Magic and royalty interweave with contemporary concerns in this dark fantasy.
Renaltan princess Aurelia is a witch. She studies forbidden books and avoids contact with the ghosts she sees while trying to hide her powers from a magic-fearing populace. She’ll be safe once she marries the prince of another monarchy, quelling a centuries-old feud, but secretive, scheming powers knock those plans awry. Fleeing to the magically fortified city of Achleva she pretends to be a commoner with uncommon magical skill as deadly machinations swirl around her. Aurelia’s and her friends’ skin colors range from pale to dark brown, but racial identities don’t come into play in the story. The plot is breathlessly fast, complete with creepy spirits, a satisfying romance, and complex but clear political twists and turns. The plot is purely fantasy, involving a cure-all that only comes after bloodshed, a horrifying ghost called the Harbinger, and the violent undoing of protective spells. However, some aspects—a protective but deadly wall, corrupt leaders who manipulate a repressive, pleasure-denying religion for their own ends, and King Domhnall, a hypocritical, whoring, “very stable genius”—will feel immediately relevant to savvy readers. The mythology feels classic yet fresh and interesting, though descriptions of “blood magic” (where practitioners often make themselves bleed) might warrant a trigger warning for self-injury.
Political, romantic, magical, timely, yet also traditionally appealing. (Fantasy. 14-18)