Richardson (Seals, 2015, etc.) threads romance through the hammered steel of her latest creation: the fantasy tale of a young woman with a mysterious gift in a bloody race in which success might be freedom and failure is death.
Elena lives in The Pit, a shantytown that’s more prison and misery mill than home. To free herself and her ersatz mother, Rose, she sets her sights on stealing the biggest prize in the vault of the Temple of the Sun, the seat of a brutal, totalitarian priesthood. Unfortunately, she gets caught, which should result in her immediate death but instead turns into something else. The high priest of the Temple has a use for Elena and her particular gift, including a resistance to magic and healing powers. If she competes in the Great Race representing the Temple and retrieves a mysterious artifact of mythic significance and unknown power, the high priest promises her a full pardon. If Elena fails, however, Rose’s life as well as her own will be forfeit. Going with her is Mad Jack, the man who asked her to steal the crown in the first place, the man who betrayed her, the man, in spite of it all, she may find herself falling in love with. Elena is an engaging, well-drawn character, and the world she inhabits is an intriguing, if not groundbreaking, one. Antagonists, unfortunately, are not nearly so well-drawn. They tend more toward the caricatured, scenery-chewing stripe, perhaps chalked up to the narrative being locked to Elena’s point of view. The plot moves along, sometimes with the inclusion of clunky fantasy tropes—the high priest consorting with the very demons he rails against, for example. Elena’s voice is strong, though, going a long way toward compensating for weaknesses the story may have.
Solid start to a new series, with a heroine engaging enough to distract from less-than-convincing villains and threadbare tropes.