My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Actual Rating: 2.5
Man oh man. This book was definitely interesting, and surprisingly, I did find it really enjoyable despite the fact that I had a lot of issues with it. I have a LOT to say about this book, and so you are aware, this review WILL have SPOILERS, so read at your own risk!
So first I want to say that the premise of this book sounded so interesting, and it was one of my most anticipated reads for May because of the synopsis. BUT, once we got into the book it was completely different than the synopsis suggests. When I first opened the book, I noticed that its separated out into 3 different sections, which for a 288 page book I found a little excessive, but figured that it would help with the flow of the book. But boy, was I wrong. As far as the plot goes, there was just too much going on in 288 pages. It almost felt like the author wanted to cover soooo much more but didn’t want to commit to a longer book. I think that if this book was a little longer, the different plot points could’ve been better developed.
Basically, the main point of the story is that there are these mage women from a land called Vaga who are slaves to the kings of Above, and they start a revolt to get free. And while that is happening, the king of Above and the queen of Under are killed on the same day and their heirs Tollan and Gemma assume power. Among all the other plot points, there was one that was specifically mentioned in the synopsis and was only touched upon MAYBE 3 or 4 times in passing, and that would be the sleep spell that the kingdom is put under. There was more focus on the romances than there was on the actual war that they were trying to prevent.
And that brings me to the romances. First, this is considered YA, which it definitely is NOT. There is a TON of violence, murder, rape, and even sex worker priests! Yeah, you heard that right. About 40 pages in we get thrust right into an awkward situation, where Tollan, now the king of Above is on the run with his best friend so Gemma, now the queen of Under, hides him in a whorehouse. Of course, to keep up the ruse she dresses up as a whore and jumps up and down on the bed while discussing strategy with them. That was all fine and dandy, it’s something that happens in books and movies often, but THEN. It’s taken a step further and when someone knocks on the door, Gemma immediately strips, makes the boys strip, and then proceeds to whisper in Tollans ear that it needs to be wet and SPITS ON HIM. I was literally in shock that this was something that happened in a YA book! I found it hilarious myself, but if some young teen picked this up, they would be in for one BIG surprise!
The actual romances in this weren’t horrible (well except for one), and for once, the two main characters aren’t the ones falling in love! Which was super refreshing. Tollan is secretly gay, but then once he meets Gemma’s friend Elam (who is one of those sex worker priests I mentioned) he basically comes out by suddenly making out with him. They were the one couple that I liked, but they were definitely very insta-lovey.
Then there is Gemma and her master assassin Devery. This is where I had the most issues, because at first they start off as this badass couple, but then there’s a major plot twist where Devery reveals that his mother is one of the Vagan mage women and the ones who are enslaved are his mother’s sisters. Then Devery admits to Gemma that the previous queen of Under and her lover, who were like Gemma’s adoptive parents, were killed by him on the orders of his mother! And of course, Gemma is upset with this, but then she learns that he has a child that he never told her about and she is more upset with him that he didn’t tell her about this child than she is about him killing her family! AND THEN in that same conversation, he reveals that he is actually under a spell that keeps him looking young but he is actually 68 years old and Gemma is fine with that! I was so creeped out at that point and the fact that she was okay with everything and stayed with him. Then, at the end of their conversation, he hands her a cup of tea that his mother poisoned and Gemma gets knocked unconscious. Oh yeah, and did I mention that Gemma is pregnant with his child?? Well, she ends up miscarrying because of the poison, and after she wakes up, they go off to save their friends and end up having sex in the middle of town on someone’s lawn. Like she just miscarried and is still bleeding out and is emotionally unstable but sure, makes sense to have sex right after! This is pretty much the only place the sleeping spell comes in and almost acts as an excuse for them to have lawn sex. And of course, after this, all they end up doing is a whole lot of crying constantly, which for me made them no longer badass, just really emotional.
Okay, enough about the romances, because I could go on and on about those. The pacing of this was wayyy to fast for 288 pages, and some of the plot points happened within a paragraph or two, so if you skimmed you would’ve missed it!
The ending of this was not wrapped up neatly, and I had to double check that this is a standalone because I was left with sooo many questions! First off, the whole thing with the mage women was solved because that secret child I mentioned? Yeah, she whips out this secret mind reading power to convince the women to step down and give in, and then goes around healing everyone (except Tollan, who is definitely dead, sorry). But we are never told if the sleeping spell is lifted, like, is everyone still sleeping? What is going on with that? Then, we have an epilogue where Tollan wakes up in the family crypt next to his brother and fathers rotting corpses, and we don’t get to see how he gets out, if he meets up with Elam, does his mother, who is a pirate I guess, become queen of Above? And what exactly is the Above and Under? Because the line between the two is pretty blurred.
I did enjoy the writing style, it was really easy to read and I flew through the book because, while there were absurd things happening, it was intriguing and parts were pretty interesting. If there were either A) more pages to really dedicate time to the plot and characters, or B) less characters and fewer plot points, I would’ve given it a much higher rating. It was very unique and I loved it for that reason alone, and I do feel really bad that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was hoping. It was very entertaining though, and I didn’t even touch on all the absurd things that happened so if this sounds interesting or if you want to read all these interesting situations, definitely pick it up! I will try other things that this author comes out with because I did like her writing style and the idea behind the book.