[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
This novel was partly a good surprise: I expected to see romance in it, but after so many YA books where said romance is just rushed in, let’s say that I’ve become pretty jaded… and fortunately, here, the romance was of the slow-building type, and not the be all-end all it too often is. Mostly the story focuses on Sera’s life at the Academy and on her collaboration with Barrington in his investigating gruesome witches’ murders—in other words, it was more about the mystery than about the usual ‘true love’ stuff that (just as usually) detracts from the fantasy plot. This definitely endeared me to it.
Getting into it was a bit of a strange process: the novel puts the reader in medias res when it comes to both world-building and characters. It’s something I tend to appreciate, rather than having to contend with history lessons/typical fantasy prologues, and I quickly found my marks. As for the characters, while the main chars were alright (with a sort of Rochester/Jane Eyre dynamic, e.g. Barrington’s way of infuriating people), the secondary ones really felt more on the cookie-cutter side: the bully, the teachers who generally blame Sera just because she’s a seventhborn, the best friend obsessed with boys, the cute and wealthy love interest, etc. So I didn’t care much for them; some more development was needed here, especially regarding two of them, since they become more important in the second half of the story.
The love relationships have their problematic sides, too, whether the boy who’s in love with Sera and keeps pushing (including stealing a kiss a couple of times when obviously Sera isn’t interested), or the potential student/teacher relationship (granted, she’s 18 and soon out of school, buuuut… it’s a YA novel, after all). On the other hand, it could also have been much worse, whether it came to the boy or to the ‘forbidden romance’ (that one, at least, moved slowly enough as to be believable, and they didn’t just fall into each other’s arms out of the blue by the end of the first third).
I would also have liked more details about the magic system and the world itself, particularly when it came to seventhborns. We know they are disliked because when they come into this world, their mothers lose their powers and die, and that they were linked to a plague, so people disliked them and still do… However, I can’t help but wonder: why do people in that world keep having seven children, since the (well-known) outcome is so bad for the families? Why don’t they stop at four or five: because they can’t? Or because they don’t want to? Couldn’t a witch use her powers to prevent herself from even conceiving this seventh child? This is the kind of ‘curse’ that could be easily avoided in a world with magic, so I have no clue why these kids are still born, and… that is a major plot hole here.
This said, I did enjoy the mystery/investigation part. Its direct impact is solved by the end of the book, so we get some resolution, but at the same time, there are still mysteries lingering in the characters’ backgrounds, that would make good material in a next book.
Conclusion: 2.5 stars. This novel has its problematic sides, but others I did like nonetheless. I might pick the second volume at some point to see if there’s more world-building there.