If you’ve been following these reviews, you’ll know I review a lot of fantasy books. Without doing a headcount of my reviews, I suspect it’s the genre that I review the most. You also may have read some reviews where I discuss how varied the genre can be, and I’ll mention it again (perhaps my reviews aren’t as varied as the genre I’m reviewing). Fantasy stories, and even tales within its many subgenres, fall under a broad umbrella, in which a variety of different stories can be told. Depending on the tone the author is writing, they capture many different aspects, bringing different worlds to life in their own unique ways. Her Latent Charm, the first book in the Ambience Series, captures beauty. That isn’t to say Dana C Brentson’s novel is all sunshine and rainbows, but even in its darkest moments, vivid colours come through, projecting a sense of beauty.
As it tells the story of protagonist Lila, an “Ambient,” from which this series takes its name, it opens on a dark note as she is confronted with loss after loss. The power within her, the Ambience, is considered a myth by those in her home nation of Trylia. They believe it to be nothing but a fairytale; a pleasant story about a beautiful power. But for all the beauty of Ambience, Lila’s experience is anything but beautiful. It’s a force of nature within her, a destructive power she can’t control or understand. While reeling from the losses she has been dealt, Lila is captured, and soon finds herself fighting for survival alongside her captor, Bryn, while also learning to harness this power.
All the beauty Brentson captures through Her Latent Charm is exemplified through the book’s prose. The writing captures the beauty of Trylia, everything Lila experiences—even the uglier moments, of which there are many—and most of all, the Ambience. Brentson has filled the novel with beautiful prose that is in equal measure its strongest asset and its biggest weakness. Written in the first person, the prose feels aloof, constantly marvelling in the world and verbosely chronicling the events that transpire. Where first person narration is a wonderful way to get inside a character’s head, the beauty Brentson uses to present the story has the opposite effect. Unfortunately, I found this made it more difficult to connect with Lila. The style of prose would have been more effective if told through the third person.
At 370 pages in paperback (or an estimated 442 pages on your favourite eReader), Her Latent Charm is not a particularly long book, especially for a high fantasy. The primary reason for this is that it’s Lila’s story, told solely from her perspective. The book is longer than it needs to be—and dare I say, longer than it should be—on account of its prose. While the words that fill the book are a thing of beauty, it uses far more words than are necessary to convey its plot or describe its scenes. The prose paints a picturesque view of the world, providing the reader with all its sights and sounds, while also conveying the feelings about the world. It does a lot, but balancing purple prose with maintaining momentum is always a difficult task, and the novel leans a little too heavily into its prose.
With Her Latent Charm luxuriating in its prose, it feels as though it is moving at a slow pace. It’s a deceptive feeling, however, as the book moves at a brisk pace. There are plenty of twists and turns in the story, and as it continues and the threat builds, it maintains great momentum. The novel builds to its crescendo well, with the finale paying off nicely. For all its beauty, many of Her Latent Charm’s greatest moments are where the story is at its bleakest. The book doesn’t pull its punches; the losses Lila experiences throughout its pages are gut wrenching. There are several violent moments throughout the novel. These are all visceral as they put the reader into the moment, ensuring they feel every blow by bloody blow. For a novel that conveys so much beauty throughout it, Brentson has done a great job in ensuring the grittiness of it not only comes through, but does so in a way that doesn’t feel at odds with the story at large.
Lila’s story feels entirely earned. As she learns to master the Ambience, it doesn’t come easily. The scenes where she learns to master and control the Ambience are a great window into her character. So often, books where a character must learn how to control their power make the mistake of rushing through this, but Her Latent Charm avoids this entirely. Likewise, the romance subplot feels natural and earned. While it’s a slow burn romance that fits snugly within the enemies to lovers trope, it builds naturally, resulting in a story that’s fulfilling, particularly given events early in the book.
When a book focuses so heavily on its protagonist, supporting characters can get lost in the shuffle. It can feel like they are only there to further the main character’s story, rather than adding value themselves. Her Latent Charm‘s main side characters add to the story, in particular, Sam, the mysterious Ambient who helps Lila master her power.
As Her Latent Charm’s full title tells you, it’s part of a series. What it doesn’t tell you, however, is that it’s the first book in the series. If you’re concerned about starting a series, there’s no need for such worry, because the book stands almost perfectly alone. If future books don’t further Lila’s story, and instead focus on other Ambients—which could explain why its subtitle doesn’t include a number—her story can rest, and feel complete. The one aspect that doesn’t feel complete is Sam’s story, as it doesn’t resolve the mystery surrounding him. But this novel features the first chapter of the next book in the Ambience Series, Desolate Seasons, which looks like it focuses on Sam. I don’t know if it’s a full novel or not, but it promises an intriguing future for the series.
Her Latent Charm presents beauty and darkness throughout its pages. Although overwritten and longer than it needs to be, its prose is beautifully formed. With such a tight focus on its protagonist, her story feels entirely earned and rewarding.
Wind howled through the countryside, bending the branches of the trees and whipping the surface of the river into a frenzy as the light faded all around us. Cold seeped into my body to weigh down my limbs and stiffen my fingers and toes. With a small trickle of Ambience, I altered the air around us to keep the cold at bay. Even that small effort left me panting in the wake of such a strenuous afternoon. Every step was a battle to remain upright, and I could feel Bryn shaking beneath my arm.Her Latent Charm: The Ambience Series, Chapter 36
Her Latent Charm: The Ambience Series was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Her Latent Charm will be available in paperback, hardcover and eBook from retailers, including—but not limited to—Amazon, from 1 June 2023.
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- Amazon – To be added upon the book’s publication
Interested in purchasing Her Latent Charm?
Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.Her Latent Charm: The Ambience Series