SPFBO Review: Air and Ash by Alex Lidell

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34397006This is the first of my SPFBO books, and I’m delightfully thrilled to say that it was pretty great, marking this as a good start for me.

I’m also very tired. More on that later. 😀

Born to privilege.
Trained for command.
Destined for danger.

After a lifetime of training, seventeen-year-old Princess Nile Greysik, a lieutenant on the prestigious Ashing navy flagship, sails into battle with one vital mission–and fails.

Barred from the sea and facing a political marriage, Nile masquerades as a common sailor on the first ship she can find. With a cowardly captain, incompetent crew, and a cruel, too-handsome first officer intent on making her life a living hell, Nile must hide her identity while trying to turn the sorry frigate battle worthy. Worse, a terrifying and forbidden magic now tingles in Nile’s blood. If anyone catches wind of who Nile is or what she can do, her life is over.

But when disaster threatens the ship, Nile may have no choice but to unleash the truth that will curse her future.

Gifted. What a crock-of-shit name for a disease. “Not a disease,” the physicians take pains to say, “Elemental attraction is a condition.”

I think they say that to make themselves feel better for having no cure.

This was a very interesting and well put together story, to be sure!

This is the story of Nile Greysik, who is the princess of Ashing. Ashing is one of 6 countries that are part of a League of Nations. The Lyron League are at war with the Republic of Tirik across the ocean, and this war tends to come to blows on the water more often than not.

Ashing is a small country within the League, but it is a peninsula surrounded by ocean, and it is known for its navy. The people of Ashing, even the nobles and royals, serve a mandatory time in military service before they reach adulthood. Nile has been at sea since she was 8 years old (which is more than is common, but she’s training to be in command). She is 17 now, and the mission that she is on goes entirely south, leaving her alive, but her ship sunk. At home, with the inadvertent help of her twin brother, who is suffering from a magical ailment with no cure, she realizes that her parents are planning to marry her off to the prince of the kingdom next door for political advantage. So, for want of her freedom and a cure for her brother, she flees onto the closest ship and pretends to be a common sailor.

But it turns out that not all ships are run as tidily as the one she served on, and not all captains are as competent as the one she served under. The Aurora is not a ship in the Ashing navy fleet, after all, but a ship in the joint fleet of the Lyron League, and is thus made up of people from all over the continent. At the head is Captain Rima, a man from one of the eastern nations who tends to let anyone on ship from the same clan as him get away with everything from shirking duty to sleeping. He’s also doing some shady dealings on the side, and can and will put the ship in danger in order to continue.

The only man really making the ship run properly is the first mate, Dominic Dana, though he is known as the Savage by some for his tendency to maintain discipline with fear and flogging, and he’ll punish anyone who is out of line. Including Nile Ash, the young woman who showed up on the ship one day, that he happens to know the real identity of.

But all is not as it seems. Not always, at least.

I started reading this one later at night and I really should know better than to start a book before bed, because if I love it, that decision will bite me in the ass at about 3 o’clock in the damn morning. This was one of those books that I read in one go, and damn all the consequences. I’ll say that about a lot of books, and it will be true right up until I drop my kindle on my face because I fell asleep. This was one that not only kept me reading well into the wee hours, but it kept me awake until I finished. Quite awake. I couldn’t even sleep for an hour after either because I had thoughts about this book I had to write down.

As I am the kissing book expert on Team Weatherwax, this one was sent my way because it is YA Pirate Romance. Looking at the cover, and reading the blurb, that’s not exactly an incorrect assessment. But, let’s assess further, shall we?

  • YA – It never sugarcoated difficult topics, or dumbed things down for a sensitive audience, like many books directed at a younger audience do. There is violence here. Some of it is directly against the main character, who is a 17 year old girl. Difficult things happen to Nile along the way, and she deals with them in a way that I definitely would not have at age 17. So, it is about someone who is young and therefore inexperienced with some parts of life, but doesn’t (at least, not to me) always read like it is necessarily written with young adults as the audience. But, nonetheless, I suppose if we’re being all nitpicky, and I guess that’s my job here, I’ll say that yes, it’s YA, but it’s the type of YA that is written without the assumption that young people don’t know shit about shit.
  • Pirate – This isn’t technically a pirate novel, as these are not pirates. They are legitimately part of the navy, and while the captain is doing some shady stuff on the side, I wouldn’t really consider it piracy. However, I don’t know if this author has +20 to researching skills, some bonkers good google-fu, or legitimately has worked on a naval vessel at some point in her life, because the nautical terms, naval commands, general ship duties, and every other part of day to day life on a ship, pirate or otherwise are spot-on or at the very least sound like they are spot-on AF. Let’s call it Nautical Adventure instead!
  • Romance – Alright, alright. There is legit a romantic subplot here, but it is that – a subplot. There is an actual plot of events here that don’t really suffer for having main-character-A and obvious love-interest-B make googly eyes at each other throughout. I mean, they do smoulder-eye at each other from time to time during the course of the book. A lot of the communication that isn’t forced or false between them is kind of necessarily through eye contact (and OMG I did not hate it. I am a sucker for the eyes ^_^). And this romance does resolve itself in the end, in a way that I, at least, was generally satisfied with. It is a slow-burning and sometimes maddening romance… that happens concurrently to an actual plotline that would stand up pretty well if the romance was removed from it.

So, today I read a nautical adventure novel about a teenage sailor who happens to have some warm and tingly feelings for a superior officer. You know. That old chestnut. ^_^

I loved the characters in this one. Nile is often snarky, but likable, and I cheered for her. She’s no waif, even when she isn’t at her best, and even despite being royalty, doesn’t shrink away from hard work. She values duty, and follows the rules, but isn’t afraid to do what is right over what is easy, or what is allowed. Dominic was a character that had depth, which I appreciated. There is good reason accompanying many of the things he does, and while some of those things can often seem out of character (or be somewhat infuriating if I’m being honest here) in the beginning, as his character becomes more fleshed out and you see the reasons for those actions, he becomes quite complex.

Catsper, the lieutenant of the marines on the ship, was awesome, quite endearing, and only got more so as the book went on. He’s mysterious, kind of a badass, and much more clever than he lets on at first. His marines, and some of the various midshipmen that call the Aurora home were also endearing, so it was always quite easy to find someone to root for during this story.

The antagonist(s) were very easy to hate (eye-narrowingly, irritatingly, maddeningly easy to hate, lol), which made rooting for the protagonists that I liked a pretty fun time. The events in the later parts of the plot made this one incredibly hard to put down, given that you tend to want the good guys to win the day.

There’s magic in this one too, and I really thought the magic system here was well thought out and made sense. The idea is that sometimes people, usually after having been very ill or injured, will become able to ‘call the elements’. They become more-or-less magnets to the element they are sensitive to, and in this world, that makes them ‘Gifted’. So, as an example, Nile’s brother Clay calls metal.

The downfall is that having magical powers here is not a good thing. In fact, it’s pretty much thought of as a disease. Not only are the Gifted generally shunned, but they pay a price for their gifts, and it’s pretty specific depending on the element. Metal callers, like Clay, pay with their minds. So Clay is not only in constant danger of impaling himself with any number of sharp things that he inadvertently attracts to himself, but since he manifested his powers, he has become severely intellectually disabled. Wind callers will suffer convulsions, if the wind they attract doesn’t blow out their lungs first. Fire callers will almost certainly burn to death. Water callers suffer from extremely thin blood, and the slightest nick might make them bleed out. No wonder Nile wants to find a cure for her twin brother, and when she starts to manifest wind calling abilities, herself. Before the obvious convulsions get her thrown off the ship.

So, we have an interesting world with interesting places within it, on a ship with some really likable and really damn unlikable characters on it that have to somewhat get along, with a magic system that is really unique! The writing style kept me engaged. There weren’t any glaring typographical errors in it. The plot was action-packed and kept me immersed in the book until the very end. This one one of those books I couldn’t not finish before sleeping. Clear my schedule, and by schedule I mean all the sleeping I could be doing.

My only real complaint with this one was that 3am me who reached the last 10 pages of this book was both happy with a thing that happened and then soooo not happy with the cliffhanger that immediately followed. Admittedly 8am me who has had a cup of coffee is more okay with it, but 3am me made a sort of groan of indignation. It certainly left me wanting more, either way.

I mean… I probably needed some actual sleep at that point anyway though. 😀

Okay, time for my score, right? Right. All told, I thought this one was an 8.5/10. The author has a cool as hell idea, executed it rather well I think, and I’m certainly eventually going to investigate what happened after this one. Because don’t think 3am me disappeared with that cup of coffee. Oh no. No she did not!

I’m going to start reading that one earlier in the day though. 😀

You can see this and other reviews of mine on my blog: superstardrifter.com 😀

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