I read a few too many articles calling this book the “future of YA” and should have tempered my expectations more. I went in think I’d be blown away which left me unfortunately underwhelmed. The world building is incredible, but the story, characters, and writing leave something to be desired.
The author’s statement – and interviews she has given – indicates that she in part wrote this book to give little black girls a heroine they could identify with, someone who would look like them. In the book she regularly describes the skin tones of the characters which for this dear white reader was a necessary regular reminder. I recognize that I fall into the trap of assuming characters are white unless otherwise specified (repeatedly). This is something I will work on. This is also a departure from the YA “norms” in that it isn’t set in some approximation of an American or Western European society (the biggest city in the world she’s created shares a name with the largest port city in Nigeria). I am really glad this book is out there I just … I felt like it got weaker as it went.
There was one character in particular, the prince, Inan, that made me just as why. His motivations were weird and he reversed course so frequently I’m surprised he went anywhere at all. The romances across the board were rushed and I’m not entirely certain were necessary, especially when characters involved had different family ties that could have also provided the plot-propelling motivations. The standout character for me wasn’t Zelie (the lead character and the main one with magic) but Amari, the human who starts her journey for good if selfish reasons, but finds her way on her own.
I chewed through the book in a day and I definitely recommend it, I just hope that book 2 goes through a few more drafts. But it’s already been optioned for a movie so what do I know.