I am really, REALLY looking forward to The Best Niece in Australia being old enough to read these. Actually, looking at my notes, by the time I’d gotten to book three I’d talked myself in to handing them over, even though they’re too old for her.
What a great series, jam packed with cool mythology and fun characters (and, you know, heartbreak and scary bits and romance and betrayal).
*Note* – this review will cover all three books, please look away now if you’re planning to read unspoiled. Thumbnail: loved them, you should totally read them
We meet Kiva in The Prison Healer, in prison because of a complicated set of circumstances that seem to boil down to “her dad spoke to the wrong people – rebels – in the town square.” Though her father has since passed away, Kiva is still imprisoned. She’s taken on his role as the prison healer, a role that guarantees her a little more safety from both other prisoners and guards than would be usual, but also SUCKS, because she spends most of her time branding new intakes and watching people get worked to death.
But then! In comes Jaren, with his positive attitude and amazing eyes, and all hell immediately breaks loose. I was so delighted by all of this, seriously. Kiva has rebel contacts! They’re coming for her! But THEN! The rebel queen is arrested and Kiva volunteers to take on her trial by magic – of which she has NONE! Everything seems to take pace at breakneck speed, and my notes are just filled with all caps screaming about all of the twists.
There is a lot going on in this book, but the important parts are that Kiva is trying to save inmates from a recurrence of the plague that took her father’s life. Jaren is actually a prince – from the very royal family Kira’s rebel friends are trying to unseat, so their love is doomed! The rebel queen turns out to be Kiva’s mother, so they’re actually twice damned. Despite all the crazy plot twists, the pacing never seems out of control, and never succumbs to that “wow, you just threw everything at the wall, didn’t you?” feeling.
At the end of the first book, Kiva is liberated from the prison, and it’s a delight to spend part of The Gilded Cage just relaxing into her happier circumstances. She gets to spend some time at med school, advancing her healing knowledge. She bonds with Jaren’s family, and reunites with her own.
We learn more about Rebel Queen’s last days, and the evil piece of the power that runs in Kiva’s veins. Did I mention that Kiva turns out to actually have healing power? There was a LOT going on in that first book.
Having consumed fiction before, I think we all knew that the supposedly evil Royal Family would turn out to be nice, and the Rebel Sister would be evil, but I was totally blindsided by one of the Royals ALSO betraying her family to the rebels. This book, while still kicking along at a rollicking pace, really feels like it was place setting all the macguffins that will ne needed for the third and final book.
In true YA style, the third book, Blood Traitor, ties everything up neatly and happily. It starts with Kiva back in prison, sent by the Evil Sisters, only to be released to another kingdom… of evil! Eventually, everyone is rescued and united in their quest to retake the kingdom. There’s some early friction between Kiva and Jaren (her Evil Sister stole his kingdom AND his magic!), but its resolved quickly enough to not overly annoy.
There’s a quick quest for what are essentially infinity stones (I will never think of them as anything else), and some war scenes which my brain chose to scan over quickly while watching cricket. In the end, the infinity stones and sundry macguffins from book two combine to restore Jaren’s magic, and save the day.
Are there a bunch of contrivances? Absolutely. But they’re elegantly deployed, or at least elegant enough that I can forgive them. I actually plan to reread it at some point, so I can talk with The Niece about her favourite pieces. Highly recommended.