30 Books in 30 Days, Vol. 3
This one surprised me! There has really been a lot of authors the past several years who have rescued YA fantasy for me, and Amélie Wen Zhao is now one of them. This book was very well-written, had intense and interesting worldbuilding, a strong main arc and a strong conflict to guide it, and the characters often made decisions that while sometimes frustrating on a personal level for me, always made the story more interesting. There are some true morally grey actions in here, which is not something you often see in YA from your main characters. I am *very* interested to see how things turn out.
This book takes place in a world where magic is real, and different cultures have different ways of accessing it (we only get two examples in the book, but presumably there are more). The country our main characters, Lan and Zen, hail from has been conquered within the last two decades by invaders from a long way away, who are determined to wipe out the existing culture and magical practitioners of the country they are now colonizing. This is a story you should be familiar with if you know anything about the processes of colonization and oppression.
Our main characters are Lan, an orphan whose mother was killed at the beginning of the invasion, but not before burning a strange mark that only Lan can see into Lan’s skin. Lan has since survived on the margins of society, hoping to go unnoticed by her conquerors while also trying to find out what the mark her mother left on her means. Zen is a bit more of a mysterious figure who comes into Lan’s life as it’s falling apart.
Probably the only thing that didn’t work for me in this book is the romance. Not every book needs romance! Or if you’re going to have it, let it happen more organically. This isn’t the worst example of it I’ve seen, but I felt their feelings developed for each other way too fast, and would have appreciated more time and more books for them to feel more natural. The romance was easy to ignore though because there was so much else going on and the arc of their relationship doesn’t really follow the typical path YA fantasy romances usually do.
Anyway, this one is worth checking out!