In this debut novel, a young woman must rediscover her ancient powers of earth magic to save a kingdom.
Elanna Valtai can make flowers sprout from seeds in her hands and specters rise from ancient stones. But magic has been outlawed for 200 years, ever since the lands of Eren and Caeris were conquered by the foreign empire of Paladis. So El must keep concealed a power she doesn’t understand. As a political hostage taken from the royal Valtai family at a young age, El has been treated kindly by her father’s enemy, King Antoine, brought up as one of his daughters. But when the king is murdered and El accused, she is forced to flee and return home to a family and people she scarcely remembers. The narrative is most at home in its magical elements, where stone circles come alive with the spirits of ancestors and tree sap sings. But the characters feel thinly drawn, especially El, whose relationships with the king and his family are unconvincing, making the story’s foundation feel inauthentic. And while it’s a convention to borrow from reality, so much of the story is so loosely disguised it may be distracting to readers. Bates’ father god of the Caerisians is a harp-playing deity called “Dagod,” while Dagda is the name of a harp-playing god central to Irish myth. El’s ancestors are called “the Children of Anu,” while ancient Irish myth tells of The Children of Danu. The premise of the novel itself is torn from the Roman conquering of ancient Britain and the (much later) Jacobite rebellion, complete with a “Bonny Prince” Finn, come back to inspire the rebels and claim his throne.
Given that Bates had such magical material to work with, her lack of depth and ingenuity is disappointing.