I was so excited to read this sapphic fantasy between a princess and her spymaster because I was fascinated by the premise. I would have read it much earlier if not for the pandemic messing up with my focus and making me too anxious to read anything. But now that I have read, I’m pretty unsure what I have to say.
It’s not that the writing is bad. It was actually very easy to read and I finished it in a single sitting with very little breaks in between. But I also felt that the story promised a lot more than what we eventually get. I expected a lot of court intrigue and betrayals and assassinations, and while all of them were present in the story, they were written in such a way that it all felt very underwhelming. I kept expecting that something would blow me away and when the said event occurred, I felt deflated – and this happened quite a few times. The worldbuilding is also very limited and we only get to know the basic names of the country and it’s neighbors, and a little about the drought and harvest. There are a couple of action sequences, which again didn’t thrill me as I wanted them to. And the last 15-20% was so rushed, and everything resolved so quickly that I lost whatever interest I still had in the story.
Lia is the new Queen who is an idealist and wants to do good for her people, and uproot all the corruption left by her Uncle. But I mostly felt like it was all words, she was clearly overwhelmed, and didn’t really do much for the supposed common people. Xania is a young noble who wants revenge for her father’s death and unexpectedly becomes the spymaster, and it really intrigued me how she learnt all the skills to be one at her age (she only turns eighteen in the middle of the book). Both of them kinda become friends which turns to attraction and love, and while I could sympathize with their feelings, the chemistry or the longing for being in almost a forbidden relationship was pretty nonexistent.
There are also some side characters but none of them were fleshed out enough for me to care about them. Matthias was a loyal friend to both the Queen and Xania and probably the only one who brought some humor to the dialogue. The villains were pretty in your face about their intentions, so I never really had to guess who was gonna be the betrayer. But I did like the portrayal of the mother-daughter relationships and how much the women were ready to do to protect their children. And it was a very interesting contrast to other women who had to choose between their children and the welfare of their family.
In the end, whenever I feel this way about a highly anticipated book, I always think I put too high of an expectation on them. But I don’t believe it was the case here. While this was an easily readable YA fantasy novel, there weren’t many novel elements in it which we haven’t read before, but I still appreciated the POC/Queer cast and the sapphic romance. I think this would work well for readers who are new to the fantasy genre, but if you have been an avid reader of YA fantasy for years, this might feel a bit unremarkable.
PS: Thank you to Netgalley and The O’Brien Press for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.