I received a copy from Penguin First To Read.
This particular fantasy wasn’t on my immediate must have radar, I must admit. I knew of it, I was waiting for some reviews from blogs I followed before looking for closely at it. I took a chance at requesting when I saw it in Penguin’s First to Read list. It got off to a bit of a rocky start, I found it rather clunky and boring. Turns out by the end I absolutely loved this fantasy. I loved this fantasy so much I pre ordered a finished hard cover from the Book Depository.
I very nearly DNFed several times in the first 100 pages or so. The world building was interested enough. The bulk of the population of this world is illiterate, except a few chosen who belong to some sort of society that is very powerful (and possibly dangerous). History and stories and such are passed down through word of mouth. At first it almost seems like there’s no magic even, which is surprising in a YA fantasy. Turns out though magic does have a pretty big part to play by the end of the novel.
The novel starts by introducing the main character Sefia and her aunt leaving a busy town, the aunt has some sort of mysterious path and we learn right off she’s a brilliant thief. Shortly afterwards the aunt, Sefia’s only living family, is kidnapped by a group of masked people, men and women. Leaving Sefia alone with a strange object that she’s to protect at all costs. The object turns out to be a book. Sefia is left alone to reminisce about the deaths of her parents – both murdered – and how she escaped and came to her aunt. She has to figure out the purpose of the book and teach herself how to read it.
The world building was interesting enough, though I did find those first hundred pages very very slow. The story does jump in time to a year later after the kidnapping of Sefia’s aunt. I think it’s after that when most of the other characters are introduced.
Aside from Sefia, we are introduced a number of other different characters in different locations. The scene setting is quite visually striking and one thing I really loved about this fantasy was how the women were just as strong (in many occasions stronger) than the men. There was no shove the women to the background. The women in this novel pretty much kicked ass and were awesome.
After other characters are introduced – a young man with a gift for words is given the chance to join the society of Readers and become part of a mysterious Library to learn the words and the magic that comes with the knowledge of books. In training the guy’s magical abilities increase. He strikes up a friendship with a nameless Assassin in training. Which becomes one of the most incredibly moving, slow burning romances I’ve come across in a long time. This seems to have absolutely nothing to do with Sefia and her own book.
There’s another plot of a crew of pirates striking a deal to sail to the edge of the world, a mismatch of different characters with interesting histories. I was a little apprehensive when the pirate plot was introduced as the last few books I’ve read with this sort of thing I’ve not liked much at all. Turned out the story for these guys was one of my favourite parts of this book.
Sefia herself has become a Reader and is determined to rescue her aunt. In tracking her down, she comes across a group of mercenaries who seem to be abducting young boys and sending them off to some sort of fighting ring. Sefia inadvertently finds herself rescuing one of these boys she names Archer due to his proficieny with a bow and arrow. Archer appears to be unable to talk. I was worried when this happened that here comes the inevitable romance (it’s a YA fantasy after all). However, again I was quite pleased with how things progressed between Archer and Sefia, trust developed over time turning into friendship turning into more, the possibility of another incredibly slow burn romance.
While all of this is going on, the novel’s very unique take on magic begins to develop as the story progresses. It’s not obvious magic, flashy spells and such. Everything is more intricate, there’s magic in the young man’s studies, Sefia discovers a very powerful vision type magic when she kills someone for the first time, the Assassin has some pretty nifty and scary magic of her own. The more the novel progresses, the more the magic builds. Becoming pretty damn huge in Sefia’s part by the end.
Even though all the different characters were interesting enough and as neat as the storylines were, it’s like – where is all this going? It does all come together – but not in the way I would have ever guessed. The twist with the young scholar and the Assassin in training was pretty jaw droppingly awesome.
All in all by the end of this novel I was absolutely hooked and I cannot wait for the next book. I need it! Now!