Nadya is a cleric: a holy mage blessed with incredible powers by the Gods. Having been trained to fight since birth in a remote monastery, she’s the last hope for her country of Kalyazin. They’ve been caught up in a war against their neighbouring country of Tranavia for over a century. She is almost ready to come out of the shadows to fight, when the war unexpectedly comes knocking at the monastery door.
Nadya must flee from the High Prince of Tranavia, Serefin. He’s a powerful blood mage, a heretical magic wielder, and the heir to the throne. He’s spent years at the front lines, and he’s as weary of the endless war as everyone else. For unclear reasons, he lets Nadya escape into the snowy night.
With a companion from the monastery, Nadya runs into a straggling group of Serefin’s soldiers. They team up with strangers to swiftly dispatch them, and form a shaky alliance afterwards. One of the strangers is Malachiasz, a blood mage who claims to have defected. He and his allies from Akola (another country; not directly involved in the war but affected by it) have hatched a desperate plan to end the war, and Nadya agrees to help them. It will take her far from home, but it’s the only way she can fulfil her destiny and be the hero she was always meant to be.
Things I liked:
The magic system was unusual. Nadya, as a religious cleric, has to pray to individual Gods in the pantheon for specific powers to get her out of trouble. The magic they grant her includes any kind of combatant power you can think of, including the touch of death, and other useful powers like light in the darkness or super speed. Serefin is a blood mage, so he uses magic in a different way. His country deposed the Gods when they discovered how to use magic without their blessing, and thus started the holy war. Blood mages cut their skin and put the blood on a spelled page to enact that specific spell. Not everyone has the potential to be a blood mage, and they all have varying degrees of power.
The plot moved along quickly enough, if in a linear fashion.
Anything else I liked initially (such as the Russia-like setting), wasn’t developed to its full potential.
Things I disliked:
The relationship between Malachiasz and Nadya. It’s one of those typical enemies to lovers tropes, poorly executed, and predictable. They weren’t equals in the romance and he had a much bigger influence on her actions and motivations than she had on his. It just rubbed me up the wrong way.
The character development. Many side characters had the potential to be interesting, subvert the course of the plot, or at least do something. Sadly, they existed purely as satellites doomed to orbit the disappointing main characters. I say the main characters were disappointing because I’ve met them a hundred times before. The tortured male and the naïve female. Sorry, make that two tortured males: one is a megalomaniac, the other an alcoholic. Ugh.
The main problem is that pervasive sense of déjà vu. YA fantasy is one of my favourite genres, but man, it can get tiring. A lot of this book read like a rip-off of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy.
Nobody, really. Do yourself a favour and bypass this book in favour of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. You’ll thank me for it.
2 stars, because at least it was a quick, easy read.