The Serpent & the Wings of Night
by Carissa Broadbent
480pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.31/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.33/5

As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Serpent & the Wings of Night is the first book in The Nightborn Duet, the first of three related fantasy romance duologies in The Crowns of Nyaxia series. After seeing a lot of praise for this novel and reading a bit of the beginning, I was looking forward to it. (I may have also been a bit more intrigued by vampire books than usual due to my favorite character from Baldur’s Gate 3.)

Yet, as much as I loved its beginning, I was underwhelmed by almost everything between its earliest chapters and its intriguing conclusion. There wasn’t much depth to the worldbuilding and characterization, and the overall story seemed rushed, especially the early stages of the romance and the tournament. (Seriously, I never realized trials to the death could be so dull.)

Set in a secondary fantasy world, The Serpent & the Wings of Night follows Oraya, the human daughter of a vampire king, as she competes in a four-month-long tournament honoring the goddess who created vampires. Held only once per century, the competition contains five trials that each represent a key part of the goddess’ life and ascension to divinity. Though only one contestant survives, there is no shortage of volunteers since the winner receives a favor from the goddess herself—and Oraya intends to become powerful enough that she’ll never need to fear being a human with tasty blood living among vampires ever again.

But when she makes a temporary alliance with one of her rivals, she ends up falling for him and starts to question her father’s ways, complicating everything.

The Serpent & the Wings of Night was a strange, frustrating book for me. It had such potential and there were a couple of things I loved about it, but other than the beginning and ending, I found it uninteresting. I thought this may have been due to reading it while I had a really bad cold and that I might have enjoyed it more if I’d felt better when I read it. However, I went through it again in order to write this review and was able to confirm that illness had nothing to do with my prior experience.

As I mentioned previously, the opening did hook me. One of my biggest disappointments with this book is that it introduces a couple of really compelling relationships in the prologue and first couple of chapters—that between Oraya and her father as well as her friendship with an older human woman—and the romantic relationship pales in comparison to these. I loved the prologue, which shows the vampire king Vincent finding Oraya, a lone orphaned child so fierce and determined to survive that he saw some of himself in her and wanted to protect her.

The father/daughter bond was by far the best part of this novel, and though neither of these characters were even close to the most complicated characters I’ve encountered, they had an interesting dynamic with at least some complexity. Even though the ruthless vampire king wasn’t a good person or a good father, he did truly care about his daughter and wanted what he thought was best for her, and his fears for her were valid. I appreciated that this wasn’t a simple, easy-to-define relationship, especially as Oraya had to reckon with the parts of her father she didn’t know about after having spent her entire life seeing him as the only one she could trust. (Unfortunately, the aforementioned friendship with the human woman isn’t as prominent and only comes up occasionally in memories after the opening.)

Much of the novel covers the span of the four-month-long tournament that has five trials spread throughout that period, and I thought the lack of worldbuilding and rushed pacing made everything related to the competition rather dull. Most of the individual trials only get a short couple of chapters or so, and they’re accompanied by brief infodumps about how they tie into the goddess’ life without making the mythology and her backstory feel like a big part of it.

That may be due to this being in the fantasy romance category rather than fantasy with romance, but even the central relationship seemed hastily developed. After Oraya and her love interest forge an alliance, it just glosses over all the training they do together, skipping over a lot of their getting to know each other. These two had a promising dynamic as a human raised as a vampire who didn’t really understand humanity and a vampire who used to be human and still tries to retain that side of himself, but though sweet, it wasn’t fleshed out enough to be interesting. (And I agree with those who think “There she is” was used far too much.)

Another reason I was underwhelmed by this was the lack of subtlety and depth given to Oraya’s competitors, making it quite clear who is trustworthy and who is not. Maybe my expectations were just all wrong, but given that this novel featured a tournament to the death, I was anticipating glittering danger, betrayals, and questions about different characters’ motivations. But it’s not about who Oraya can trust or whether or not she should trust some people—that’s far too obvious—but whether or not she can learn to trust after spending her entire life mistrusting and fearing everyone but her father. Maybe this would have worked for me if I liked Oraya more, but even though I admired her fierceness and determination at first, she didn’t have much dimension. Her characterization was limited to a small number of traits that kept coming up throughout the story, and these weren’t fleshed out enough to make up for these limits.

The writing was a bit odd for me, and I had such mixed feelings about it. It drew me in during the short prologue showing Vincent finding Oraya, which set up the melodrama of his greatest love being his downfall and how he should have known to protect his heart above all as a vampire. (What can I say, I love a good tragedy.) However, the fragmented prose that worked for me as part of an interlude did not work as well for me throughout a novel, and though there were some lovely parts on occasion, the prose felt rushed to me like everything else. It had a quality I don’t quite know how to describe since it was an unusual reading experience: it made me want to move ahead and not spend time focusing on it. This might sound like a positive aspect, but it just seemed to immediately slip away from me, and I prefer prose that makes me pause and reflect.

Although Oraya needed to stop and think about what she was doing more in the end, the conclusion did intrigue me since it seemed to be setting up more of the dangerous court politics I’d been hoping for. However, I doubt I’ll read the sequel since there’s still no real ambiguity or mystery surrounding character motivations by the end, and this didn’t have enough characterization or worldbuilding for my personal taste.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.