(sorry, I don’t have first lines for this one. It’s so old it’s apparently not available on Kindle…)
This book, Alexandra Bracken’s debut novel, has been on my Goodreads to-read shelf since 2009. That’s a crazy long time, I know. But every time I went through and tried to get rid of books I thought I’d never actually read, this one always hung on. The premise just sounded so interesting. And after really getting into some of Bracken’s other books last year, I thought this would be worth a try, to see how it all started.
Ten years of drought is a long time for any community, so Sydelle is thrilled when the rains finally come. Except the rains bring with them Wayland North, a young wizard in need of an assistant. He’s got his eye on Sydelle for the job. Sydelle agrees because she wants to see the country and because war will inevitably destroy her village if she doesn’t tell someone what she saw in the valley. But it soon becomes clear North is keeping his own secrets…like why he chose Sydelle and his real reasons for making this journey.
I thought it was pretty obvious this was a debut novel and that Bracken’s writing has gotten better since. There’s just something about the writing style that is just not up to par, you know? It’s not practiced enough.
This is a fantasy story with very little exposition. We’re almost immediately thrown into some kind of war with no idea why, no idea what makes Sydelle’s town of Clifton unique, or really even who Sydelle is. The story unravels very matter-of-factly, in a way felt a little condescending. Like, oh, you didn’t realize Sydelle’s dad was the town’s leader? Well, you should have even though we didn’t tell you that. There were a lot of moments like that where I just really wanted to know where that came from…and why now, all of a sudden.
The story is heavily reliant on its action and plotting, less so on characters. As I already mentioned, I really had no idea how Sydelle was as a character. Even after reading the book, I still don’t really feel like I have a good grasp on her. There was very little realistic character development. For example, Sydelle hates North at the very beginning, but then magically she’s cool with him at some point? It was weird. It didn’t make sense. Sure, there were little moments when she was softening toward him, but that’s totally different than “I hate him and now I love him.” I felt no emotions whatsoever coming from either of them.
The worldbuilding is….actually decent. I mean, I wish there were more explanations about the wizards and stuff, but the worldbuilding actually did a pretty good job of showing us the landscape and letting us know how serious this war was. She even gave cities and countries their own customs and goddesses and things like that. So it worked. I think that’s probably what caught someone’s eye and got this published.
Definitely not Bracken’s strongest work, but it was kind of cool to see where she got her start.