I have waited obscenely long to read this book. Multiple requests for the ARC got rejected and while sometimes I lose interest in a book when that happens, it wasn’t the case here. Rin Chupeco has become a favorite author of mine this year and there was no way I wasn’t gonna read this book immediately after its release. And I can’t tell you how happy I am that I wasn’t let down.
This world is brilliantly conceived. As a land that has stopped turning and has literally been cleaved into two, the effect this has on the world itself as well as the people is described with stark detail. The half with perpetual sun is basically a desert with even the strong rays of the sun too dangerous for people to be exposed to, the waters drying up in a way that leads to unprecedented droughts and deaths of creatures leaving very few sources of food remaining. The other half is endless night, with unbearable cold and oceans and ice encroaching on the remaining land that is left. There are also acid rains, sand seas, rivers and seas changing course and various other disasters, which make survival the only thing important in this world.
The origin and basis of the magic system is pretty unique, even though the powers that each person possesses are pretty standard for a fantasy novel. I can’t go much into detail because I don’t think I can really explain it properly and you should find it out yourself. However, the myriad of creatures, some sweet, some motivated and some hostile are all wonderfully described and I really dreaded every time a new one showed up. There really were some very monstrous creatures and I think the author captured the horror of them very well.
The writing style of the author is definitely something that you need to get a bit used to. Just like The Bone Witch trilogy, you are either going to completely fall in love or not like it much at all – and you can obviously guess which side I fall on. The author definitely doesn’t believe in info dumps at all, so while we get to know the issues faced by the people in the world right from the beginning, the reason for the breaking of world and the mythology behind the story of the goddesses is revealed very slowly. The only thing that slightly miffed me was that we really didn’t get answers even by the end of the book, and while I’ll surely read the sequel, I just wish we had gotten some more revelations.
The pacing of the story is steady but mostly on the slower side, with some interesting action sequences in between which thrilled me a lot. This book has one of my favorite tropes – a quest – and I really enjoyed the journeys the characters took across the two vastly different but consistently dangerous landscapes. We get 4 different POVs and the author does a wonderful job giving each of them very distinct voices and making me fall in love with all of them. The audiobook also has a full cast production, which made for a great listening experience. I actually read and listened to this book alternately and I loved both ways of enjoying it.
The characters are another strong point of the story and it always gives me immense pleasure when I end up liking all of them. Odessa is the young goddess of the darker side of the world, while Haidee is from the desert side. They both have been brought up very differently but by very similar strict mothers, with Odessa isolated most of her life due to her chronic illness and Haidee a very talented mechanika (despite her mother’s distaste for it). But they both are inherently compassionate human beings who decide to do something to save their world and set out on very similar and perilous journeys. Odessa is also a romance novel lover and it was adorable to see her try to understand the mechanics of seduction by applying whatever she read in her books. Haidee on the other hand is very competent and practical, but jumps into things headlong without worrying too much about what might happen next.
Lan is a former ranger who suffers from PTSD and is tasked with being Odessa’s bodyguard. They have a kind of established relationship from before the book starts, so it was nice to see it grow and change based on circumstances and also the push and pull due to the power imbalance. Lan is very honorable and her struggle to accept the trauma of her past and realize that it’s okay to sometimes ask for help is very painfully but realistically depicted, and I thought it was amazing to see some kind of therapy sessions happening in a fantasy world.
Arjun on the other hand is a desert nomad who is very skilled at doing whatever it takes to survive and wants to kill Haidee because he assumes she is responsible for the breaking of the world and all his people’s troubles. But it’s obvious from the start that they are destined to be together and it was especially their banter that made for some lighthearted moments in an otherwise intense book. They also make for great partners when fighting off creatures hell bent on murdering them and I lived for those scenes. Arjun seems like a grumpy dude in the beginning but he really is a softie and there are some adorable heartwarming moments in the story between him, Haidee and a group of dolugongs and I just wanted to give them all a hug.
Right from the cover to the premise, it’s obvious that this book’s main theme is a direct parallel to the climate change emergency of our world. It really showcases how an entire world can be devastated just because a few in power get greedy for more of it. And how in such catastrophic conditions, those with more resources will essentially shut off relief for anyone they deem unworthy. The author’s note about her own experiences with climate disasters in Philippines really makes for a chilling read and gives the book a whole different perspective. It’s mostly a call to action to everyone to do their part in preventing this devastation from proceeding any further.
There is also a whole subplot about verbal/physical abuse by superiors over their subordinates and I think the author gives us a lot to think about with the way she handled this part of the story – if we get to punish our abusers in the same way they abused us, is it really justice and are we really any different from them? Where is the line really between justice and retribution and what is it that prevents us from becoming abusers too?
If you love books with excellent ensemble of diverse characters, a very complex world and some adorable romances, then you should pick this up. If you have previously enjoyed the Bone Witch trilogy, you’ll probably like this a lot too. If like me, you are fan of characters going on physical as well as metaphorical quests, then this book is a perfect choice for you. The audiobook is also excellently narrated, and I loved listening to a full cast. The book however can be a bit slow, so maybe keep that in mind before you dive into it. I may not be entirely satisfied with the ending, but I really loved the journey this book took me on and I’m already upset that I’ve got to wait a very long while to see how it all ends.