The books are all part of a series- or rather two series that are connected. They are responsible for me creating my account on Amazon, back in the day, so there are some fond memories. I started reading the series at the library, but they didn’t have all the books, so I had to order from Amazon. Later, I bought them again when I was in Australia, and now I have Kindle versions. So, I liked them.
Now, there are issues…
The print covers are pretty. SO pretty! I was drawn in by those, but I can’t find a good image to put up. I have read these multiple times, but I can’t recommend them in good faith anymore.
Brief synopsis (ha) – the story starts in a country that is not named until later (Gandistra), an empire where most people are born with a talent in one of five elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water or Spirit. There are varying levels of talent, but what is important is that when a group of 5 people (one from each element) form together a Blending they have greater power. The country is ruled by one of these Blendings. Every 25 years there is a competition to find the next ruling Blending. Implied, but not directly stated for a while- no one else can form a blending, only the rulers and those competing at the time. Not everybody has a talent- some people don’t have talent, but can assess the level of others (Guild members) and some are “nulls” (this is important later).
The story starts with the pov of each of the 5 main characters embarking on their journey to the capital to be assessed for their level of talent (it’s high). They each face a very similar challenge in their travels, then arrive at the palace and have a gruelling test. They are placed in a residence together, along with a few other characters undergoing a test. They learn to use their talents and get to know each other. In the main group there are 3 men and 2 women. They are all apparently amazingly attractive, immediately there are two potential couples, but there are some relationship conflicts.
Over the first 3 books, they bond, they fight, they work out they are going to form a blending and they participate in the Competitions. It also becomes apparent that the “nobility” are corrupt, the competitions are rigged and there is bad stuff happening. From book 2, we are introduced to the noble blending that are the villains of the piece. We get to see them as they go through the Competition process as well. Books four and five follow the outcome of the rigged blending Competition as the main characters are prisoners and intended to be used to help invade another country. They free themselves, and others, and set out to confront the ruling blending and remove the nobility. Book five reveals that the null partner of the 3rd man in the blending actually has the power of Sight, and can sort of see the future. This will mean that they can become a blending of 6.
The next series of three books is about what happens after they defeat the noble blending. They are crowned as rulers but state it is only for one year, and they institute changes within society (no more nobility, talent training for everyone, shared resources)
But they need to deal with their neighbours who the country was invading. In the journey to deal with the neighbours, they must face a difficult invading force as well as political machinations. We also get a sub-story of a noble attempt to overthrow the new regime and a story about a different blending helping to set up the new society.
It’s an interesting story and pulls you along, but I have issues.
1. The pacing. Soooo much time is spent on the tests and training each of them undergoes. descriptions for each about the individual tests they must pass and then as the books progress new lessons are simply “and then we did this”.
2. The presentations of the nobles as uniformly bad (this is softened slightly in the second series). And the bad non-nobles are also very starkly bad- no room for nuance.
3. The sexual politics. For plot reasons it is vitally important that all of the male and female members of a blending have sex with each other (but never as a group, individual pairings only) to enhance the connections. But, even though it is implied that same-sex interactions will also do this, it is never raised as an option. So partner swapping for the heroic group is good. But one of the ways that the bad characters show their badness is through promiscuity. Inconsistent. Also, many of the nobles appear to have been sexually abused as children, this is implied to be one of the reasons for their personality flaws.
4. The language. This is fantasy- it is not our world. But there are a lot of words and phrases that reflect modern society, and then total avoidance of others. There are no restaurants or cafes – just eating houses. There is no coffee, but lots of tea. The over insistence on certain words, when there are so many synonyms gets frustrating.
5. The whole revolution. I study history. Revolution is hard. Reinventing a whole governance structure is tough. You need strong social norms and rule of law foundations to build on to make it work. The empire of the first few books doesn’t seem to have the right foundations, and yet it all magically works. I like books about social change, revolution and what it takes. This is not one of those.
6. High school-level relationships. The relationships between the main characters are fraught with jealousy and misunderstandings. Ultimately they reach a better space, but it is a told not shown space.
7. Women- so many of the women were scheming piles of awful who took advantage of the men in their life. The “bad” men were bad and mistreated women, yes, but the characterisation of the women as manipulating men was not fun.
These books leave me torn- I struggle to find any literary value in them, but I still tear through them.