A gripping debut embraces the trend toward gritty grimdark fantasy.
Lady Renee de Winter has rejected her aristocratic upbringing to train at the elite Academy of Tildor. But Cadet de Winter’s schoolwork is slipping, and despite constant practice, she cannot match her male classmates. When rival crime factions entangle her in their schemes, Renee must choose between every claim on her loyalty—family, friends, teachers, crown, even her own life—and the greater needs of Tildor. Workmanlike prose effectively grounds an energetic plot and solid worldbuilding in earthy descriptions and precise details. Every character is complex and multilayered, each with a story beyond just propping up the protagonist. Renee herself is a flawed but sympathetic heroine who capitalizes upon her strengths, learns from her (serious) mistakes and slowly evolves from her rigid judgmental inclination to appreciate ambiguity and nuance while never compromising her essential integrity. Hints of romance, thankfully, take second place to friendship, trust and duty, not to mention looming war and imminent death.
No fairy-tale resolution here; rather a warts-and-all portrayal of believable characters struggling with realistic conflicts affecting every level of society. (Fantasy. 12 & up)