This story was well written. It hit all the notes that I would expect in a good fantasy novel. The world was great, the characters okay. It was honestly a very easy read which made this review tough. But ultimately it gets three stars because some things just didn’t sit well overall.
Firstly this story takes the stubborn teen route. The ‘I am the hero and I don’t need anyone trope’ which never ends well and, unfortunately, doesn’t reach any point of self-awareness. My biggest problem in this is the learning curve. Aza never really attacks the situation of turning her friends away or trying to do it alone. Yeah there’s the remorse, and the I should’ve known better, but ultimately, like all these YA novels, there isn’t a moment that happens where the only way she could’ve survived was with a living breathing entity that she had intentionally said she didn’t need. Something to force her to ‘for real deal’ with the fact she can’t do it alone followed by the other characters holding her accountable for this decision. It shouldn’t be an easy lesson and there should be a lesson.
The whole plot of a shadow heir going it alone really loses weight when you consider her father is one and is also married to one so that makes two heirs. Both her parents are not doing it alone with two children of their own. Also, this may be tackled in the first book but unless Aza and her brother are twins, they aren’t, how did the universe know not to bless her older brother with both his parents’ gifts unless they knew there would be a second child. If the first heir gets it then he should’ve got both. I’m hoping there’s a nifty explanation for this in book one because first is first so I was def confused by this.
My other thing with Aza is again typical for YA novels, especially with a female protagonist. When it comes to following the rules and learning some form of patience they never do. They tend to just do what they want and since everything works out in the end they never have to tackle or be bumped down a notch or two by the bad decisions they made leading up to everything that went wrong. It’s kind of this odd YA hero pass that stubborn attitudes and a complete refusal to do what one is told thus screwing up badly doesn’t require being held responsible for the consequences of their actions as long as the day is saved.
Wit was a nuisance but, surprisingly, I was unbothered by this. My only gripe was him seemingly not knowing how to swim, sigh. Like he has been training for war at a school run by the shadow and fire heirs. Panicking in the storm was odd and I was def team Aza here. She, and Shad, were right to not want him there. Shad is my second favourite thing in this book. He is just amazeballs next to Makeo.
The Maldibors are everything. Like the best thing in this book. Saying I love them would not be enough praise. They are pure awesomesauce. Like I’m here waiting for the moon to shine with big smiles like yaaaasss. Let the magic happen. Makeo is by far the most interesting and well-written character in this novel. More of him was needed. And this brings me to my next point. Other than the stubborn teen plot. The way Makeo talks, the conversations, the thought processes, my brain was struggling so hard to see this as YA. Aza more than once says how she’s been training to be an assassin for years and beyond trying to portray her as a headstrong teen, she felt more 18/19 and Makeo definitely read more like early twenties. And their relationship dynamic, both romantic and friendship read more like NA. There is zero content in the book to push it out of YA to be fair but it’s the wording choices and speech patterns between characters, especially Makeo, that gives an adultier feel. Almost like the story could’ve been more on the high end of YA but it felt like it was trying to be more middle grade so I got mixed emotions from it.
‘The people die around her’ angle that also lead to the ‘I need to do it alone stuff’ was odd. Everyone in this book is training for war. They live in a world of bipolar mages, necromancers and heir killers. They are going to die whether they follow her or not. So this was also a hard line to get into.
Also, I’m sure Aza’s father knows his daughter is continuously frequenting the shadow plane and telling her not to isn’t going to work. If there was no way to help her fine, but close to the end of the book we learn not only that there is a way but he turned it down? Big sigh. This is why this entire book happens. It’s the crux of the entire plot that Aza is looking for something, in a place only she can walk, so she thinks, and rather than find a way to make her less vulnerable he shuts it down entirely. We all know how this ends.
The plot ran nicely. No lie I finished this book super-fast. The action was great, the main villain fun fun fun. I’m sure she will be awesome come book three. The world is also just a dream to be reading in. Loved it. And did I say Maldibors are awesome cause they are. The mage situation though, like how is one mage just going to let his sister walk out with a book. With no fight when he knows what she is going to do with it. No matter how scary she is who offers up the end of the world on a platter like okay have it? And then after that nonsense not bother to tell the main characters in the book what it’s all about. Sigh. This is the equivalent of Ava’s father not trying to sort out the shadow plane thing. Basically, I could see this ending coming. That being said I like that this book rounds out to a nice solution/conclusion. The last chapter is an amazing slice of what’s to come in the next book. There’s no cliff-hanger but you are def given the sensation of wanting more which is the best way to end a book. With the desire to read more and not one of being forced to read more. Also, this was a good stand-alone read. The type of second book that would make me read the first book, as has happened for me before, because you may not need it but you want it.
The real plot issue was the middle. There’s a war going on. Aza’s brother is fighting in one place, her parents in another, and she’s on a self-appointed journey. What really kills the sense of urgency is that it’s only told from her perspective. She’s gone for a considerable amount of time and it takes less than a day to be destroyed. By not telling her brother’s story and her parents simultaneously with hers there’s this big kind of null during the middle where things don’t really seem to be happening. We are told things are happening but it’s not nearly as entertaining, especially for such a well-crafted world, that readers don’t get to see that. That was, even with all the above issues, what really did it is that all of the heightened tensions and the desperation of Aza finding what she needed to know didn’t have enough umph because as a reader I didn’t know anything. Couldn’t tell how desperate the situation was. Wasn’t faced with the fact that her decision could very well lead to the death of everyone she knew beyond Aza just thinking it. This story gave off big epic fantasy vibes. Like extra big but since nothing really happens in the middle and we aren’t allowed other POVs unfortunately there wasn’t anything to distract from the things that seemed off:
Aza’s need to do things alone, her not actually learning from that, the father thinking telling a teen not to do something in a time of war was the best option. The Mages reluctance to be useful because if the world is destroyed apparently they don’t live in it. And then the voices in the Shadow plane being exactly what I thought they would be, bad and not good. Sigh, and more.
This story was so interesting, and fun to read and it had big epic fantasy written all over it but it kept to a singular POV and tried to stick in the safe teen zone when it would’ve been more than awesome if it went all or nothing for the higher end of YA and a broader POV range.
Lastly, would I recommend this? It gets a hard yes on recommendation. At the end of the day, it does suffer from a big host of things that are typical for this genre. But ultimately I don’t think readers will care. They’ll probably love love love it. It hit’s all the right notes. Rebellious teen sets out to pave their own way and in the end conquers and saves the day. That’s really what it’s all about. Almost everyone will gloss over the lack of facing consequences for actions and ideas that don’t really fit but are essential for the plot to work. And I guess I’m saying that’s as it should be. If YA female protag fantasy is your jam, this book will more than fit the bill. It even gets bonus points for a female who is a murderess assassin and not some simp that needs saving or complains about having to kill people. Just gets in does her job and moves on. My biggest YA or any genre pet peeve is a female lead who is essentially useless and problematic but I still have to love them. Aza, is not that and I love her a gazillion times for it.
So yes, I recommend it. My gut says it will be generally enjoyed by most. But for me, it just left me with a slightly underwhelmed this could’ve been much much more feeling.