– goodreads –
ARC received from the publisher (Orbit) in exchange for an honest review.
This has been, hands down, one of my most anticipated releases of the year. I’ve been looking for books with messy, complicated relationships lately, so that sounded fantastic, plus being promised critique of colonialism on top and that cover? With those arms? 😍
Unfortunately, while it’s a good book, I have to admit I found it something of a struggle, even if it was no fault of its own.
Touraine has been stolen as a child and indoctrinated to be a soldier for the empire of Balladaire. After a few years of service, her company gets sent to her homeland to help supress a rebellion. Luca is Balladaire’s legitimate heir, who goes to Qazāl to deal with the rebellion and prove herself capable of ruling to get her uncle off the throne. Along the way, the two women get hopelessly entangled, both in politics and with each other.
The main star of the book are absolutely the themes. The way it examines colonialism from both sides of the coin and uses it to craft the story is masterful. The way Touraine is loyal to the empire that mistreats her and very slowly and gradually starts to reconsider things and fight for her own place in the world. The way Luca tries to be a better ruler but makes horrible choices anyway. The question of improving the system or tearing it down. Often, fiction offers easy answers, but this did not. It felt very real. I also liked that the colonial power was France-inspired instead of England as is more typical.
The relationship developing between them is equally messy. Clark is not afraid to explore the uneven power dynamic in all its complexity and potential for conflict. It was absolutely my favourite aspect because I simply haven’t seen many fictional books like it before.
It also deals prominently with religion, which is directly tied to magic, and I found the approach extremely fascinating – Balladaire has no magic and renounced all worship of gods, claiming it to be to be uncivilised superstition. Yet the thing Luca is most curious about is whether there is any truth in the stories of Qazāli healing magic, which could help save her homeland.
So after all this praise, how come that I struggled with it? Honestly, I’m not completely sure myself. If there is a flaw I could see, it’s that the pacing is a little uneven in places, not nearly to the extent it’d bother me this much. I think my main problem was the tension – it’s unpredictable and very intense, with characters making a lot of choices that make you want to yell “WHY are you DOING this” at them, and while this is a feature for most people, I was apparently in the mood for something more chill and fluffy, something I didn’t realise until I was a good way through.
If you want an intense book and the premise sounds good to you, I would absolutely still recommend it. And I am definitely interested in the sequel – I just hope that with the next one, the timing will be better.
Recommended to: fans of The Traitor Baru Cormorant and The Shadow Campaigns should definitely check it out, as should those looking for post-colonialism in fantasy and messy f/f relationships
Not recommended to: those in need of a chill book
Content warnings: sexual assault, attempted rape (discussed), epidemic