Thanks to Macmillan Audio, Macmillan Young Readers, and NetGalley for the ARC. It hasn’t affected the content of my review.
Well, this was an impulse request on NetGalley, and despite some complaints (mostly centered around this being a debut, I think), overall I did like this and I will be reading the sequel.
The premise here is that our main character Alessa is a Chosen One, but she’s kinda sucky at it, and she’s lonely and miserable. She is the Finestra (Italian for “Window,” which yes, made me cringe and laugh most of the time when I heard it), and she has been through three Fontes (the person she’s meant to be divinely paired with in order to fight the coming horde of demons that descends on the world every twenty years or so—Italian for “Fountain,” also funny and cringey to me). As the blurb so succinctly puts it: “Three Weddings. Three Funerals.” Right after the third funeral is where we enter on the story.
Alessa has lost hope that she will be a good Finestra after watching three of her spouses die at her own hands, and now the populace seems to be turning on her, even her own guards and the army, and several attempts on her life are made. She decides to be a little proactive and hires a street fighter she met by accident to be her bodyguard. Dante is marked as a killer, meaning he would otherwise have no protection from the horde of Scarabeos (no idea how to spell that, sorry). Alessa pays him to keep her safe until she can get a new Fonte and get the people back on her side, all before the end of the world, which could be any day now. They clash until they don’t, wink.
For a YA fantasy debut that I went into heavily skeptical of, I was surprised by how into this I was, despite my issues with it. I was having big emotional reactions to parts of this, even when I wasn’t happy about what was going on with the narrative and how it was constructed. To be general about it, there are some worldbuilding and plot holes* threaded throughout this book, and most of the secondary characters are pretty shallowly drawn, but the main pairing of Alessa and Dante (and their character arcs separately as well) was very strong and compelling, enough to make me look past the rest of it.
*SPOILERS When and where is this taking place? In the future of our earth (the use of idioms and current phrases would suggest yes, otherwise those phrases shouldn’t have been used!) What are the origins of this very weird tradition? Where do the scarabeos come from, and why?? Is Carlo the devil? I will grant that some of that may be revealed in the second book of the duology, but some of it should have been included here so things made more sense. Also, if this happens every frickin’ twenty years, how is their society not more altered than it is? Wouldn’t they all be pretty martial at this point, wanting to prepare to be slaughtered all the time? They seem pretty peaceable for a culture that might get wiped out once a generation. Especially since two people against thousands and thousands of demons seems like it would take a very long time to finish up a fight! And so many soldiers would die!
I really lost a lot of faith in the worldbuilding at the end when it was so difficult for Alessa to defeat the horde with the help of her twelve or more Fontes, and how it makes her superpowered and everything AND she uses Dante’s power to superblast most of them out of the sky with his powers of goodness and light or whatever, all things no previous Finestra pairs had. I mean, how has every Finestra/Fonte not died halfway through the battle, leaving everyone to be slaughtered? The two things didn’t add up for me END SPOILERS.
One thing I’m not sure is my fault is that there is a key plot point involving creatures called gyotes (giotes?? absolutely no clue on how to spell that one) that I either missed completely when it was introduced, or that wasn’t well explained in the narrative, and their existence turned out to be absolutely critical to a large part of the plot in the last third of the book. Because I had no idea what a giote (gyote?) was, other than by context clues in the scenes, I felt pretty lost on that front. I didn’t even know where it was introduced in the book, and going back to revisit scenes in audio is always tricksy, so I just didn’t and lived with the consequences.
I thought the audio narrators did a good job (two small chapters are narrated by Dante for some reason, and they hired a whole extra narrator to do them). They clearly hired two people who spoke Italian, as they both do a good job speaking “the old tongue” (Italian) when it’s required.
[3.5 stars, rounded up because of my emotional involvement]