A standalone fantasy novel feels like a real unicorn in today’s market, so I was very excited to be able to read something without having to commit to three (five, seven…) books.
“If you’re planning treachery against our king, I want no part of it,” I said.
“You’re already part of it,” Nelgareth said. “Heirs to thrones don’t have the luxury of saying no.”
Mara has a connection to growing things, a magic her mother made her promise to hide from everyone, even her own family. She loves the family vineyard and winery, but it’s her brother who’s set to inherit it all. Instead of working out in the fields, Mara’s stuck cooking for the fieldhands. Alac is trapped in his own way, if a bit more comfortably. As the second son to the king, he’s viewed as mostly useless, at least until his father insists on inducting him into the blood magic that helps their family keep the throne. Alac knows the truth, though – the magic is corrupted because it was stolen from the rightful rulers. When a noble figures out that Mara has the magic – the deposed monarch’s magic – she’s manipulated into being the figurehead for a coup. But while no one can deny that the king is evil and slowly destroying the kingdom, the king’s sons, especially Alac, are a different story. As she attends the wedding festivities for the king’s heir, she grows closer to Alac and starts to realize that things aren’t as clear cut as the rebels want her to believe.
“Were I braver or more selfless—or if I lusted after the magic the way Cannon had seemed to—the choice would have been easy. But receiving the stolen magic and allowing it to possess me for the rest of my life was something I’d never wanted.”
I found both Mara and Alac to be very likeable, but I had problems connecting with them. While they were definitely everything you want in protagonists – brave and moral but gently imperfect – they felt a bit superficial and one-dimensional. Since it is a standalone, there’s a lot that happens in the book, from setting up the background to the political machinations of the coup to the romance to… well, you get the idea. There’s not a lot of time to get to know the characters, especially with the POV split between Alac and Mara, and then even less for the romance to develop. Both characters do admit that they’re in the early stages of a relationship and certainly need to get to know each other better, which did make up for the speed and that’s something that I appreciate seeing in YA romance. It’s an enjoyably fast read, though, with quick pacing, and a generally interesting if predictable plot.
As for cons, there were some religious undertones to the book. Magic was a gift given by God to the original ruling family, and when it’s stolen it’s corrupted, turning from something that heals and grows to something that ages and hurts. It’s not really explored much more than that, though, and I would’ve liked more about it, though I suspect that would’ve put this more firmly in the Christian fantasy genre. To be honest, I wanted more of Mara’s magic and more of the winery, though I found it a little too pat that Alac was so interested in vineyards himself. I also found it unrealistic that Mara would be able to rule the kingdom well when she didn’t even have the experience of running her own family’s vineyard.
Overall, I think this would be a great book for younger YA readers, considering the sweet romance and general inoffensiveness of the content.
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.