Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.
I enjoyed Kemmerer’s previous series, The Cursebreaker Series but I didn’t LOVE it. It was a solid YA offering but didn’t blow my mind, so my expectations were broadly similar for this book although the premise sounded a little more up my street.
What I liked about this book straight away was the fact that the heroine, Tessa, isn’t a picture-perfect, morally flawless heroine. She comes from a difficult background; she has her own trauma, and she makes questionable choices sometimes and I felt like this translated into her character really well. I also really liked the whole Robin Hood vibe going on with Tessa and Weston, her partner in crime and their dynamic of stealing from the rich to help the poor. I thought Tessa was a multi-layered heroine and it would have been really easy for her to be preachy and sanctimonious considering her characters’ motivations but there was a simplicity to her character and a genuine kindness I liked.
The book also contains another character point of view, that of Prince Corrigan who is the younger brother of the current king. Corrigan has a terrible reputation for being brutal and cruel to his subjects. He acts as a kind of Hand to the King type of idea and through his point of view, we get an insight into his inner conflict and turmoil about what he feels he is duty-bound to do and the burdens he has to take on so that his brother does not have to. I like that kind of dichotomy between his public face of strict brutality and his inner conflict.
I liked that there were examples of morally grey characters, even the villain type characters and by getting to glimpse their points of view we as the reader can gain an understanding that it’s not always as simple as good guys vs bad which makes the characterisation a bit more nuanced and more interesting to read. If you like your characters morally black or white then you might not appreciate this aspect of the book so much, but I liked the fact that it wasn’t always obvious who was on the right path or not. The morally grey aspects of the characters also linked into the wider rebellion plot line as it wasn’t simply a case of there being some bad guys and some good guys, each side in the conflict had its credible arguments as to whether or not they are in the right which made it just that bit more challenging as a reader to reflect on your thoughts and feelings about what makes something right or wrong, and why.
The crux of this story relates to a mysterious illness, a kind of fever, that is spreading through the population. The fever affects rich and poor alike with no obvious cause and the only thing that eases it is a type of flower. As would undoubtedly happen in real life, the rich have better access to this flower than the poor despite strict rationing. Tessa is a skilled apothecary who can process the petals and find better ways to administer them to people. This is highly illegal so she and Weston are taking a huge risk to steal this, often making forays into the royal quarter. The parts of the city are strictly segregated economically and by class.
The story has an old school adventure feel to it and manages to balance going to some pretty dark places without descending into grimdark misery even though there are some genuinely shocking and violent moments in the book.
There are some really nice little tricksy twists in this book and there were things I genuinely didn’t see coming. If you read a lot of YA books you know surprises can be quite difficult to pull off because there is sometimes a kind of predictability in these kinds of stories but there were a few events that caught me out which added to the fun.
There is a romance element in the story too and I think this was done well. I like a good romance in a YA book and the one in this book is enjoyable without overtaking the entire story. I liked the way it played out and I’m interested to see where the characters go next. I’m being deliberately vague here, once you read the book you will realise why!
Even though the book is being set up as a series, I think it stands on its own merits. It doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger which is nice because I’m more than a little tired of every book ending on a blood cliff-hanger recently. There are still lots of plot lines to be tied up and individual character stories to bring forward into future books but were you to only read this book and not the rest of the series I think you would still be able to enjoy it and get a lot out of the story.
Overall I really enjoyed this book and was pleasantly surprised by it and I didn’t expect that it was going to be as good as it was so that was a nice surprise. Roll on the next book!