It pays to wander the shelves sometimes. About two weeks ago or so I was out of books to read as I was waiting for The Painted Girls and The Watchers to come into the library for me. Feeling the itch to read I went to the library and wandered the YA shelves and came up with The Amaranth Enchantment and this book. I read the former first, because it was what I’d grabbed first. Then about two days later the other two books came in and this dropped to four on my list because I knew that I could at least renew the book if needed. While I don’t know if I can quite say that I saved the best for last (I do think the Watchers was a smidge better) without a doubt, it’s been a while since I enjoyed a YA novel as much as this one.
I’d classify the title as pre-epic fantasy in the sense that it just isn’t as complex (but to be fair, I don’t think you can actually have the two genres merge very well) but it’s got a lot of the same elements. We have a pseudo-Russian world where a group of mages called the Grisha are known as the “Masters of the Small Science.” All children are tested around the age of eight to see if they have any latent abilities and those that are are brought to the capitol to study the arts and eventually serve the empire. All of the Grisha ultimately report to The Darkling, a Grisha so powerful that he is in essence second in power to only the King.
Mal and his friend Alina are so tested and failing they are drafted into the First (non-magical) Army to serve. While out on duty it’s revealed that Alina does have an ability, one that catches the eye of the Darkling and seen as a way to fight off The Shadow Fold and the tale is basically her quest to learn how to use her power and navigate the politics of the Grisha and to a lesser extent, the Court.
Overall, the book is very strong and I devoured it in a single setting. Although the faux-Russianness can be a bit annoying (the regular mage types are called Corporalki, Etherealki, Materialki) for how fake it can come as, you can ignore it easily enough. Alina herself is a slightly bigger problem because the reason behind the block on her powers is kind of weak and rubs that feminist spot of mine, but she DOES overcome and once she does I enjoy the character that much more.
Whether you’re looking in the YA space or the adult space, good fantasy that doesn’t feel like Middle Earth or Middle Ages redeux is a difficult thing to pull off and I think that this manages to accomplish that. If you’re a fan of either genre, it’s definitely worth a look.
Siege and Storm, the second book in the series, is due out on June 4th. I’m definitely planning on picking it up and I hope you do the same for this one.
Verdict: Buy It