This isn’t a new story – it is clearly playing on the trope where the pampered/sheltered girl is forced to make her way in the world when a disaster thrusts her out of her comfort zone and into real life. The story is recognizable despite the magical embellishment, but that is okay because I happen to like this trope. The packaging may not disguise, but it does make a familiar story more appealing. I gave this book four stars despite the fact that it got a little draggy at some points.
Sixteen-year-old Elli was only a child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic in service of her people. The only life Elli has known has been in the temple, surrounded by luxury, tutored by magic-wielding priests, preparing for the day when the queen perishes—and the ice and fire find a new home in Elli, who is prophesied to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.
But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.
Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between her love for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must choose the right side before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.
Elli, the protagonist didn’t waste time being snotty and selfish about her changed circumstances – she comes across as a empathetic and genuinely good person almost from the start. She may be a bit too good for some readers, but she was raised to see herself as a protector, first and foremost, of the kingdom, so of course she hesitates at plots that threaten to bring only chaos and destruction to her land. And it is a fully realized world that she is tasked with protecting. The social, political, and magical structure of this setting is well developed and thoughtful. It feels believable and, while it does have some problems, the people who populate it are as good and evil as any place you want to point to on a map today. It wasn’t a stylized dystopian, and that is something I think most readers will appreciate.
Despite these positive points, I did think the pacing was a little slow. It certainly devoted enough time to developing complex characters and relationships, and there is action throughout, but I found myself growing a little bored as I slowly peeled back the layers to reveal what was really happening – this is mostly due to the fact that the mentor figure disappears for several months in the middle of the book, leaving characters and readers in the dark. This time was used to build a romance and to develop a nuanced cast, but it was a bit of a lull for me.
As far as the romance goes, it was one I enjoyed. It was carefully staged to grow from friendship into something more intimate without jumping straight into instant devotion. It had enough conflict to keep me engaged. As a matter of fact, it was this relationship that kept me reading when my irritation at the stall in the bigger plot threatened my interest.
Overall, I think this book will appeal to many of my high school readers, particularly those who enjoy books like Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes. I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list. Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.