2.5 stars. This was an ambitious first novel at best. Downum clearly has a beautiful way with words. Passages like the following really resonated with me:
Excitement hummed in her blood, dizzied her worse than any wine. And that was the true reason she was here, the reason she would go where she was sent, no matter how ugly the mission. Not for king and country, not even for Kiril, but because danger sang to her like a siren, and after the first giddy brush with death, the rush of knowing that she was still alive, she’d known she could never stop.
However, while I don’t doubt this played out wonderfully in her head, she forgot about her readers. This book wasn’t really written in the way that you’d expect of a first book in a series. It felt like I was jumping into the second or third book in a series, as if everything that was being said was information that I should’ve already known. I think she was trying to craft it in a way to be mysterious, feeding readers information piece by piece until the big reveal. But it just felt confusing and like I was missing out on a whole story.
The first 70 pages or so of this book could’ve been removed. The little information that we did get from those pages could’ve been woven into the story. Most of those first pages seemed rather fumbling and didn’t offer much useful more than seeming to pad the book to take up the reader’s time. Totally unnecessary, and it nearly made me put the book down. If I hadn’t stuck with it for one more chapter, and the next chapter did prove to be interesting, I wouldn’t have ever picked up this book again.
Also, she used many words native to the characters that the reader is unfamiliar with, words that most of the time didn’t even have a hint as to what they really meant, words that needed at least a dictionary in the back. I like when a book has a language that is its own (or some amalgam of real language), but it does no good when I’m sitting here hoping that this word means something honorific and just isn’t some random word that means “girl.”
Then, there was the confusing POVs. I’m a reader that doesn’t mind “head-jumping,” but it’s not implemented well here. Sometimes, I didn’t even realize the POV had changed until I read some information that made me realize that this had to be one of the other characters, and it was more than a bit frustrating at times, considering how much I wanted to like this story.
I did enjoy the intrigue, mystery, and supernatural aspect that Downum tried to use. I think her characters have potential to be amazing and praiseworthy, but I just don’t think this was executed as well as it could’ve been. And I have to admit that I thought the ending was sublime and really showed what this story had the potential to be. I will give the second book a chance and hope that Downum found her footing a little better because this does have so much potential to be an amazing series.