A big thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
After the death of a beloved brother, 12 year old Tea makes quite a scene at his funeral as she realizes that has power over the dead and raises her older brother from the grave.
I’ll be honest, I kind of waffled on what rating to give this. There is nothing bad about this book or story by any means but a lot of it is generic. Based on the description, the cover, and the fact that the main character’s particular ability is that over the dead, I expected a much darker story that what this turned out to be. There were some darker undertones and some undead creatures but overall the story was fairly light, a story about a young girl being trained things like history and dancing.
Tea herself was an okay character. I feel like there is not much that I know about her though. She has a little bit of a rebellious streak. She is apparently good at dancing and combat but that was more told than shown. She is loyal to her friends. In other words, she has pretty much the same personality as many YA heroines before her.
Easily the best thing about this book was the concept of heartsglass. Around puberty every person receives a heart-shaped glass pendant that they wear around their neck for the rest of their lives. When two people get married, instead of an exchanging of rings they exchange heartsglass.
For asha, women with magical abilities, the color of each person’s heartsglass is different. It acts as kind of a mix between a mood ring, changing colors for different emotions, and a diagnostic tool, different nuances and swirls of color indicating a variety of health problems. For Dark asha, those with power over the dead, giving a heartsglass to someone they have fallen in love with also means giving up a large portion of their power.
I guess I never understood why exactly a Dark asha would give her heartsglass to anyone. I understand the symbolism of people whose life and power do not depend on it would give it to a special someone but surely a Dark asha can still feel love for someone even without the exchange of pendants. This was a rather small thing though and I still liked the concept of them a lot.
I did like that the final climatic scene in the book was told through the point of view of the creature that was wreaking havoc, the aki. A lot of the tension in the scene centered on Tea being able to take over the mind of the creature as it was virtually impossible to kill outright. This was a well-written scene even if it did not last very long.
I have a hard time pinning down into words exactly what did bother me about the story.
One thing that I would really like to see in future books is a little more rounding out of the magic system and a little more definite understanding of the role of asha in this world.
In some ways, the magic is fairly simple: it is a largely elemental magic that depends on drawn symbols (runes) to call upon. But it seemed that every time someone would instruct Tea as to how magic works, the instruction would be followed by some version of “but that doesn’t actually count for you because you’re a Dark asha and everything is different for you.” I understand there are differences between different types of magic but the Dark asha magic was the only type of magic that had any differences. There was not a different set of rules for using Water magic or Fire magic or Earth magic; they all seemed to follow the same guidelines apart from having different runes. This lead to me feeling like the Dark asha were special snowflakes ; there were the “normal” asha and then there were the Dark asha who are super rare and super scary and super powerful and super needed so let’s all walk on eggshells around to please them. I think some time spent on the exploration of the other types of magic and their differences would go a long way to balancing this out.
On this note of how super special Dark asha are, it kind of bothered me that Tea rose so high so fast. I get it, she is the only Dark asha known other than Lady Mykaela who is having health problems. And I know that she excelled in all of her classes but that kind of only serves to accentuate the “special snowflake” syndrome that Tea suffers from.
As for the role that asha play in this world, I felt that it was really ambiguous. All of them train in history and politics, dancing, combat, and singing but I have no idea what decides what they do after. Some of them seem to become bodyguards to important people. Some fight against the Faceless army. But it seemed like most were little more than prostitutes that didn’t have to have sex with their clients; they are hired by the hour to attend parties and mingle with nobles. Somehow they are also important politically? I think the author got caught up in making this fanciful story about a girl that gets to train in magic and neglected how the asha relate to the world they live in once trained.
It is interesting that the description for this book compares it to The Name of the Wind. I was actually rereading The Name of the Wind while I was reading through this and I was struck by the similarity in how the story is told. The main character is actually telling her story to a bard-like character after the main events have already happened though there is a suggestion that the story is not actually over. That, and the fact that it takes place in a magic school, is pretty much where the similarities end.
I think that this could be a pretty good series down the line. Given some more attention to world and character-building, this could be a pretty good series. The premise and the foundation aren’t bad but it has so far failed to deliver.