I wanted to capture my Goodreads reviews here as well, and I promised to offer at least something about this one and the sequel.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
TL;DR: This is an excellent debut novel that is a wonderful blend of Middle Eastern mysticism and classical fantasy themes.
Mechanics. The story is told in first-person and switches between the perspectives of two primary characters: Laia, a young Scholar who witnesses her brother Darin being kidnapped by agents of the Martial Empire and sets out to rescue him, and Elias, a young Martial who has been planning to flee his brutal upbringing to seek his freedom elsewhere. Both face increasingly arduous odds and unexpected twists along the way.
Reaction. I’ve been dipping my toe into YA fantasy lately, and while I know that romance tends to be par for the course, I was pleasantly surprised at how it was handled in this book. Without giving anything away, there’s more than one love triangle in play, but all of the people involved have authentic feelings and authentic reactions. Nothing feels forced about these relationships, and moreover, it’s a big deal that Laia gets to own her agency throughout all of it, while Elias expresses a great deal of vulnerability that flies in the face of masculine expectations.
The story is clearly meant to begin a saga, but the way the story ends is pretty satisfying for the major elements of this first book. I had a ton of fun reading this, and just couldn’t put it down once I was fully committed to the heroes, and I’m proud to report that the second book (which I had to read before I could even sit down to review this) performs pretty well by comparison.