Hamilton (The Faerie Queen, 2014) launches a planned YA historical fantasy series driven by a strong heroine, intrigue, mystery, and a little bit of romance.
For years Nica has been at the mercy of her abusive father, a ruthless ruler determined to take over a neighboring kingdom. Aided by her friend Toppen, Nica finally tries to escape her father, only to plunge into a battle for survival. She teams up with a young mercenary named Jonn Shanks, and together they begin to parse clues about both her father and her past. When Nica discovers that she isn’t who she thought she was, she is suddenly in a race against time with Shanks to defeat her father before he captures her and destroys what little good is still left in her world. The secret to victory lies in the mythical Getheas Stone. Nica and Shanks must decipher clues in ancient quatrains to find the stone before her father does. The innocent romance between Nica and Shanks is endearing, though her jealousy of his princess “boss” feels petty and shallow given the enormity of the stakes they are facing. Hamilton’s prose shines on the page, delivering brilliant descriptions and fast-paced plotting with plenty of tension. The prophetic quatrains are based on the 16th-century writings of Nostradamus, lending authenticity to the story. Nica is brave and strong, but her flaws and vulnerability make her a compelling heroine for whom it’s easy to cheer. Likewise, Shanks and his best friend, Sebande, are complex, intriguing heroes who are equally as dynamic. The trio drives the book, resulting in unexpected plot turns, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and moments of tension-relieving laughter. Secondary characters, such as her depraved father and the wise castle scholar, are well-drawn too. The way Hamilton cleverly layers in pieces of information that become important later is excellent, creating a tightly plotted storyline in a detailed, lush fantasy world. The ending calls upon inner strength and bravery from the young trio, but plenty of loose ends promise another book in the outstanding series.
Compelling characters, riveting tension, and rich, complex worldbuilding make this a must-read for fantasy fans.