Rating: 4 stars
I received this eARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of this book in any way. I also only read the ARC until about the 50% mark, at which point I read from the published edition. All quotes are checked against the published edition and are not subject to change.
“Curses are blessings in disguise, sometimes.”
Alaya is the last of a powerful clan, living in secret amongst the clanless and forgotten. But even in the most hidden corners, secrets can be discovered. Forced to confront her deadly powers and the mad High King who wants to end her clan once and for all, and with the help of the charming and disarming Prince Emrys and her best friends Sade and Kian, Alaya will do whatever it takes to save her kingdom and her clan. But with powers as deadly as hers and the curses they’re awakening in the land, is she fated to save the world or to destroy it?
The first thing I thought when I started this was that it gave me Eragon vibes merged with, of all things, Throne of Glass. The nobody-girl in a nobody-town who discovers a dragon-related great power that’s destined to defeat the mad king, and also there are weird monster guys that the king sends in search of power such as this. Eragon-esque. And then there’s the cocky prince and the traveling crew in search of the powerful macguffin, and the girl’s hardcore and there’s banter. Throne of Glass-esque. But I really enjoyed it, and those aspects, instead of making it feel cliche or tropey, made me feel nostalgic for fantasy with journeys and motley bands of heroes. For betrayals and deaths and uncomfortably fleshy monsters. And for dragons, honestly, that can telepathically communicate and aren’t weredragons. Real, actual dragons.
The character banter was great, the dynamics so consistent and believable throughout. There was only a brief blip where I didn’t take Emrys seriously, but it ended pretty quick and I was happy with him on the whole. The themes were great, and the writing was stylistic and emotionally intense without being overbearing (though the sheer number of paragraph breaks kinda threw me). I think one of the best parts of this book were the roles the characters played in the story. I’m not usually a big fan of Strong Female Characters because they tend to be done really poorly and have a negative impact on female characters in general. But the two main girls in this, Alaya and Sade, were both hardcore and tough but also emotionally resonant and felt like actual people, not a cardboard cut out of a man in a dress. Kian, their guy friend, wasn’t just the Mal to Alaya’s Alina. He was strong in a different way, taking on the traits usually adopted by female characters, but no less masculine because of it. He was soft and nice but with some spunk too. He existed for his own reasons, not just to juxtapose Emrys.
I will say, though, that the middle really got me in a rut. I had a hard time reading it at all around a third in, and it wasn’t until two thirds in that I started feeling that epicness again. The weird cliche stuff with Emrys was mostly to blame for that, as well as some confusing and conflicting exposition, pacing blunders, and difficult to follow action sequences. I recognize that this book was re-released and I’m really glad the author was in a position to better a pretty good story. I never read the original so I can’t say how improved it really was, but this felt largely like a solid novel; however, a solid self-published novel, without some needed vigorous editing. But even traditional publishing needs more editing sometimes, so I won’t blame Gaither for that. There was a lot of effort here and definitely skill and talent, and it showed.
I had a really hard time reading this, and therefore a really hard time rating it. It wasn’t that it was bad, as I said, but I did start it in the beginning of September, and September was when The Great Reading Slump of 2019™ really struck and left me unable to read anything. And I don’t know if the feelings of disappointment and general unhappiness the middle of this book gave me were because of that slump or because of flaws of the book. Regardless of that, though, I did enjoy it a lot, and ultimately decided (obviously) on 4 stars instead of 3. And I would say that I recommend it. It was fantastical and epic, with no fae or weredragons.
“So long as there is power, and those who do not have it, and those who want to have it, there will never be peace.”
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