This fabulous young adult fantasy novel opens a new solo series from Amie Kaufman, who’s writing I’ve always adored and found absorbing (check out The Illuminae Files which she coauthored with Jay Kristoof and the Starbound trilogy co-authored with Megan Spooner).
Sibling Gods and their Mother rule over connected human nations, with a longtime war among the Gods having ended with the complete destruction of a nation; the God of Risk of the nation of Mallacea, Macean the Gambler, has been bound to sleep by Barrica, the now Sentient Goddess of the nation of Alinor. As a result, 500 years have passed peacefully, but unrest and the rise of religious fervor in Mallacea threatens to upset this balance and reawaken their sleeping God of Risk.
Selly, from Alinor, has been assigned to a sailing ship, the Lizabetta, in her father’s large fleet to learn the art of sailing and running a ship from the bottom-up from tough Captain Rensa, starting as a thankless boat hand. Winter is oncoming, and Selly plans to sneak aboard another ship heading North, before passage becomes shut off, to join her absent father who she deeply misses. In a land where some people have magical abilities marked on their arms with green designs, Selly only has two broad strokes and has had absolutely no luck in reaching the spirits of air, land or earth to summon up help.
Leander, the privileged, spoiled, handsome prince of Alinor, spends his frivolous days socializing with his friends and being completely irresponsible – including being a year delayed in an every 25-years ritual of visiting the island of Alinor’s God to make a symbolic sacrifice. Leander who has powerful magical abilities to speak to all the differing types of spirits, ends up
Keegan, a scholar and former schoolmate who Leander tormented, has run away from an arranged marriage to make his way to a protected nation of study.
Laska, the frustrated younger sister of Mallacea’s leading criminal overlord Ruby, wants to desperately prove herself to be elevated as a peer in Ruby’s business. Her vindictiveness and ruthlessness turns to trying to kill Leander to provoke a war with Alinor and ultimately waken the God of Gamling Barrica. Under her control is Jude, a former friend of Leander’s from school, who’s Mom had abruptly moved them to Mallacea upon the death of his father and is now laying dying herself. Laska holds the key to getting Jude the medical help he needs for his Mom and has blackmailed him into her deadly schemes.
Selly, Leander and Keegan ultimately find themselves on the Lizabetta, and on the run in a high-stakes adventure where their lives are at risk. They hold the key to trying to stop the war between nations, and to do so, must reach the Isles of the Gods.
The action of the novel is non-stop, with chapters alternating between the differing characters’ narration and perspective. Particularly with Selly and Leander, the character building and revelations run deep. Kaufman has also done a nuanced job of not making the story of one of pure good versus evil, but instead offers up portraits of nuanced vulnerabilities and vendettas. The world-building proves so richly detailed you feel like you’re sailing the high seas, skulking along city’s alleyways, and climbing the jungled Isles of the Gods alongside them.
Only issue: the book ends with a completely cliff-hanger! Hope the next book in the series comes out fast!!
Thanks to Random House Children’s, Knopf Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for an advanced reader’s copy.