Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.
But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.
Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.
Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.
CW: body mutilation, torture, talk of past rape
I have been waiting to read this book since the first time I saw that gorgeous cover. The color scheme and the stunning young Black girl on the cover impressed me immediately and I was so happy when I got the advance copy. But when the release date got pushed to this year, I decided to pick it up closer to when it comes out. And this was wonderful.
I started reading this the day after I sprained my ankle and was confined to the bed, so I really needed a good distraction. And this one turned out to be so good. The story starts off with a bang and it never slows down, keeping us engrossed in it throughout. The mythology and culture of this world is both fascinating and brutal, but just as we think we know something, we are bombarded with more twists and revelations and I couldn’t even imagine taking a break from the book. The writing also felt very personal and full of feeling, making us deeply invested in the proceedings and get emotional whenever something happened. The author also never shies away showing the cruelty of the people in this world, especially towards women whom they consider impure and it’s horrifying to read, but it’s also a tale of strength and survival.
Deka is such an amazingly written character. She is a young woman who has kind of been an outcast all her life and just wants to belong. But then her life is upended and she is put through such ordeals that it is very despairing, but it also drives her to become a survivor. And after losing the only people she knows in such a brutal manner, the bonds she makes with her fellow survivors was a joy to watch. Her absolute trust of her fellow alaki women, who have equally suffered, and the way they all derive strength from each other was immensely satisfying to read. I am especially in love with her beautiful friendship with Britta who is a ray of sunshine among all the darkness. The bonds these women slowly form with male recruits who initially hate them is also very organically developed in the story, and it never felt contrived. And Keita and all his friends made great additions to a story which was otherwise full of misogynistic men, wanting to completely control women.
The author mentions in her note that this was her story about patriarchy and it’s vivid in every single page. This is the story of what happens when men decide they can’t have women be in any powerful positions, and what kind of lengths they will go to convince the whole population that women are meant to be subservient only. But this is also about women who can change their understanding about themselves if given the opportunity, and take their destiny into their own hands when they stand together, along with some men who are not scared to be supportive of them.
In conclusion, this is a stunning portrayal of what a brutal patriarchal fantasy world can look like, and what women can achieve when they decide they’ve had enough. It’s a story of resilience, survival and strong friendships which will definitely leave a mark on you. I feel lucky to have read such a marvelous debut and I can’t recommend it enough.
PS: Thank you to Delacorte Press and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.