Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Willow Aster’s Downfall is a tale of romance and woe. Set among royalty, this story illustrates the deals completed behind the scenes to ensure peace between royal houses. Unfortunately, there is a human cost to those arrangements, and that cost can be heartbreaking while also empowering.
Downfall tells the story of Eden and Luka. Eden is the daughter and princess of Farrow. Luka is the oldest son of King Titus of Niaps. From their early teenhood, they have been arranged to be married. Sent off to college, Eden and Luka finally meet, and Luka makes it clear to Eden that he is unhappy with their arrangement. He does everything in his power to humiliate her. Unfortunately, on a threat by a neighboring country, Luka and Eden are forced into their marriage earlier than originally expected. Out of obligation, Eden follows the plans of the families, but Luka makes it difficult. On the day they are married, an outside threat wreaks havoc for her family, and she is sent away with Luka and his family sooner than planned. During this time, Eden’s daily experience is difficult because Luka acts both interested in her and cold to her, confusing her. When a tragedy strikes her family, Eden must return home. Will she and Luke ever find her happy ending, or is Eden doomed to an unhappy marriage?
I picked up Willow Aster’s book in the evening on a Saturday night. Thinking I would only read for a couple of hours, I found myself engaged in her story. Downfall is the type of book with a story that compels the reader forward. I couldn’t put it down because I needed a happy ending for Eden. There is something so heavy about her experience in this book. Through all of the insult and, quite frankly, bullying, she maintains her sense of self. Even in her broken moments, Eden is a beacon of strength. Given the way in which she is treated as a pawn, it would seem impossible for her to maintain steadfast to her ideals, but she does so. And it’s inspiring.
In contrast, I was not a personal fan of Luka. Honestly, Aster writes him as an indulged, whiney lothario. You need to know that there is cheating in this book. While some would say that, given the arranged marriage aspect of the story, cheating seems permissible. In the context of Downfall, it can be painful. At least it was for me. Luka’s personality switches so often in the story that it takes most of the book to accept him as a partner for Eden. One minute, he acts as though he adores her. The next minute, he detests her and bullies her. While I wanted to read to the end for Eden’s happy ending, I also read for Luka’s change, for his growth. One of my favorite types of heroes is the ones who seem unredeemable who find redemption. Thankfully, Aster spares us heartache, and Luka’s growth becomes the second best part of her story.
This story is also a story of suspense. As is the case with most stories about royalty, there intrigue and pole-positioning for power. The dealings among royals are scattered throughout Luka and Eden’s story. It works as a tool to twist the plot in different directions. Thankfully, Eden’s family is the buffer to the torment of the story. Her brother, Jadon, is one of my favorite people because he offers her refuge when she needs it.
With the current popularity of bully romances, Willow Aster’s Downfall evokes a bully romance for royalty. That’s how I read it because, before Luka can fall in love with Eden, he makes her life exponentially difficult simply because he can. At times, I found my stomach clenching and tears wetted my pillow for Eden. I hoped for a happy ending for her because she endures much and is everything you love about a heroine: stalwart, fearsome, innocent, and loving, even when her hero treats her poorly. I’m excited for the other books in this series of standalones. I think Aster’s telling of a royal tale is just what the romance doctor ordered.
In love and romance,