If you loved Twilight but wished it had sex scenes, this book is for you. If you like clear consent, Tolkien-sized world-building, and an original story, move on.
Plot: In a world where a mist full of bloodthirsty Craven roam the wastelands, people live behind huge walls. Their leaders are the Ascended, immortal(ish) creatures who look like people and don’t go out in the daytime (ahem). All second children also Ascend when they become of age. Penellaphe is The Maiden. This means… Well it’s hard to say, since no one will tell her but something happens when she turns 19 that will mean she ascends to the gods, but it might happen different for her because she’s The Maiden, and her ascension is particularly important to the Ascended for Reasons. Therefore, unlike other people waiting their turn, she is basically kept locked up, prevented from talking to anyone, looking at anyone, being near anyone, reading anything, or doing anything to remain “worthy”. She ignores this regularly to learn to fight (exceptionally well), steal books from the library, and engage in other tomfoolery. The story starts with her having snuck out to a local inn folks like to party in and makes out with a random guard while wearing a mask. Shenanigans ensue.
Listen, you either like stories like this or you don’t and that will decide, before you ever pick this book up, if you are going to like it. This is very much a young adult novel with explicit sex in it.
You will NOT get:
- a clear view of what this world is like outside of the very specific structures required to hold up the story and these will be delivered in large dumps of exposition, but exposition that mostly comes as it is needed.
- a story you are in any way surprised by (I literally clocked twists as characters were introduced, a solid 30 chapters early).
- sex scenes with clear, unambiguous consent (though I will give points for the variety of reasons for sketchy consent).
- a love triangle (but my money is on that being in the next book)
- a thoroughly, professionally edited book. Revelations are repeated often and in quick succession, sentence structure is loose, that sort of thing.
You WILL get:
- great fight scenes.
- a LOT teen angst.
- fast moving world building (you will get not get bogged down by anything not essential to move the story forward, though not all of it will be internally coherent).
- dialogue that is mostly mid 2000’s slang (extensive use of the word “weird” for some reason).
- a charming alphahole hero.
- a fiesty-but-not-THAT-feisty heroine (fights well but still blushes and is scared of spiders).
All of the above is about preference, so I want to flag one thing that is not about preference. This book, written by a white author, falls into the trap of creating a POC best friend who serves no purpose in the story, and that is basically the only POC in the book. I say basically because there are 2 guards who are described as “dark skinned” (who exist for a single sentence apiece). No one else has their skin colour described, making whiteness the invisible default. This is next level ickiness for a book written in the last year. Do better, Armentrout.
Finally, content warnings. There is explicit, on the page sexual violence of a main character. There is also implicit, alluded to sexual violence of a main character. There is gaslighting, emotional abuse, loss of parents (biological and not), and allusions to the deaths of children.