A grimdark fantasy debut opens with the 6-year-old heroine’s mother stabbing her through the heart, and it’s all downhill from there.
Now a teenager, Faris steals and brawls to support her drunkard father and little sister in their totalitarian homeland. After a botched escape attempt, her lover is executed and her sister enslaved; Faris herself is manipulated into a spell binding her to the ambitious princess Bryn, who plans a treasonous foray into a neighboring kingdom, blighted by a plague that’s turned the populace into magic-addicted cannibals. They soon join forces with the enigmatic magician North, whose dark secrets may hold the key to their mission. The present-tense narrator Faris is admirable in her ferocious determination, but her constant rage, hatred, and self-loathing become wearying. Bryn proves a marvelous villain, all cruelty and confidence; North serves mostly to suffer nobly and to fall instantly, madly, and inexplicably in love with Faris. Overwrought prose with a tin ear for metaphor propels the mostly repellent characters through a muddled, convoluted plot. The world seems the generic fantasy default-white pseudo-Renaissance Europe, albeit with jarring anachronistic touches; the magic system is likewise confusing. The headlong pace of the narrative keeps the pages turning but makes the final chapter less a cliffhanger than an abrupt fracture of the storyline.
Even those readers who adore misery and squalor might find this a bit much. (Fantasy. 14-adult)