A headstrong teenager becomes a slave in this debut novel.
As a 6-year-old, Repentance lost her little brother to the overlords. Ten years later, on the day of her buttoning ceremony (an arranged marriage), she refuses her betrothed. She vows never to have children of her own who can be taken away. Instead, she forfeits her freedom. Her decision seems irrational. It shames her family and condemns her betrothed, Sober. The two of them are enslaved. They are taken from their village’s foggy swamps to the ice city of the overlords. Here, Repentance learns the true cost of her defiance. She has become property—a human possession to be done with as the overlords see fit. Slaves who try to escape are punished with death and their families taken as compensation. Sober is beaten; Repentance is sold to a brothel. She despairs for herself but even more for her sister should Repentance continue to buck the overlords. More than ever, her situation seems hopeless. And then she catches the eye of the old king. Apokedak crafts a rounded fantasy world—from the village with its superstitions and traditions to the city with its magical cloths. But for all of its exotic settings, this book is concerned primarily with slavery. Human dignity is the prevalent theme. Iniquities flourish, and Repentance, though a strong-willed protagonist, is faced with a disheartening truth: that fighting against the system will not always make things better. The story in this sense is a difficult read. But its subject matter is leavened by clear prose and well-drawn minor characters. Repentance finds something genuine in the people she meets. She questions her choices and, through the strength of others, finds hope, of sorts, even in situations where none should exist. This may not be enough to sustain some readers, but the author has paced events nicely. As Sober comes back into Repentance’s life, the plot both tightens and unravels. By the third act, readers should hope, fear, and thrill to the prospect of a happy ending.
A purposeful and absorbing exploration across dark and rocky terrain.