For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
CW: mild self-harm ideation, fantasy violence, emotional and physical abuse, anxiety and panic attacks, parent death, and animal death (taken from the author’s note)
This book has taken a while because it’s been quite lauded by everyone I know, so naturally there was a long wait at the library. And wow did I finish it in just a single sitting.
This West African inspired world and magic system was fascinating and I really enjoyed the way the land of Ziran is described. I especially loved the history of this land and it’s peoples, and how the Alahari dynasty came to be. The author also manages to weave in some very important themes like the plight of refugees in a fraught immigration system, the effects of colonization, and how it’s very much possible for the oppressed to become oppressors because that’s what war and opportunity does to rulers.
On the other hand, the plot was slightly predictable and I can’t believe that I actually guessed the main villain as well as another important plot point right when they were hinted for the first time. The anxiety/panic attacks and in general mental health rep felt very organic to the story and I thought was handled very well. But the content might be triggering, so please do keep it in mind.
Malik was easy to like from the beginning but my overwhelming feeling for him was sadness because he tried his best with lot of heart and courage, but also took it too hard if he failed at his endeavors. Karina on the other hand did come across as an entitled royal for a while, until we realize she is also hiding a lot of pain and acting out, and now also has been thrust into a role she wasn’t ready for. We do end up rooting for both of them, but they can act impulsively and take bad decisions sometimes that blow up in their faces. There was one particular instance that happens towards the end that I hated because the character really doesn’t think of any large scale consequence of their decision, which kind of soured my overall feeling about the book at the end.
Overall, if you are looking for a very interesting YA world and magic system that’s inspired by West Africa and it’s mythology, you should totally check this out. The characters can be impressive at times too but I’ll have to mention that the plot is not the strong point here. I definitely had fun while reading this one and I’m open to reading the sequel, but it’ll probably not be on the top of my list next year until I see some of my friends’ reviews.