I really thought I couldn’t possibly love another novel where a small group of plucky, determined subjects rebel against their tyrannical ruler in an attempt to save their citizens, and yet here we are. What can I say, I’m weak when magical rebellions are involved.
A little slow at the start (but hey this is YA fantasy and I’m not going to begrudge the author for a little bit of world building, given how complex the characters and situations were) the action in this book was just perfect. We had calmer moments of our three amigos trying to work out magical scrolls, plot dangerous routes and create stiff banter and just as I start to think oh this is nice, what a fun little trip to the jungle they fend off whole armies, collapse bridges and somehow manage to have a sea battle in the dessert. Oh, and the sea battle? One of my favourite parts.
What really made this novel were the characters because their intentions and quirks were so cleverly interwoven throughout the novel. I wasn’t a massive fan of Zelie’s the king killed my mother and I hold every non-diviner personally responsible thing, especially when it meant relentlessly belittling the girl who gave up her noble life to save the diviners. But hey, at least it made for some great character development. Because I was all for Zelie and Amari’s loyalty and friendship by the end of this novel. And since everyone and their dog was hooking up couldn’t Zelie and Amari be a thing? They’re both so cute together!
Then there’s Amari, the sweet and brave princess who gains the confidence she needs to fight her father. My absolute favourite character, watching her become strong enough to fight beside her friends was one of the real highlights this novel presents.
“Perhaps I made a mistake.
Maybe a lionaire lives in me after all.” – Amari
Her brother, Inan, was another kettle of fish altogether. I really understood him in the beginning of the novel. Bent on doing his father’s will, terrified of failing and thinking he’s a monster- his complexities made total sense. But his character development was too quick, he fell from his rage fuelled perch too quickly and I honestly had no idea where his loyalties were by the end, despite having narrated a third of the book. Although unbelievable this wasn’t necessarily bad. His twists and turns, although I didn’t fully understand them, did give the novel the pace it needed
The final protagonist in this novel is Tzain, Zelie’s brother. He’s caring, sweet and horrendously responsible. I don’t really understand how he and Zelie had lived such similar lives and faced similar hardships when she is this rage fuelled ball of unpredictability and he was her opposite, but again this only embellished the plot. His story was about learning to fight the status quo, but of all the characters in this novel he changed the least. I wasn’t too fussed by this lack of progression given he wasn’t a narrator and, honestly, I couldn’t deal with all four of the main characters changing- I’d struggle to keep up.
Lastly, I will doff my hat to the writing style Tomi Adeymi presents us with. Her world of sticky jungle heat, dry, parched desserts and raw, hopeful characters was just enchanting. She included just the lightest touch of description to embellish the novel and each characters narration and personality shone through each section.
“My insides lurch as a cannonball rips through the deck of another boat. Injured cries hit my ears like shattered glass. The stench of blood stains the air, bringing Zelie’s old words to mind. The day we came to Ibeji, she tasted death.”
I mean how is that writing not amazing??? Then there was the complexities she explored that most YA authors gloss over– the hesitation Amari and Zelie have about killing people, even enemy soldiers and sailors, the fact that bad people do exist even on your own side and the way one size most definitely doesn’t fit all. There a clear grey area in this novel when it comes to right and wrong: even the tyrannical king’s motivations were explored- you can’t get much more balanced than that.
This novel presents us with four daring protagonists, a seriously scary ruler and moral complexities that will leave you reeling. My advice? Flick on the footie in the background, grab a cup of tea and settle in for a long read because these five hundred pages will have you from the get go.
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐