This book is right up my alley—female protagonist thrown into an unfamiliar and extravagant setting with ulterior motives all around? Yes, please! It drew me in right from the opening statements:
I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore.
I must try to remember.
The unfortunate downside of beginning this way is that much of this first chapter, explaining her parents’ situation and how she came to arrive at the palace of Sky, is flat-out exposition—most of the momentum built by that gunshot of an opener is lost. The pace continues to flag as Yeine is introduced to her new home, but gets another solid kick in the pants when she meets Nahadoth halfway through chapter two, and the story races ahead from there right through the climax. There’s a short stop and excruciating slowness in the denouement, which I felt could’ve used a good bit more tension, but for the most part this book is a definite page-turner.
Yeine’s voice as narrator is usually not very distinct from that of most of the genre, except where her current confusion interferes with the storytelling. There are several false starts where she feels the need to explain a bit of worldbuilding or her history (usually done in a natural enough way not to feel expository) before moving on in her story, a few spots where she restates her confusion, and later in the book some interior dialogue that provides necessary foreshadowing. These are all very effective at reminding the reader of all the questions raised in that first paragraph, keeping the tension high and promising a satisfying resolution.
The story itself is trifold: on the personal level is Yeine’s need to discover the truth behind her mother’s recent death (highly relatable for any reader with parents); on the mundane level is the question of royal inheritance (always a good go-to to heighten the stakes); and on the divine level is the quest of the Enefadeh (enslaved gods) for their freedom and return to power. This last is the one that’s most original to this book, being both closely tied in to this unique worldbuilding and resonant with anti-slavery and redemptive themes.
Other than some nit-picky feminist theory snafus (which I've discussed at spoilery length over here), the entire book was very well-crafted, pulling me through at a break-neck pace until all the plot-twists at the climax gave me whiplash. The balance of thoroughly-foreshadowed reveals and sheer shockers was just right for making readers feel both satisfied and impressed, and the ending does a good job of setting up for a sequel without making me feel physically uncomfortable at having to wait for amazon to deliver it. 4.5 stars, rounded down because of aforementioned pacing and feminist issues.
Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey
This is a masterfully-crafted novel, taking
place in alternate-religious-history France and following the adventures of a highly-trained and intelligent courtesan -- one who happens to be chosen by Kushiel, the god of pain.
Political intrigue, manipulation and betrayal, and questions of the truth of love and loyalty abound.
Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier
Taking place in medieval Ireland, this story has a strong fairy-tale feel, following a young woman cursed to silent labor by the sorceress who has married her father -- but trust me, it's more
mature than it sounds. Themes of family,
destiny, and the meddlesome nature of
the Fair Folk.
Eon, by Alison Goodman
Genderbending goodness, deity-human relations, and feminist issues! And with a rare China-based worldbuild, too. Our heroine here is forced to masquerade as a boy so that she can compete
for the attentions of a dragongod -- as you
can imagine, things go horribly off-track.