Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Length: 506 pages
Source: Library E-Book
Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can't sell—the thick silver cuffs he's worn since birth. They're clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he's never been able to get them off.
One day, Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.
Meanwhile, Raisa ana'Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She's just returned to court after three years of freedom in the mountains—riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her...
The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.
Protagonists: This story follows two main points of view; Han, a boy with a dark past and a magical secret not even he knows about, and Raisa the princess heir to the queendom of the Fells who wants to be more than just a bird in a glittering cage and a piece on a chessboard. I was actually really surprised at the lack of crossover in these two characters, there's maybe a chapter or two in which these characters interact before going back to their separate, but related, stories. Each of these characters has many layers to them that make them well thought out and individualized characters. Their development and growth over this book looks to be only a taste of the characters they will become over this series.
Romance: There is actually very little romance in this book. Honestly I was expecting a lot more, and moreover I was expecting that by the end of the book, regardless of my personal feelings on the matter, I'd know definitively where the author wants to go with the two main characters in terms of endgame. Honestly, since they both have other love interests and due to the very little interaction between the two of them in this book, I don't know if Chima wants fans to root for Han and Raisa to end up together, for them to form a platonic friendship, and/or for them to find romantic partners apart from each other. The little bit of romance that we did get to see was really only beneficial on the part of Raisa and her love interest, as Han and his love interest were kind of boring.
World-Building: There's so much world-building in this book that at times is was hard for me to keep up. First things first, there are two magical forces at play; the clans who control green magic, things related to nature and healing, and wizards who control high magic, things much more forceful and potentially destructive. The thing is that when I first learned about these two forces my mind immediately wanted to sort one as the "bad guy" and the other as the "good guy" but there are shades of gray in both of these factions and it's not as simple as right and wrong, even though it isn't hard to judge a character because of their factional ties. The history of this world is also very interesting, there are stories of a warrior queen who defeated a great evil and saved the world, but as we know history is written by the victors and there are two sides to every story. I sort of felt like I missed out on something though, that I was supposed to have a vague knowledge of the world, or that there was a prequel novella to read, but there isn't, still that feeling of being out of the loop story wise never fully went away.
Predictability: For most of this book, the best I can compare it to is walking in a dark room, I had a vague sense of what was coming next, but I couldn't rely on context for anything far off. There wasn't all that much foreshadowing and when there was it was extremely subtle, as in when a twist would be revealed it would sometimes take me a while to piece it all together. However, while for the most part the foreshadowing was subtle, there were times when it was a bit more obvious, though not by much, more a tingle in the brain, which led to some outlandish theories that may or may not have been right.
Ending: There is a lot of tension and action that goes on in this ending, on both sides of this story. It's hard to fully describe without spoilers but the ending of this book is very emotional, there are quite a few things revealed that I did not expect, and some things that I actually did expect that made me want to punch someone. The cooldown period did not last long as there is one more secret to be told, and it's a doozy. There's a lot set up for the next installment and while this book ended in a way that's leaving me clamoring for the sequel, it doesn't end in a cliffhanger but more that traditional first book plateau that hints at a brighter tomorrow.
I'd say on the whole I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to continue the series, however it is paced a bit slow and there was definitely a bot of confusion in more than one area of this book.