I received a copy from Netgalley.
After seeing a few not so great reviews popping up for this title I did have some misgivings about it when I stated it, however, it exceeded my every expectation and I was surprised at how much I wound up loving this book.
It’s a very slow burn fantasy, not a lot of action but a lot of political manoeuvring and some epic world building. Also beautifully written, almost lyrical in a way. The plot initially wasn’t anything I haven’t seen before. Basic outline - girl born out of wedlock, no one knows what to do with her, she’s smuggled into a special teaching house, discovers she has secret magic, gets involved with difficult tutor. In a world that’s usually run by queens a usurper king has stolen the throne, there’s a lost female heir who is the rightful queen and there is a plot to overthrow the evil tyrant king and bring the rightful queen back to the throne. Girl finds herself a key part in this plot.
Admittedly, I had some eye rolls at the start of this book thinking I was fairly certain of where this book was going. While the writing was gorgeous, the plot was painfully slow. I liked most of the characters and the impending romance was kind of obvious as to where it was going as well. Quite pleased to see this wasn’t anything like I thought it was going to be.
The heroine Brienna is raised by her grandfather. Girls are taken to special schools to learn to be “Masters of Passion” – art, music, dramatics, wit or knowledge. Each pupil is assigned a talent and are given years and years of training to become a master. Starting at 10, Brienna is considerably behind the other girls, and the house is full. But she comes in and can’t find a passion to suit her. She fails miserably. Brienna was okay, if a bit wooden.
Finally she comes to decide knowledge the one thing she’s actually good at, she’s got to be better than everyone if she’s to become a master by graduation time. One thing I really loved about this book was the positive female friendships. The other girls who are students are not rivals, they are close friends and almost like sisters. While there’s a little bit of ill contention with one or two with Brienna stepping on a few toes, there’s no outright dislike or rivalry.
Brienna discovers a hidden talent of magic where she can see into the past. It happens randomly, no one knows why or where. Brienna’s planned path doesn’t really happen and she finds herself embroiled in a mysterious family with a plan to rebel against the tyrannical king. There’s a lot of journeying and the plot takes a turn from the somewhat mystical side of things to political undertakings.
There’s very little action until almost right at the end. And actually very little romance. There are quite a few secrets and plot twists revealed that kicked raised the stakes as far as the plot was concerned. There was a good feeling of family coming together and even if it’s not your biological family – it’s the people around you who become part of you and your own chosen family.
My only misgivings were the characters were a little flat, I can’t say I was particularly mad about anyone. Other than Brienna I can barely remember anyone’s name. I do remember how much I enjoyed the novel. For a fantasy it wrapped up really well too. Though there are apparently two more books to come. It will be interesting to see where this one is going. I loved this so much I bought a finished paperback.
Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK Children’s Books for approving my request to view the title.