I received a free copy of this book as a judge for Phase 1 of SPFBO 2020. Some spoilers ahead.
The Power of Conviction is a fantasy that examines fanaticism, doubt, preconceived notions, and purity culture. It shows the dangers of blind faith and isolation from opposing opinions. In the beginning, the Priesthood was formed for a noble cause, to protect people’s homes and lives from demon attacks. But as time goes on with no room for doubt or dissent against the High Priest’s decisions and very little input from those outside of the Priesthood, more and more violence is justified for smaller and smaller offenses.
Seeing this gradual decline occur from the inside allows the reader to, alongside Anaya, realize how easily things can go off the rails in a closed community. For this progression to feel more realistic, I would have liked to see more details about how exactly things changed, including events from the High Priest’s perspective. As it was, it felt a bit rushed to me, as did the progression of Anaya’s doubt.
Anaya's turning point was primarily a result of meeting (and falling in love with) a demon. Once again, due to the length of the book, the development of this relationship was a bit too rushed for my liking, but for the most part I was able to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride. Towards the end of the book, however, this was no longer the case. Anaya's emotions bounced back and forth so fast they gave me whiplash, the conflicts and resolutions felt contrived, and I couldn’t get behind a couple that never actually talked things through.
Despite this, there were several aspects of the book that I enjoyed, including the friendships and community shown between members of the Priesthood. We got to see the characters celebrate and mourn together and welcome newcomers into their fold, which all felt genuine in itself and in the way that these events affected the relationships between characters. I also appreciated how the author gradually introduced us to characters’ strengths and faults such that even though at first some characters seemed too perfect and others blatant assholes, in the end I ended up caring for almost all of them.
I also liked the magic system established in this novel, though I would have preferred its limits to be better defined. I enjoyed the variety of types of demons that existed, each linked to a specific animal form. The magic was also used in a variety of ways, including enchantment of weapons and alchemy, both of which are approaches I wish I came across more often in fantasy.
I admire what the author was trying to do in this novel, but unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for me. The attempted moral ambiguity caused me to switch sides entirely rather than question whose side I was on, and by the end, events were progressing so quickly that they had little emotional impact. However, the novel did have a solid foundation of enjoyable characters and a neat magic system. I think an extensive edit and expansion of the latter part of the book would have drastically increased my enjoyment of it.