Narrator: Amy Scanlon
Published on 6 July 2021
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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The story of a girl who must tether herself to a violent ruler to save her crumbling world.
Lorena Adler has a secret—she holds the power of the banished gods, the Noble and the Vile, inside her. She has spent her entire life hiding from the world and her past. She’s content to spend her days as an undertaker in a small town, marry her best friend, Julian, and live an unfulfilling life so long as no one uncovers her true nature.
But when the notoriously bloodthirsty and equally Vile crown prince comes to arrest Julian’s father, he immediately recognizes Lorena for what she is. So she makes a deal—a fair trial for her betrothed’s father in exchange for her service to the crown.
The prince is desperate for her help. He’s spent years trying to repair the weakening Door that holds back the Vile…and he’s losing the battle. As Lorena learns more about the Door and the horrifying price it takes to keep it closed, she’ll have to embrace both parts of herself to survive.
Linsey Miller is a very special author who produces books that can never be described as generic YA fantasy.
This book had so much going for it: incredible worldbuilding, unforced yet passionate diversity, a ruthless yet moral lead character, disability rep, a gender-fluid character whose pronouns kept changing with no explanation (which I found really cool, not annoying), discussion of a character’s asexuality and what it meant in this world, casual bi or pan rep, enemies to lovers and lovers to enemies, and a wicked and brutal magic system based on sacrifice and self-harm.
However, I don’t give free passes on concept alone. I could have loved this book more if for some reason the author didn’t write it in such an odd way.
And I don’t mean poor word choices or that the plot or characters and their motivations didn’t make sense, because they did. All of that was perfectly clear. Lorena Adler has a rare magic that can help the Heir (Crown Prince) prevent a magical door from opening, and keep demons from devouring the populace. So he kidnaps her to force her to assist with his experiments.
On a technical level, the sentences were beautiful. I just couldn’t help but feel that the author was omitting stuff. And not on purpose. Well, not really. More in the spirit of Show, Don’t Tell, that timeless adage that is drilled into writers and not many actually get the memo.
Well. Linsey Miller understood the fucking assignment.
Almost everything in this book was shown (not told), to the point where sometimes I had no idea what was going on, why characters acted in certain ways, or why certain things had to happen. It was like every so often a vital piece of information was just not there. That vital information is what would normally be ‘told’.
And I was so confused at this writing style because I remember enjoying Mask of Shadows and to a lesser extent Ruin of Stars, and I don’t remember this issue.
NOTE: No, that’s not true. I had this same problem in Ruin of Stars:
Dialogue sometimes seemed a bit weird, jumping from topic to topic with no segue or context.
I don’t have many examples because I listened to the audiobook and didn’t take notes to refer to, but there were two scenarios that stood out to me: in one, Lorena and the Heir are having a perfectly civil conversation and suddenly out of nowhere they start talking about sex, with no lead up to it or anything. The conversation wasn’t even flirty, it was positively G rated.
The other scenario included several immortal characters, and for no discernible reason Lorena decided the one immortal character who had suddenly gained the ability to die for real had to be the one sacrificed in this particular scene, even though there was no reason the other immortal couldn’t be.
There was plenty of dialogue and introspection, but there was just not any help to me as the reader by occasionally telling me shit that’s going down. It’s fine to Show me almost everything but I need to occasionally be Told: it summarises what’s been shown, reinforces, and acts as an anchor for the reader. With so much showing and not enough telling, I’m just confused as to why certain things had to happen. Just tell me!
The other issue I had was the audiobook narrator. They had a very strange delivery. They paused in odd places, took long, deep breaths in the middle of sentences, and seemed thoroughly uninterested, at least in the first half, of the performance of narrating this book. They did use other accents and voices for other character though, so I appreciated that.
I can end this review by quoting the exact same thing I wrote in Ruin of Stars:
I didn’t want to give up on this novel because I could see underneath everything it was really cool, with a really cool message on acceptance and bigotry, and a character who wanted to do bad things for noble reasons: but overall I was disappointed, you don’t get bonus points for intention if you can’t execute it, and that’s why this is getting an agonised-over 3 stars.
I still want to read Linsey’s other books because I love everything else about them.