Okay, so the title of this book is very apt. This character takes a character arc that puts Walter White to shame. From normal woman to absolute monster I wanted to die. I finished this book because I wanted her dead.
So, our MC, Aelith, starts out normal enough, likable even. In the beginning, she was struggling to fit in with her covenant. She’s a healer that does good enough work, she knows all her passages and lessons from her holy texts, but she’s not well-liked by the priests/nuns who are responsible for her soul. Particularly, Mother doesn’t believe that she’s genuine in her faith, and she’s right. One thing leads to another and she finds out she’s a sorceress at a particularly bad time. This is not good news since sorcerers are hunted down and killed on the spot. Even her own brother wants her dead, he thinks she should give herself up and burn at the stake to cleanse her soul — so she has to go on the run. She can’t even hide with her parents because her mother died in childbirth and her father hates her/beats her. So at first she thinks it’s going to be her against the world, but a mysterious man shows up and tells her there’s another way.
She falls in with the worst kind of crowd, that man who offered help is pure evil, and here is where things take a turn. With every chapter she just gets more and more selfish and less altruistic. One of the first things her new friends, the cartel, wants her to do is to murder someone to prove she has a backbone and can do it. When that wasn’t enough, they make her murder someone innocent to really prove her worth. She’s given a slave and she uses her. She’s taught how to kill and she does it with increasing frequency, increasing cruelty, and with her remorse retreating from screams into silence as the book moves on. One of the themes of this book was choices, and what you do when there’s a rock and a hard place. We usually read about characters that go the high road, the hard road, while here we watch someone chose the easy, selfish way every time. It was so enraging and only got more enraging as her atrocities got worse.
As far as the world building, even this aspect of the book is pretty dark both literally and metaphorically. There’s vague talk about the ancients and how they did something to cast the land into shadow, a land aptly named the Shadow Lands. They pray to the gods to find the light again and things like that. As mentioned, sorcery is outlawed, it’s viewed as evil and this image isn’t helped by who Aelith hangs out with, including necromancers. The magic is elemental based, with fire, air, earth, water being main sources and spells. Everyone has a different “well” they draw on to get their magic, and everyone has a different carrying capacity. However, draw too deep and you’ll die on the spot. Most of society believes that only praying to the God of Sin will turn you into a sorcerer, and hence why it’s believed to be inherently evil. This isn’t actually true, who gets to be a sorcerer is random and you do meet normal people who happen to be magical, right before Aelith kills them. She kills her own friends and betrays her group’s trust repeatedly to get to where she needs to be with her cartel missions. God I hated her so much.
Every single trigger warning applies to this book including sexual assault, including sexual assault by the MC. I hated her so much. I think I’ve said that multiple times now, but it bears repeating. Choice and morality are definitely themes. The question, “is an executioner also a murderer” and other moral conundrums were posed by her employer when she started to lose her stomach for violence. Despite my hatred for her, this was a fascinating character.
The pacing honestly dragged a bit in the middle because I felt like all we were doing was watching her learn magic and how to be terrible, but things did start to come together at the end. It’s not a super long book so it didn’t take long despite a mild drag in the middle portion.
Overall, I can’t say I genuinely enjoyed this read, it was more infuriating than anything else, but I did make it through to the end which speaks to the quality of writing and character build. This was 100% not be for everyone and I’d recommend skipping it if this review sounds disturbing, I’ve left so much out, the book is so much more disturbing.
- Plot: 11/15
- Characters: 13/15
- World Building: 11/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 10/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Enjoyment: 4/10
Final Score: 72/100