Rating: 4 stars
Buddy read this with some Goodreads friends and I definitely had the highest opinion of it by the end, which is kind of a first lol
This doesn’t deserve 4 stars, I’ll say that right now. But rating this 3 stars feels almost rude to the book, especially considering how much I ended up enjoying it, however ironically. I was thoroughly entertained, though I do tend to eat up trash YA fantasy like candy. I was genuinely surprised by some things that happened, in a good way, but over all, this wasn’t good. I liked it anyway though haha
The Writing and Worldbuilding
The very first thing I noticed about this was just how bad it is. The pacing was extremely rushed. Basically no set up is given, we’re just thrust into things, but they aren’t even exciting things so what’s the point? And the syntax itself was really amateur-ish. It’s clear that Elise Kova hadn’t written much before this, or at least nothing critically analyzed. Everything existed in a white room, which didn’t help the pacing. Characters were very poorly developed and she relied heavily on cardinal directions to describe physical characteristics, but she only defined those characteristics a few times at the beginning, so I had basically no idea what anyone looked like. You can’t always say they looked Southern or Eastern when I don’t know what that means.
The world wasn’t anything special. It was basically a merge between Avatar: The Last Airbender and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and if that isn’t generic (especially 3-10 years after these properties came out), I don’t know what is. Honestly, the magic system makes no sense whatsoever. Beyond the basic elemental stuff, it’s really undefined.
But I did genuinely like a few things. Towards the end, some things really surprised me in their intensity. This was largely targeted at the younger end of the young adult audience given the writing and situations, but then it suddenly (and I mean very suddenly) went from PG to PG-13, maybe even R. It got dark, fast, and lacked a lot of the appropriate foreshadowing, though I did guess something similar would happen early on when the bare minimum of foreshadowing did show up. But I actually did like the darker parts, however inconsistent they were. I just wish Kova had committed to them a little bit more, but I’ll take what I can get with this kind of book.
Aanglina: Vhalla Yarl (which is a stupid name; am I the only one who thinks this? I couldn’t keep a straight face any time it was said) was extremely boring, kind of an idiot, a Mary Sue (but at least a more toned down one, considering) and a generally lame protagonist. She spends the entire book avoiding things and being saved or pushed/forced into action by other people. She waits until the last moment every single time. She has one moment of cathartic action and I loved it, but then it’s kind of reversed because of certain spoilery things that happen. I am interested to see where that goes in the following books, though.
Zuko, the “Fire Lord” Darkling: Aldrik was such a jerk and I really don’t understand why he was a love interest so quickly. He’s a horrible person, and he even says that in the book, and Vhalla still has the hots for him. It wasn’t as obnoxious an attraction as it could have been (she apparently does indeed have a backbone, however flimsy), but the fact that it existed at all was weird. At one point, they’re basically like:
Aldrik: *cold and detached* you were an object to me and I used you gladly because I’m not a good person, but then I realized that you’re actually a human being and also you’re hot
Vhalla: 😍 he loves me! 😤 But he’s also mean! 😠
And what was up with the weird “Phantom” penpal situation? That lasted like 2 seconds before he defenestrated her and I don’t get why the back of the cover emphasized it as a Thing™ when I honestly forgot it happened.
Roan and Sareem (had to look up his name because I forgot it lol): This girl needs new friends, honestly. Sareem is the saddest Mal I’ve ever seen but at least Kova established that she didn’t actually like him, so there was that.
Nikolai: Aldrik’s brother Baldair was so freaking confusing, because he didn’t have any set up whatsoever, which is odd considering he’s the first guy ever mentioned in the book. When he finally shows up, they behave around each other like they’ve never met the other before in their life, despite apparently recognizing each other and despite the fact that Vhalla had an intense schoolgirl crush on him not that long before.
Larel and what’s his name, the library guy: Larel gives me strong “gonna betray her in the next book” vibes but we’ll see. The dude that I just cannot remember the name of (though I do remember there was a joke about how it’s a mouthful, so he went by a short version) was fine. Evidently forgettable, though. And was Kova trying to establish that he’s gay in that one scene in the cafeteria? Because it was kind of glossed over so I don’t really get why it even happened.
The jerky senator: He was fine. Kind of came out of nowhere, but he did his job of slimy villain well enough.
Essentially, most of these people are such selfish jerks. Honestly, between Al-dick and Smarmy and Baldboi, she has no good options for love, and with a friend like Roan, who needs enemies?
I’m fairly sure the only reason why I enjoyed this was because I went in expecting it to be bad, so there wasn’t anywhere to go but up. Even just looking at the cover, I could tell it was self-published (though not always indicative of quality, it does have a certain reputation, especially among YA) and that it was probably pretty generic, and then the summary only solidified that idea. And I ended up being entirely accurate ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
But I had a good time reading this, and I’m actually intending on continuing the series, which usually doesn’t happen even with the most entertainingly awful books. So it earned that much at least.
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