Blurb from GoodReads: A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.
A prince in danger must decide who to trust.
A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.
Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.
What you see is what you get with this blurb. The plot is very straightforward. A war has been going on between Tranavia and Kalyazin for what seems like forever. It’s a religious war. Tranavia is full of blood mage “heretics” while Kalyazin remains true to the gods and has one single cleric (god-blessed mage?) to help them. Now a ragtag group of teens has decided to put a stop to it all by assassinating the King of Tranavia.
The book started out relatively good. It was a little simplistic for my tastes but after spending all that time with The Stand it was a decent follow up read. The characters did feel a little flat to me. There wasn’t anything about them that popped off the page. On the plus side, there was some diverse representation in there. It wasn’t explored too deeply, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing. I’m happy to see it being normalized.
There are two different magic systems. One for Kalyazin, where a mage’s ability is divine and god-granted. Nadya must ask the gods’s permission to use their power and they can either grant or deny it. Most clerics can only speak with one god, but Nadya speaks to all of them.
The other magic system is for Tranavia, where some people choose to become blood mages. This magic system was very odd to me. I just couldn’t envision it working in any practical way. The blood mages have special razors that won’t scar sewn into their coats so they can cut themselves quickly and easily. They are also holding a spell book which is written by, I don’t know, someone who is not the mage using it. Then they tear out the page and soak it in blood and crumple it or stick it to a wall.
So here’s where the confusion comes in. How does one cut themselves with a razor sewn into their sleeve while holding a book in the heat of a battle or duel? I feel like by the time all that has been accomplished, someone’s probably already stuck a sword in them. It’s not that it was terribly complicated, it just would have required so much concentration and coordination I couldn’t imagine it being practical in a duel or war. Given that the blood needs to touch the page I couldn’t work out the logistics of it, and had to pause and think about it anytime it was mentioned, which took me out of the story.
Towards the end, the book fell apart a little bit. I often felt like I was missing parts of the conversation or character’s thought processes. I was confused and it involved a lot of flipping back and forth and re-reading trying to figure out what was going on. Sometimes it felt like characters were removed from the present moment to stop and have little side conversations while other really important stuff was happening, which messed with the sense of place. I would scratch my head and go: “Where are we right now?”
The romance was kind of silly. Nadya loves Malachiasz (I’ve probably spelled this wrong). She often says things like: “I know he’s lying but I love him anyway.” And I get it- that describes plenty of relationships that exist in the world. However, you can’t also be presenting that character as a “Strong Female Protagonist” and have her saying stuff like this. Maybe my idea of the strong female protagonist is narrow, but I personally can’t relate to it, and it makes my eye twitch. The romantic scenes were also very redundant (lots of fingers in hair) and I ended up skimming a lot of them.
My final complaint is about the character growth. Nadya shows none and therefore the message of the book was pretty murky. This is labeled as “Something Dark and Holy #1”, so it’s very much possible that her growth is being saved for later books, which is fine. Basically, in a book about religious war where two enemy characters are coming together to fix a problem, I expect each of them to gain a little understanding of the other side, and their belief systems to change a little bit. In Nadya’s case, we make it all the way to the end with her believing that the Tranavians are heretics and need to go back to worshipping the gods as Kalyazin does.
I really hope that is not where this story is headed because that’s an incredibly problematic message.
All in all- if you don’t look too deeply at it, it’s not a bad read. It’s quick and has some entertaining moments.
Thank you to Wednesday Books/St. Martin’s Press and Edelweiss for the ARC.