Genre: High Fantasy (with no supernatural elements)
Rating: 5/5 stars.
Where is Book 2?! I find myself actually wanting to read the next book right away, and this is not normal reading behavior for me. This must indicative of how much I enjoyed reading this book.
I had originally given this a 4.5-star rating because it does have some flaws. But, I realize now that the story and characters are kind of staying with me after finishing it, and I want to know where the entire series is going from here. I’m willing to give it the full 5-star treatment because it doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be very entertaining. It certainly is that.
It’s well written and high-concept, it has characters will actual depth, and a main character who, despite being a teenage girl, is not drowning in a pool of hormonal emotions over a boy. Kestrel is capable of thinking about other people and other things going on in the world beyond Arin, the other POV character of the novel. She is not so over-wired to procreate that you just want to smack some sense into her. This is practically unheard of these days in YA literature…. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but not really, right?
Kestrel is a character after my own heart because she is a strategist, rather than a physically strong female heroine. I respect female characters who kick major butt, and who doesn’t, but I’m rather tired of them. They are too numerous and becoming less special, as a result. Kestrel is more of the character who can out-think everyone else, and her scene with the Emperor at the end is pretty impressive (although, how someone else didn’t think of it first kind of makes me face-palm). Give me a smart, cunning character any day over one blessed with brute strength, male or female. (Unless it’s Dante from the Devil May Cry video games. It’s so fun to play as him kicking major butt that I wouldn’t want it any other way. ;))
Arin is a slave that Kestrel buys at the very beginning of the story. He and his people, the Heranni, used to be free, cultured and educated before being enslaved by Kestrel’s people, the Valorians, only a decade earlier. Heran is a peninsula guarded by treacherous mountains on land and terrifying storms along the coasts. They never had to worry too much about invaders, until the Valorian Empire, ruling half the world, discovered black powder and blew up the mountains protecting the Heranni. The brutish Valorians assimilated the Heranni culture like The Borg from Star Trek, adding their likeness unto their own and being bettered for it.
It’s not really much of a spoiler to mention that Arin is secretly a part of a Heranni insurrection being plotted prior to the beginning of the story. He’s no ignorant slave boy and that does make him an interesting character. Of course, Kestrel is completely unaware of this, so you can only imagine how badly this will end for her, bringing into her home one of the Insurrection’s top leaders without even knowing it. Her father is the general of the Valorian army. This is just a black powder situation waiting to be ignited by fire.
I like that the political environment of the story is important and truly is the story. It’s not about the romance, although that is important, too. But, it never overtakes the real story, which is about the Heranni revolting against the Valorian Empire. It is interesting to see how it all plays out and even more interesting to see how it all gets resolved. Thankfully, it’s not predictable.
Kestrel and Arin’s relationship is fabulous. I’m not saying they are incredible characters because I don’t find myself attached to them much, but they have an interesting dynamic going on. In the beginning, Kestrel does not want him acting like a slave who just says what she wants to hear. She tells him to always speak his mind, which he does. I wish she had argued with him more—that would have given them better chemistry. But, still it works. The romance is just slow and sweet, never going too far, or just making it seem like all they do is paw at each other all the time.
There were some things I was not super enthused about. Kestrel’s duel with a certain character ended in a rather anti-climactic way. The fact that she even insists on this duel is ridiculous to me. And, how could she not foresee that people would start gossiping about her fighting a duel over her slave? Of course, people would start talking about something like that. Also, there is a scene where her father, General Trajan, is mad at both of them, and instead of throwing Arin out on the street, he just tells him to keep away from his daughter. What? That makes no sense, but it does serve the story to have him stick around to accompany Kestrel to the ball afterward.
So, while not a perfect story—and what story is perfect?—it is still a wonderful read that pulled me out of a major reading slump I had been having for the past few months. Finally, something that made me want to keep turning the pages, eager to pick it back up again after putting it down. I guess I’ll see whether this one sticks with me over the long haul because that will be the sign of a truly great book. I’m inclined to think it will. (I really need to see what is going to happen to Ronan in the next installment!)
P.S. I liked this a lot better than Graceling by Kristin Cashore! If Graceling wasn’t your thing, you might like this high fantasy novel, instead. You might like it even if you loved Graceling. Just give it a try! It is a brand new series and is the first book in a planned trilogy.