Review of Vanity in Dust (Crown & Ash #1), by Cheryl Low

I won a copy of Cheryl Low‘s Vanity in Dust through Library Thing.

Description from Goodreads:
In the Realm there are whispers. Whispers that the city used to be a different place. That before the Queen ruled there was a sky beyond the clouds and a world beyond their streets. 

Vaun Dray Fen never knew that world. Born a prince without a purpose in a Realm ruled by lavish indulgence, unrelenting greed, and vicious hierarchy, he never knew a time before the Queen’s dust drugged the city. Everything is poisoned to distract and dull the senses, even the tea and pastries. And yet, after more than a century, his own magic is beginning to wake. The beautiful veneer of the Realm is cracking. Those who would defy the Queen turn their eyes to Vaun, and the dust saturating the Realm. 

From the carnivorous pixies in the shadows to the wolves in the streets, Vaun thought he knew all the dangers of his city. But when whispers of treason bring down the fury of the Queen, he’ll have to race to save the lives and souls of those he loves.

What a lovely cover that is. I wish the book lived up to it. It’s accurate and all, there’s a well-dressed, handsome man and he drinks lots of tea and eats lots of pastries, but I didn’t love the book as I loved the cover. Now, I didn’t hate it. And for most of the rather plodding, slow book I held out hope I’d end it happy. But I did not. Mostly because a very small mystery developed toward the end of the book and it was solved, but the larger mysteries were never even touched on. Not touched on in a way that makes me doubt they’d be solved in a next book or one after that.

I thought the world was interesting. Magic is basically a drug, it suffuses almost every aspect of the wealthy citizens’ lives, making them vapid and useless. And you see this in everything from their attitudes, to their sex to the tea cakes and torts that constitute food. It was a well-drawn world. I thought the writing a little purple, but still good. The pace was very slow, but it was atmospheric and I didn’t mind until I realized it wasn’t going to go anywhere important. So, some really good points for the book, but a few demerits too.

I was annoyed that the one thing that spawned Vaun to action was his affection ( won’t call it love) for a woman. The one woman he previously has never been able to have. I HATE this plot device. You have a man who has sexual access to every woman in the kingdom practically. He’s a man-slut (they all are). But one woman won’t sleep with him. So, she’s THE ONE. So, she sleeps with him. I’m always annoyed by this.

But on a more world-level scale I was not happy with the use of bisexuality. At first I was really thrilled to see that bisexuality seemed to be the norm. But it really was just presented as a way for characters to have more sex (twice as many options for sexual partners, you see), and not explored at all. But what’s more, it was all inferred. Like, the author was willing to allow for it, but not brave enough to show it. Granted, most of the sex was off-page, but there were plenty of ‘waking up in bed together’ scenes and they were all M/F, except one, and I didn’t sense sex had been involved so much as one man coming into the room in the morning to avoid being seen elsewhere. So, it kind of felt like a cheap use of bisexuality, instead of a representation of it. Similarly, if they were all so sexually debaucherous, why was prostitution still so shamed? More so than a child-like woman who trolls the rough side of town for her rape fantasies and is still considered the only “innocent Vym.”

All in all, I had complaints, but I would have rated this quite a bit higher if I felt the overarching mystery was touched on at all, instead of set up to hover over the book like a giant spider and then ignored. I probably will give book two a chance. If it looks like it is going to move the bigger plot along I’ll finish the series. If it remains focused on the smaller dramas, probably not.

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