(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
When the body of Former Governor Turyat is discovered in the Red Happiness, QuiTai is the prime suspect. Surprisingly, she seems almost eager to be taken into custody. If Kyam Zul is to keep her neck out of the noose, he must solve the crime without her help – while matching wits with not only the real killer but his scheming grandfather, his political rivals, and his own wife.
[Full disclosure: I was sent a free paperback copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]
I loved The Devil’s Concubine. I adored the sequel, The Devil Incarnate. But this third book? There aren’t enough words to express the awesome-ness that is Tempt the Devil.
At first it starts off as your fairly standard murder mystery…except that QuiTai seems to have anticipated the murder in advance and demands to be arrested and taken to the fortress of Ponong. Kyam Zul, obviously puzzled, accepts when she dances circles around him with her wits yet again and then is devastated when he learns she’s being framed for the murder of Turyat. Of course, as with everything in Jill Braden’s stories, not everything is as it seems.
In many ways, you have to read Tempt the Devil a couple of times to really appreciate the depth of QuiTai’s plot but you can still get the gist of just how brilliant it was in the first read through. What makes the murder even more of a mystery is that we don’t actually see QuiTai’s point of view much until the end of the book when everything is revealed. Kyam has to struggle so hard to get caught up and his reaction when he thinks he’s too late is really revealing about his character and his feelings that he keeps deeply buried. I don’t want to give too much away, but the real murderer is someone so simple that it’s almost farcical. Still, the plot QuiTai cooks up around it is brilliant and will definitely set a precedent on Ponong for Kyam’s reign as Governor.
I would have liked to see more of QuiTai personally but of course that’s not the point of this particular chapter in the Devil of Ponong series. The point is that QuiTai is playing four dimensional chess and she’s playing to win but her opponent, Grandfather Zul is also playing a long and far-reaching game. It really ends up being an epic battle of wits between the two (by proxy of course) and it brings out some interesting new characters, like Kyam’s wife, a Thampurian woman unused to actually having anything resembling power or authority. Because of how this ended it will be very, very interesting to see how the social, political and economic situation in Ponong and other colonies of Thampur in the next book, The Devil’s Game.
When it comes to fantasy, you’ll be hard pressed to find any better world-building. In Jill Braden’s books there are actually things like politics, economics and social reform movements factored into the equation. They affect everyday people’s lives in tangible ways! Ponong is a very believable colony because it’s along a trade route and as such they are allowed certain liberties even as the iron hand of the Governor clamped down on the native population. Grandfather Zul’s interference in the colony to manipulate QuiTai certainly doesn’t help the separatist movement within Levapur either. It’s kind of hard to get a real hold on Jill Braden’s fantasy world but once you do it’s very easy to fall into and I appreciate the subtleties of it very much.
If you haven’t already picked up the Devil of Ponong series, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s not your typical fantasy book and even if it were, Jill Braden’s awesome writing and her characters would more than make up for it.
I give this book 5/5 stars.