This is a complicated book full of manipulators both working toward what they believe to be good and for their own selfish purposes. There is a large cast, most of whom I’d consider unlikeable, but there is no question that they’re well-rounded and complex. With the exception of Ash, and even she sometimes slips into this pattern of selfishness, the sisters and step-brother of the elf-shot king are happy to use guile, strength, or any other aspect they have to force others to conform to their will.
In the beginning, I wondered whether I could read the whole because I don’t like spending time with nasty people. It’s hard to tell hero from villain because neither descriptions from others nor their own actions show them in a good light. This soon fell away because none of the characters stayed wholly nasty, and when I had glimpses of their better natures, it informed the whole. The characters are very much a product of their circumstances and upbringing, so I can see why they behave as they do even if their choices are not the ones I would have preferred. One of the strengths in the book is how there were moments when I’d see a situation described in detail only to later get the other person’s point of view and have the assumptions of the first turned on their head. This made the story feel solid and grounded in reality.
As far as the politics, infighting, and circumstances, the book does an excellent job of laying out the costs of power. Whether for the heir who cannot see beyond her duty, the younger sister married off to secure a border, or the step-son who could have been a decent person if not for the aspirations coming about when his mother married a king, each are puppets to the demands of power. This is not a story with clear lines between right and wrong. Everything is murky with uneasy diplomacy, religious clashes, personal failings, and unkind demands resulting from the characters’ birthrights.
While most of the book occurs during one journey or another, the characters face very real risks and challenges. Physical and mystical battles complicate their journeys while lighter moments of love, humor, and sex are rarely without a darker shadow looming over them. In a world where watching both word and step would be wise, the sisters are rarely as wise as they need to be, nor are they committed to the same paths. This leads trouble to their doors more often than not, even for Ash, whose every step seems to take her closer to the foretelling she’s trying to escape.
A lot happens, and a lot is resolved, but there’s clearly more to come. I felt the book came to a solid ending, though with fingers reaching into a larger story. There are at least three story threads stretching onward into the series, and I’m especially interested in seeing how Ash’s plays out because I connected with her from the beginning, and her path is fraught with complications.
This is not an easy, quick, or light read, but I do not regret having spent the time in this world one bit. The complexity appealed, the twisted logics and manipulations compelled, and ultimately, the characters won my respect and appreciation, if not always my preference.
P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.