I have now read 8 of the 9 SPFBO finalists and I have most of my reviews are either totally finished and scheduled to post, or are in outline form just needing to be fleshed out. I hope to post one review a week ending with Fortunes Fool, the only one I haven’t finished yet. My scores only count for half of Superstardrifter’s final score for the board. Kristen and I have similar but not identical taste, so there’s a chance these scores will go up or down as she works her way through the finalists.
I read this book last year and already had a review ready to go, so I’m just gunna copy-pasta my old review from my Goodreads account.
This is a book with a dueling pair of younger POV’s. Lidan is a 12 year-old girl who’s the First Daughter of a clan chief known as the Daari. She’s one of 9 girls in the family she is technically the heir until her father has a son. Her father has four wives, but her mother is the First Wife and that should mean that she has the most amount of influence in his life, but she doesn’t. He’s taken a liking to his fourth wife, Farah, and it’s causing marital distress. To make things worse, it’s possible that Farah is pregnant with a boy. Lidan’s mother believes that this could be extremely dangerous for her and that she may end up dead or outcast if Farah ends up having a son.
Lidan and her mother have a very strange and strained relationship at the start, but it is clear that her mother cares for her and wants what’s best for her daughter. Lidan wants nothing more than to be a Ranger, she wants to ride a horse and go out with her father’s scouts. Her mother absolutely forbids this, and it’s the main cause of strife between them. Her mother has done a lot of work in the background carefully arranging things so that Lidan can stay the heir, up to and including poisoning the other wives that are believed to be carrying boys, causing a miscarriage. Lidan is finally let in on this secret, and she’s horrified. She begs her mother not to act, not to kill her brother because she’s certain that she will be able to prove herself a worthy heir, and convince her father to finally name her as heir regardless of the baby’s gender. Time is running out for her though, and to make things more complicated, strange monsters have been attacking her father’s ranging parties. The monsters look something like humans, but they’re warped, rotting, and extremely violent.
I liked Lidan, I found her to be an easy character to root for once I got over the “I want to be a warrior but I’m a woman in a misogynistic society” trope. Those are used a lot so it’s gone a bit stale for me, but I liked the direction this one took – and I also just liked Lidan’s bones. She wants to do what’s right even if it means putting herself in danger. There were a few times I felt like her training was sped up a bit, she became very capable of wielding a blade at 12 years old in a short time span – but it’s not like she was battling armies, just one on one stuff near the end.
The other character, Ranoth, is a prince. He started out pretty unlikeable to me. He begged his father to let him take charge of a platoon of men at only 15 years old to defend a crucial hold for his army. This just screamed entitlement and overconfidence and I was like “oh no, please don’t be one of those guys”. His father sits on rich land, and like clockwork, his rivals come to try and take over his realm to snatch his resources. Ranoth was supposed to defend the ruins, an essential holding for his father’s army, but was overrun and had to retreat. When the army doubled down back at his father’s fort, more troubles began when the opposing side brought a mage with them.
Mages in this world are feared, they can go insane and wreak havoc on all those around them. They’re responsible for the scary stories mothers tell their children at night, and those wielding magic are put to death. When one shows up at the gates it’s thought that all is lost. However, Ranoth is able to kill her by draining the magic out of her, extinguishing her life. The only way to do this is if you’re a mage yourself, so his ‘secret’ was found out, despite the fact that Ran himself didn’t know he was a mage. It was brought out of him by an ill-fated trip into a haunted ruin, and extreme stress from battle. Being a mage is forbidden, and his own father sentences him to death finding no way out that wouldn’t make him a hypocrite to his citizens. As a leader, he has to follow his own laws if he’s expected to keep his seat in power… he can’t spare his son just because he loves him. Ranoth escapes with the help of his tutor and makes his way into the wilderness only to find the same monsters that Lidan is facing. While on the run with a bounty on his head he’s gravely injured and saved by a girl named Sasha, she’s a healer and takes him on as a patient. This part felt a bit rushed to me, within a couple weeks of “knowing” each other (Ran was unconscious for the better part of it due to injuries), she escapes with him after he’s found out again. It is explained later on why she was so trusting and willing to go along with him despite just having met, but at the moment I was like “why is she doing this?”. Even given the reason, helping a traitor and a mage could be a death sentence so I wasn’t totally sold on her motivations.
Ranoth ended up growing on me as the book went on, by the end, I was fully behind him and just wanted him to succeed. These two POV’s never meet each other, and I still don’t know in what way these two stories will interconnect. I was waiting anxiously for it to happen the entire book, and for that reason, I felt a little frustrated. I think had I known that they weren’t going to intersect in this book I wouldn’t have been so antsy. So, sit down, and prepare yourself for just the beginning to what feels like an epic series.
The world building in this was really neat, small bits of world-building were revealed throughout the book at a slower pace leaving new things to be discovered and keep my interest piqued. There are gender roles in this world, but, women can become rangers and can be trained in sword fighting and map-making. Lidan isn’t told she can’t be a Ranger because she’s a girl, she’s restricted because her mother doesn’t want her to be a Ranger. The wives still hold a moderate amount of power over their own lives and their children’s upbringing. That said, I’m glad I don’t live there. Women only inherit if there is no male heir, they can be matched without their consent – although it’s the mother’s choice and not the father’s. There are also women known as tine-women who are essentially slaves, they do menial labor and are subject to the Daari’s whims, they are expected to put up with the Daari’s sexual advances and sleep with him if he wants them. Just ick.
The first 10% of the book was spent on Lidan before it switched over to Ran. I felt like I got to know her really well and the place where it cut off was a good stopping point to switch over, it didn’t feel jarring. Then I got 10% with Ran, a nice even distribution of POV’s – and it continued like that for most of the book. I was excited each time I switched back to the other POv because I was interested in what was going to happen to them. This approach really helped out with the pacing making it feel nice and smooth throughout. I don’t think I prefer one character over the other as I was equally invested in both of them – which is awesome. I got to know the world and the characters at the same time rather than being hit over the head with world building without getting to know the characters or knowing the characters and very little about the world. When that happens I tend to lose interest quickly. It was also adeptly done, without using info dumps or exposition, and didn’t throw you into the deep end and wait for you to figure it out for yourself. Balancing all of that at once and keeping it engaging can be difficult, but I think she nailed it. I loved getting small glimpses into magic and non-human creatures, it kept me wanting to see more of it while giving me just enough.
At times I did feel like some of the twists were predictable, and sometimes these characters got away when they probably shouldn’t have. However, those are small quibbles and didn’t take away from my enjoyment. Although this is a coming of age story, it was not a YA – lots of ‘fucks’ in this one folks, and a bit of violence to boot 😀 There was also very little romance, so if you’re looking for epic fantasy without romance elements this one could be for you. Overall, I enjoyed myself a lot, and I was sad to see it end, I’ll definitely be picking up the next in the series!
Personal Enjoyment: 7.5/10
Final Score: 80/100 – 4/5 stars – recommended!