I picked this one up a while back based on DomeLoki’s review though I only recently got around to reading it, and am now doing the smart thing by making myself write the review before diving into the next book in the series and getting confused about what happened when.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect since I didn’t go back to reread the review though I remembered some comments about zip lining. In this world, humans/humanoids live in societies and are surrounded by spirits of air, water, fire, earth, wood, and ice. The spirits vary in age, power and intelligence but overall, they are driven by two conflicting motivations, to destroy and to create. If left on their own, many would take out their aggressions on humans but some women have the power to control the spirits. Champions search the lands for girls with the capability, and they then hone their abilities in a school where they join the pool of heirs upon graduation. Whenever a queen dies, the spirits will choose the most powerful of the heirs as the new queen and give her alone the power to control them, thus protecting humanity and preserving a certain amount of balance between their conflicting natures.
Daleina and her family survived a rogue spirit attack that destroyed most of her village when she was 10 because her fear allowed her to tap into previously undiscovered powers. Still, her powers are rather weak compared to many of her peers, and she is only barely accepted into the school, but she works harder than anyone because she wants to help others. Women that have powers but aren’t strong enough to be accepted to school end up as village hedge witches but Daleina wants more than that. While she may be far behind her classmates in her ability to control the spirits, she excels in other areas, such as leadership and ability to think outside the box, and makes quite a few friends, including the most powerful of their class, Merecot. Merecot ends up leaving the school early in disgrace but suggests to Daleina that while they have very divergent strengths, neither is served by the teaching methods and focus of the school.
When Daleina is 19, many of her friend have already been chosen to work with champions to increase their training, but Daleina is overlooked again and again, until Ven, a disgraced champion and former lover of the current queen, picks her. He is also the man that found her family after their village was destroyed so there is a certain amount of fate.
While the citizens the kingdom believe there is a balance between the queen and the spirits, and trust her ability to protect her people, Ven knows something else. There have been more and more attacks on villages on the outskirts of society lately, attacks that should not be happening if the queen were still in complete control of the spirits. Are they growing more powerful, or Queen Fara specifically simply becoming weak?
I know Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera isn’t as universally beloved as The Dresden Files but I honestly love that series so once I realized that this one also involved elemental spirits, I was sold. It’s a different spin than Butcher’s where everyone has at least one spirit type they can work with and the spirits aren’t actively chaotic/malevolent so it isn’t copied at all, simply a different spin on a similar concept. I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of the trilogy so I can determine whether or not to pass this recommendation on to my dad because he loves The Codex Alera and has read it at least twice (he couldn’t get through a single Dresden novel, though).