When I was doing an all-call for Own Voices it was brought to my attention just how often people with disabilities are left off of the list for OwnVoices. People tend to think of PoC or LGBTQ authors and stories when they think of OwnVoices – so here’s a book by an author who lives with chronic pain and her character that reflects that experience.
A lot of research went into this book, I follow the author on FB and have seen the amount of work she put into building the backdrop of her story. I feel like that paid off, I’ve read some of the same books she has (it appears as though we both have a fascination with the morbidity of certain time periods) and I can see bits and pieces of the real world reflected in her work. This will not be a book for people who don’t want to read about starvation, cannibalism, chronic pain, war, etc. This is an incredibly dark book and going into it your expectations should be that you’ll be depressed by the end of it.
The character focus was fairly narrow, there’s only a handful of main characters which keeps things intimate. You get to know the characters pretty well and while I found myself liking some of them, there were others I wasn’t so sure about. If you like perspectives of ‘the villain’ this could appeal to you. We get the perspective of the ruler of this world, Eyad, and what he does to keep control of it. Even if they weren’t ‘villains’ per se, most of these characters would be considered on the darker greyscale. This is a harsh world and you have to be a hard person to live through it. Seraphina has a fire Talent and lives as a slave, she’s also the one that makes this an Own Voice book. She lives in incredible pain and her chapters are harrowing. She has a twin brother, Neryan, who is also at the focus of the story, leading a rebellion against the ruler that’s starving the country to death. Eyad has seized control of the country in no small part due to his power of mind-reading. He’s ruthless, bitter, and willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his power.
The magic in this world is elemental based, there’s the typical fire water earth etc but there’s also the “mind” which gives this a familiar feel and will appeal to people who like old school fireball shooting mage type people. There are god-like characters called the Ascended. I would have loved to know more about these guys. I thought we’d get more than we did considering the book opens with them – maybe in future books I’ll find out.
This is on the slow burn side, on a sliding scale I’d say it would be middle leaning slow. That’s not to say that this is a “slog”, I consider those different terms. This just takes its time building a world and the characters so you can feel fully immersed by the time things get going, and once they do, it’s a very fast-paced ride to the end.
Part of the reason this is a slower read, especially at first, is there’s a strong stylistic approach to the prose. It took me a little while to adjust to it, but I did find myself getting quicker as I continued to read. You can figure out through a sample on Amazon whether this will work for you or not. I’ll admit I was extremely hesitant, I’m not typically one who prefers prose that forces you to slow down and think about what you’re reading when it comes to fantasy. I generally want easy quick prose that get out of the way of the story and let me glide through it. If I want something “prosey” I’ll usually reach for something outside of speculative fiction. This will come down to your preferences, there are many, many bloggers and authors that describe this as poetic, literary, haunting & passionate and I can’t disagree with any of it.
Overall, I think that if this sounds like something interesting to you check out the Amazon preview and see if the prose is your kinda deal. If it is, and you don’t mind dark as fuck books, pick this up. This was also a semi-finalist in SPFBO 5 and was reviewed by Kitty here:
TLDR: Dark as fuck book, multi pov, highly stylized prose, haunting and poetic. Starts off slower ends liked a hurricane. Elemental magic, rebellions, villain pov, greyer characters.