Sofi has been training all her life to replace her father as Musik, but when beautiful, untrained Lara wins the role instead, she suspects there may be illegal magic involved.
A long while ago I read about the Polgár sisters, a trio of Hungarian chess prodigies who were very carefully reared by their father to eat, sleep, and breath chess. I found myself simultaneously fascinated and horrified at this single-minded cultivation of genius, because it sounded like a terrible thing to do to children, robbing them of a way of their childhoods.
As I read this book, I wondered if the author had also read about them, because the relationship between Sofi and her father is this precisely, only taken to extremes. After suffering for her art all her life, physically and emotionally harming herself to heighten her talent, Sofi is horrified to lose the apprenticeship to Lara, but she can’t help but admire her as well.
There’s the romance between Lara and Sofi, and a mystery around magic as well, but what really stood out to me in this standalone fantasy is the themes of creation and suffering. As a writer myself (… no comment on my talent, of course) I was really interested in how Sofi approached her composing, and there is a lot of commentary on the love of creation, and how one needn’t despair for it to be worthwhile, a lesson Sofi slowly learns. The author is a musician herself, and her knowledge of the field clearly came through in the book.
Of course there were flaws. I thought the world-building was a touch convoluted, with the different kinds of magic, the endless winter, the closed borders of the country and the Musiks as ambassadors. I wish we could have gotten to know Lara better, and I thought Sofi’s unlearning of her father’s teachings progressed in unrealistic leaps and bounds. She is a character who would be served well by therapy!
So why five stars? Quite simply, though this is a fantasy, I felt that the focus was on Sofi’s emotional journey as a musician and a girl, and that I thought was handled incredibly well. I felt myself struck to the quick over and over again emotionally as Sofi reevaluates her relationship with music, though she loves it all the while. As a person who loves her own creative outlet, it struck a chord with me, and I feel that it will similarly strike a chord with many readers.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.