marek, magic is siphoned through a contract with a being called the cityangel. In the land of Teren, however, it’s done by blood-letting and demon contracts. The series focuses on Marek and its ragtag team of sorcerers and governmental officials. In the first book, there’s a plot to destabilize the government by replacing the cityangel. In the second, there’s a demon on the loose for multiply nefarious plans. And in the third, both magical and political conflicts come to a stressful head. Overall, the politics within Marek and Teren are intricate with a clear sense of morals, values, and compromises. The journeys these characters go on as it relates to the past and, more evocatively, with their parents, tug at the heartstrings. The magic is awesome and these characters will stick with me for a long time.

Join me on the blog on December 7th where I’ll be interviewing author Juliet Kemp.

Note: I had read free copies provided by the author, Juliet Kemp

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Deep and Shining Dark introduces us to Marek, a coastal city-state whose magic is siphoned through a being called the cityangel. Sorcerer Reb realizes that the cityangel has gone missing and has been replaced by a new person named Beckett. Meanwhile, Marcia is Heir to House Fereno and has lost contact with her sorcerer brother, Cato. Searching for this dismissive man brings Reb and Marcia together, but the conspiracy behind it all might just threaten the political structure and magic alike.

My favorite character has got to be Jonas. He’s from Salina, an island nation close to Marek which doesn’t use magic. He gets these flickers, which are quick views into the future which present a bit like migraines. He’s in Marek trying to solve the problem with the help of a sorcerer, but unfortunately gets roped in with the wrong one.

That tension of suppressing magic in the name of familial approval despite having a community hits so close to home. It’s an effective allegory of the queer experience but it totally fits in this work because queerness is the norm and it’s so tied in with the world-building at large.

That’s another thing that really shines here: there is a clear agenda and nothing is black and white. Marcia, though idealistic, has many things to consider when it comes to her relative inexperience with regard to being a House Head. It’s intricate enough when you’re just considering the trade policy and guild relations aspect of it. Throw in magical relations, and it’s a great mélange of competing interests that don’t get resolved with one big epic scene.

Content warnings: Gaslighting by a parent, blood magic

I remember having read an earlier version of this book, and I really had a blast reading the finished product. Marek is, on paper, part of a larger realm called Teren, whose magic comes from demon contracts and blood-letting. There’s a demon on the loose and one of their sorcerers seeks out help from Reb and/or Cato, the two sorcerers in Marek. This magical conflict isn’t so simple because there’s a Lord Lieutenant visiting with her own intentions in mind.

The most powerful moments in this book are the conversations between Marcia and her mother, and Jonas and his mother. Maybe because it hit so close to home to me. There are so many layers, from parents having to see their children as adults and their own individuals to ideals not lining up with the same tangible goals to the subtle refusal of acceptance. I love these characters. As a reader in their late twenties, it feels painfully relatable to me. So, this is also a perfect read for fantasy readers who want that sense of coming-of-age but with older characters.

With that said, my favorite has got to be Cato. He’s just so smarmy, but not without justification for his morally fluid attitude towards, well, everything. A lot of it is spoilers, but it kind of all starts with his politician mother disowning him as a youth for not abandoning sorcery.

Content warnings: Pregnancy, refugee crisis, blood magic

Plans and contracts march along as The Rising Flood begins. Reb and Marcia have a falling out over the Heir progression. Cato continues magic lessons with Jonas, while keeping an eye on Reb as a mentor through his partner, Tait. The demons are back, however, in ways that manifest as new arrivals from Teren, epic storms, and complex court intrigue that finally reaches a compelling tipping point.

Nothing in Marek is politically simple. The unraveling threads of governmental power come completely undone since we last saw them in Shadow and Storm. We have descension from within as the common folk voice their desire for representation. There are also refugees coming in from Teren, where demons might have been summoned to subjugate their own citizens into one political view. There are only five sorcerers, three of whom are untrained, to protect the people when the government won’t. These separate issues keep tensions high while not muddling the separate problems and discrete points of view. Kemp handles it with the finesse established in previous entries, keeping the book exciting even in more dialogue-centric pieces of the narrative.

But there is complexity among the more cinematic and literally magical moments. Though the magic is big and splashy (quite literally), it’s nice to spend time with it in an academic capacity that’s only been alluded to in the previous books. It’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a great vehicle for the nuanced concept of consequences presented throughout. Magic has consequences. Lying has consequences. Being vulnerable. There are so many touch points for this theme that really carried the emotional core of the book. These characters are maturing, even as things seem to be literally falling apart around them otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Trio Review: The Marek Series by Juliet Kemp (2018-2021)

  1. Pingback: My 2021 in Reading: That’s a Lot of Things, Jo | Jo Writes Fantasy

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