My rating: 4 of 5 Stars
How I Got It: eBook Purchase
Publication Date: June 2017
Point of View: 1st Person Heroine
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Let me start by saying this book is beautiful. Seriously beautiful. I mean, that cover? Yeah. But it's more than that. The writing, the atmosphere, the depth of the narrative. I found myself pausing to say, "Wow!" more times than I can count. Emily R. King can write.
And more than that--she can spin a compelling story. I was utterly immersed in this epic-scale drama within the first few pages. At first I feared Kalinda would be too much of a Special Snowflake, but she grew on me very quickly. Particularly her devotion to Jaya, her best friend, with whom she's close as a sister. Her love for Jaya proves her most compelling motivation throughout the story, and it really served to bond me to both of the characters.
The action in this story is another "Wow!" factor. There are plenty of battles, due to the set-up of the narrative, with the queens and the concubines of the emperor destined to fight one another for opportunity to rise in rank and improve their. Every one of those action sequences kept me breathlessly glued to the page. If gore and adrenaline can be described as beautiful, King really did pull it off beautifully!
I loved that this book was so perfectly focused on women and became a story of empowerment and sisterhood. The plot pitches women against each other as enemies, but THAT isn't what the story ultimately is about. There is a Mean Girl character who is VERY tropey to begin with . . . but even she ends up getting more interesting and compelling handling than more of her trope-kind receive in the YA fantasy genre. (I actually ended up liking her and cheering for her by the end!)
In fact, this book is such a strong women's story, it only suffers from one major flaw. And that, oddly enough, is the romance. It would have been a five-star read for me were it not for romance shoe-horned in. The hero and heroine meet and fall in love SO FAST, with absolutely nothing between them to make me believe in their love. It's just . . . they meet . . . then they love each other enough to risk their lives to be together. That literally is how it went. No development. No reason. No real chemistry. Just--we met and we're in love.
Weirdly enough, the guy--Deven--could have been omitted from the story, and the plot really wouldn't have changed. Kali's motivation to help and care for Jaya could naturally have filled in the blanks of every plot twist involving Deven. And her love for Jaya felt real and established and meaningful.
So yeah, kind of weird. I ended up skimming the scenes between the hero and heroine, which I found to be superfluous to the plot, and I enjoyed the book MUCH more as a result.
But in the end, while that was a big enough complaint for me to dock a star, the rest of the story held my attention so completely and was beautifully composed and wonderfully written, I ultimately loved it. I've already grabbed Book 2 and look forward to jumping back into this world and seeing where the adventure takes me!