As the son of a cleric, 15-year-old Samuel, who was born out of wedlock, is destined for life in the clergy; the appearance of a demon child in his village violently upends his world.
Samuel and his father are outcasts in a world of convoluted laws and corrupt politicians. When the mayor asks Samuel to supervise a demon named Zei, Samuel is eager to break free from his proscribed path despite the mayor’s nefarious intentions. Zei has the appearance of a delicate little girl but has reptilian eyes and superhuman strength. For unexplained reasons, she is mute, illiterate, and missing part of an arm. In an unnecessarily lurid reveal, Samuel also discovers that she lacks genitalia. An undercurrent throughout the novel is Samuel’s attempt to disentangle his desire to care for Zei from the sexual attraction and friendship he feels for his peers. By the end of the book Samuel seems to understand his emotions, but readers may not feel equally enlightened. In her debut, Richard has created an original dystopia populated with enigmatic characters. However, the plot is ponderous and feels more like a prologue than the first in a series. Those native to the whitelands are, aptly, white; Samuel’s deceased mother’s bronze skin marked her as coming from the redlands.
Readers will be drawn into this fascinating world but may get snagged on the rough edges. (Dystopian. 15-adult)