– goodreads –
ARC received from the publisher (Orbit) in exchange for an honest review.
I know there is no higher power that sanctions a king or an emperor. There is only the moment when power is placed in your hands, and there is one truth: either you take the power and wield it, or someone else will. And perhaps they will not be as kind to you and yours.
I should not have put this off as long as I did – my fears about this book being a slow read because it was epic fantasy were baseless. Not only does it largely live up to the hype, it reads really really fast as well. And the romance subplot is exquisite – sapphic, morally gray, with with a strong hurt/comfort element.
Malini has been imprisoned in the Hirana – an ancient, decaying temple – for disobeying her emperor brother and refusing to be executed by burning. And if this is not enough, she is also sick from slowly being poisoned by the servant who was sent there with her. Priya is one of the maidservants cleaning her rooms and, secretly, a former temple child. Each has her own reason to hate the empire.
What I loved the most about the book were the characters and their complexity. Priya and Malini’s POV chapters are mixed with the occasional chapter from the POV of someone else, and everyone has their own goals and their own preferred means to achieve them, most of them quite ruthless. I liked that. It also affects the romance. Priya distrusts Malini, given her manipulative tendencies and being the princess of the very empire that colonised Ahiranya, which causes much tension between them, but both of them are drawn to each other. I loved the slowly developing romance – a character taking care of their sick love interest is my absolute favourite thing ever (cough) and there is plenty of that here.
The same approach also shows in the worldbuilding. There are several factions that hate the empire and are forced to cooperate because of that, but have little in common aside from that, ranging from only wanting the emperor replaced with another but not caring about Ahiranya, subtle rebellion, or liberation at all costs, no matter how much blood and lives it takes. It has a lot to say about power and how it changes people. In addition to political tensions, there is also the threat of a magical incurable plague, that manifests itself as plants growing under the skin.
If intrigue, f/f romance with lots of hurt/comfort, epic fantasy with an Indian-inspired setting, or plant-based magic sound good to you, you should absolutely go for it. I am very curious to see where this series will go next.
Recommended to: fans of the hurt/comfort trope, those looking for anti-colonialist fantasy or sapphic books, those looking for epic fantasy that’s character-focused and not set in faux-medieval Europe, if you want moral grayness without grimdarkness
Not recommended to: uhh…can’t think of any obvious drawbacks…
Content warnings: epidemic (but fantastic enough that it was not at all an issue for me), some mild body horror involving plants