This novel offers a rich world, strong story, and characters who are complicated in all the right ways. I did have a few issues with the narrative, but the majority of them were that I’m too quick to pick up on plot seeding. The characters’ mention of, or realization of, the seed came late enough for me to believe the seeding hadn’t been used. Ultimately, though, most of the seeds were either explained or critical to the later plot, and sometimes even in ways I had not anticipated.
The dual first-person narrative offered standard issues with gender and names coming late for me, but the personalities grew from the start. They both showed tangible character growth as they (and Tain) underwent a rapid, event-driven change from child to adult. I did have trouble telling which of the two were speaking at times, but they are each named in the chapter headers. I just tend not to read headers.
I liked how Joven and Kalina, the point-of-view characters, had real physical and mental challenges they struggled with. While some of those limitations turned out to benefit them in very specific circumstances, they did not miraculously overcome their limitations in order to fulfill their roles in the story. Instead, they worked around the issues, were sidelined by them, or had to recognize what paths could never be open to them. It’s a more realistic presentation of disability than most.
The cultural elements and philosophies spouted by the various groups were fascinating, even though, and sometimes because, the characters did not live up to those philosophies. Roles reduced to tradition surged to life, and honored pasts turned both into false legends and unexpected fact. It felt very robust rather than contrived because of these contradictions and misunderstandings. Oh, and there are some lovely solutions founded in keen observations that further support the way Joven and Kalina were raised.
As to the story as a whole, it took a bit for things to fall into place, but the directions satisfied me. There was a lot to absorb me as a reader while the characters attempted to solve the mystery they believed held the answer to everything…which it did in part, but not the whole. That whole, which I won’t mention specifically, made for a significant strength in the book, offering a reaction and perspective less common among stories of this type. There were several points where the story could have taken the easy way out. Instead, those turning points made things more complicated.
This is oddly a very personal story tightly focused on three then four people, but against a tapestry of sieges, war, infighting, and traitors where thousands hung in the balance along with a country’s future. The characters drew me on even when I struggled with what appeared to be story flaws and allowed me to reach the point where, despite the delay, most of the planted seeds bore powerful fruit. It’s well worth the patience to see through and I’m hoping for another book to follow. I’m not tired of these characters, and there are some complex issues to deal with in their future. At the same time, the book comes to a solid conclusion, showing character growth and survival of spirit woven through a tumultuous existence.