Fantasy without magic, historical fiction without facts: Hathaway’s debut defies classification.
In a fantasy world featuring early-20th century technology, royals descended from one common ancestor rule the North—except for a new nation under the dictatorship of Gen. Dakar—while the South descends into chaos. This world includes military women and brown-skinned royals, although both remain exceptions. White Athan, the general’s youngest son, is a reluctant military pilot; he just wants to run away and fly his beloved planes in peace. Biracial, brown-skinned Aurelia is a Northern princess with a Southern mother who loves horses, dreams of a university education, and believes she is superior for being royal. When the two finally meet as part of a fact-finding mission, sparks fly, although the prologue warns that their Romeo and Juliet–style romance is probably doomed. The politics are subtle and complex, even if the characters sometimes are not, and everyone lies, leaving readers confused. This is a novel about ambition and war, occasionally drowning in details, and much of this series opener sets up the world, with the bulk of the action crammed into the final chapters. Grief and the horrors of war loom larger than the romance, although the love letters are swoon-y.
Those who stick around for this slow ride will be left eager to know how events play out. (map) (Fantasy. 13-adult)