by Mara Rutherford
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Date: October 5, 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A witch who must learn to harness her power--or risk losing her loved ones forever.
Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king's warlock, Darius, who uses mages' magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn't take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora's childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius's visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.
To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she'll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos--and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.
Stories about teens learning to love their magic always are one of my favorite YA fantasy tropes, and that cover is so pretty. Unfortunately, the rest of the book didn’t quite live up to it.
“Magic—especially the kind people wielded deliberately—was as much of a mystery to me as the world outside Sylvan.”
Liora has spent most of her life in hiding in her quiet village. After a tragedy when she was a child, she started displaying signs of magic: her skin glows, especially when she’s feeling intense emotions. Considering the extreme prejudice against mages, Liora mostly stays locked up at home, avoiding coming to the attention of the evil Darius, advisor to the king, who “collects” (or kills) any mages that come to his attention. But when Darius arrives in her village, it’s her younger sister and her childhood best friend (and love) Evran that get stuck in his trap. But it’s the full revelation of Darius’s plans that truly frighten Liora. Can she overcome her distrust of her own magic to save the kingdom?
My main issue with this book is that I never got invested in the story. I couldn’t connect with Liora as a character, and the only character I was actively interested in was Margana, Evran’s mother, a witch who can weave things into being. Part of the issue is that there’s a lot of telling rather than showing. We’re told Liora’s in love with Evran, but the only time we really see evidence of that is when she makes grand gestures and some physical affection between the two of them. We’re told they’re best friends, but he spends the first chunk of the book ignoring her. We’re told that it’s cold or dangerous or frightening, but there’s no details to really make the reader feel that. The only time things got a little interesting was that we’re continuously told Darius is evil, but a lot of his actions could be as neutral, or perhaps even good, from a certain point of view.
And it’s once Darius showed up that the plot got a bit more interesting. Unfortunately, there were some definite Sun Summoner/Darkling parallels (though in this case it’s more star/black hole) in both characterization and plot that let me guess where the plot was going, so even things that should’ve been shocking were, well, boring. There was a lot of buildup to a particular revelation near the end of the book (one that I think most readers will see coming a mile away) but then the book just ended. I’m not sure if this is meant to have a sequel or not, but I found that particularly unsatisfactory. Another pet peeve was that there’s no unifying magic theory. People have various magic powers, from crying diamonds to teleportation, but there’s no explanation for why each person’s magic is so different.
“But if fear sometimes protects me and other times holds me back, how will I know when to listen?”
Her focus shifted slightly, and I knew that she no longer saw me. She saw whatever prompted her response. “You’ll know, Liora, when you are not willing to give up the thing you’re afraid of.”
So what did I like about this book? I liked, in concept, Liora’s journey from having to hide and fear her magic to accepting it as a part of herself. She worries that her magic will hurt people, will push them away from her, but gradually comes to understand that her lack of understanding and control over it will do the same thing. Part of that is watching Evran try to stay away from her for the same reasons, and part of that is the extremely different lessons she learns from Margana and the Darkling – err, I mean Darius.
Overall, I think this might be more suited for a younger reader who can handle some of the darker aspects of the book.
Content notes: View Spoiler »violence (including beheadings), death of a parent (one off-page in a fire, one on-page violently), grief, torture (off-page but discussed), death of a pet, imprisonment, blackmail, persecution for having magic, arson « Hide Spoiler