On the surface, I can’t really point to any specific reason for my low rating here, so you can write this review off as this simply being the wrong book for the wrong reader, if you want. I do want to say up front that the complaint I’m seeing from most people is that this book “reads like YA”, whatever that means. I don’t agree. This is an adult fantasy book. The characters are younger adults, like age eighteen to mid-twenties, but the writing itself is adult level, and so is the subject matter. That’s not why I didn’t like the book.
Before I get to explaining what cannot be explained, a little about the book. This is about a city called Vaega where live four noble houses and four heirs to the gods. (Don’t ask me to explain, I still don’t really understand it.) Each house’s members are heirs to the gods’ powers, but I guess the gods turned their back on the city like 500 years before? (Don’t ask me to explain how they still have powers and all the other stuff they have if it’s been that long, I still don’t understand it.) So anyway, the main characters are four children of these houses who have to work together and stuff, to do, like. Things. I will be honest and tell you that in order to finish this book I had to listen to the audiobook instead of reading the hard copy and I still had a hard time with it holding my attention, so the speed just kept creeping up and up until it was as high as I could stand it, and I maaaay have missed quite a bit of story. Which I am honestly not bothered about because—and okay we’ve descended into criticism in the middle of plot explanation, so I might as well just give in.
The main thing with this book is that right away it was asking me to feel emotions for these characters and be interested in the world, and I don’t think the book was written in a way so that could actually happen. I don’t think this is a well-constructed story. My feelings about it sum up to: Too many characters, confusing worldbuilding, elaborate character relationships, unclear magic system, nothing emotionally “sticky” for me to grab onto. With the exception of that last complaint, these are all things I have read in books before that I have ended up enjoying. None of them are necessarily a hindrance to enjoyment of a book, or mean that book can’t work in the end. Gideon the Ninth is the perfect example. You could apply all my surface level complaints to that story as well, but the difference is that Tamsyn Muir knows how to provide the reader with a story and emotional arc for her characters (not to mention an interesting and hilarious narrative voice) that overshadow the confusion and allow the reader to make their way to understanding without feeling like they are drowning. There are no writing lifelines in this book, you’re just thrown in and expected to find something to grab onto on your own, and I never did.
With that said, I know this book has worked for some readers, so writing it off without giving it a try if the premise sounds interesting to you might be a mistake. I mean, there are e-book samples for a reason. Hell, just pick up a copy in a library or bookstore and try the first chapter. On the other hand, this has not been getting the best reviews from fantasy readers, and although most of them cite the “YA writing” as the problem, I think the problem is just the writing in general.