This was, without question, a well-conceived and well-written book. It is a fantasy that thoughtfully explores many important ideas, and that tells an interesting and compelling story in a compact space. Unfortunately, I had a really hard time getting into it. Aside from a few moments that I thought were really brilliant, I don’t think I could relate to the characters enough to get fully into the story.
I’ve found this is the case before for stories that focus on themes of hardship and oppression. This book is set in a world where the elves are enslaved by humans, and where an active genocide is taking place. The main characters are both part of the oppressive force, which can be a really compelling theme, but for me also makes it hard to relate to characters who are (willingly or otherwise) complicit in oppression.
For instance, the depiction of the relationship between Rune and Kade troubled me. Rune is an elven slave owned by his parents, and he fathers a child on her. Their relationship is largely depicted as having been a romance, There is some mention of the ethics made of the situation, but I felt like the narrative didn’t take the weight of that seriously enough. I would have liked to see Kade have to grapple with the fact that this sexual relationship was not, could not have been, consensual more, in addition to all the other burdens of guilt the character does confront directly.
However, that’s a matter of my personal taste. I can still recognize that this was a great concept for a book, and very well-executed. I think Green is trying to come up with a tone that addresses the darkness of the world that is dark without being grimdark, and for me that lands in a middle place that felt a bit awkward in how it handled some very bleak material. Not quite making light of it, but not perhaps treating it with the seriousness I felt it deserved, especially in a world that made it feel so real.
On the other hand, scenes where the main characters are forced to confront their role in oppression were very well-done. I look forward to seeing this continue throughout the series.
Sidebar: “teeth of the gods” is an excellent oath.
I loved the climactic moment of Zanna discovering a new way of using her magic. It’s so hard to convincingly write scenes that are all magical in nature (because, to my eternal disappointment, magic? Not real, making it difficult to set up the stakes convincingly for readers). But this was really nicely done.
It’s the rare epic fantasy that I wish were longer, but I did find myself wishing certain ideas had been fleshed out a little bit more. Overall, though I struggled to feel completely engaged in this book, I think it’s quite a good one, and I’d recommend it!