Bow’s terrific debut YA novel takes readers into an action-packed fantasy world.
This first installment of a planned series follows Timothy, an ambitious but self-pitying teenager. He has some of a typical teenager’s problems, like not getting any respect from his father, but he is also haunted by the memory of Fenae, a girl he once loved who was killed, along with her family, by the occupying Huctan forces. Timothy is Botani, living under the subjugation of the Huctans, who have legalized alcohol after conquering Botan and killing most of the Botani people. Often plagued not only by doubt but by full-blown self-loathing, Timothy makes an atypical protagonist. Eventually, he gets the chance to become a Thane, a servant of Botan, someone who spends his life “learning how to keep secrets and control conversations.” But Thanes, despite being “big shots,” are very human, with all sorts of human foibles. (“He hadn’t expected Thanes to have a hard time waking up in the morning.”) This kind of humanity, both in the troubled protagonist and the flawed Thanes, gives the novel its energy and seems to set it apart from lesser fantasy stories. Bow has a gift for building a world that is at once instantly recognizable yet alien. The sense of place comes gradually, naturally, as readers are thrown into the story with little in the way of explanation; watching another world unfurl becomes one of the novel’s great pleasures. Sometimes, conversations play out in lengthy dialogue that could be summarized, and readers might be left wanting more descriptions, an occasional break from the fast pace. The story—to its benefit, much of the time—is like a runaway freight train, barreling forward and fun to read; perhaps, though, it would benefit from stopping occasionally to give readers the opportunity to see what is on either side of the tracks, so to speak. But overall, it’s a well-plotted, elegantly written book, and by the time readers get to the exciting finale, they’ll be anticipating the promised sequel.
An adventure fantasy held together by a complex, compelling protagonist.