Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
At about the 60% point I was entranced with this book, and it was making me debate whether I would segregate my year end list by Adult and Young Adult titles as I did last year. At that point I felt that while that this book wasn’t on the level of a few adult titles I know will be on that list, that this was one of the best Young Adult fantasy titles I’d read. I liked the characters (Zuzanna!) and I like Tyalor’s writing style. I was having a lot of fun with this.
Then the last 30% of the book happened.
There is a point of view switch. Suddenly, we lose Karou -a character I rather enjoy -and switch to Madrigal. Her tale is important to be sure, but she isn’t Karou. She didn’t grab me like Karou. I didn’t want to read about her, and to make things worse, this second was used as a place for an exposition dump where Liani detailed the finer aspects of the world that she created that I really, really wish had been somehow better folded into the story. They’re the kind of details that in a recollection of events, the teller would assume the audience knows; so by including them here it just feels like an added drag. It’s a same too, because a lot of thought clearly went into this world. It makes me wonder what might had been had this been an adult title and her therefore having the freedom to weaver the denser tale that is avoided in young adult for the sake of accessibility. Beyond that, the great twist of Karou’s past isn’t that great a mystery or a twist. You can make a fairly good guess of it because of the set up.
All that said: this is still a very good book. It’s an easy recommendation for fans of YA fantasy, and I’d even say it’d be a good place to start for adult fantasy fans wanting to at least dip their toes in the YA fantasy pool. I’d say first to start with the Grisha trilogy, which feels adult fantasy as much as YA and then move on to this. If you can’t find something here to enjoy, you probably won’t enjoy YA fantasy because this does the tropes and it does do them rather well overall. This just wasn’t quite the book I’d hoped it’d been, but I can see why it does get as much love as it does.
Verdict: Buy it