A Debut Fantasy Win
An exceptional middle-fantasy debut, keyed to a New Adult audience.
Kelsea is an unremarkable orphaned girl, long kept hidden in nearly complete isolation. And she is about to ascend to a throne she never asked for. The kingdom her mother left her is in shambles. Her people are pinned under the thumb of a particularly vile neighboring kingdom, who they’ve long been forced to pay tribute to in the form of live slaves culled via lottery. Her immediate desire is to end this practice, but the cost to her—and her people—may be higher than any of them can pay. And there are magical forces at work that are far beyond her understanding…
We have here a solidly constructed story with competent execution, meted out via well-honed and effective prose. While this isn’t the sort of pretty writing that prompts one to pause and write down quotes, it does facilitate steady, unhindered pacing. Johansen’s emotional conveyance is visceral and her descriptions are evocative. The story itself reminds me of the YA book Graceling, but with more worldbuilding depth and a protagonist I was able to find far more endearing.
Character growth-wise, there’s plenty to be had in Kelsea. She isn’t ignorant or incompetent, but inexperienced, uncertain, and ill-equipped. All the attempted preparation for her taking on a leadership role is clearly not enough, considering what she faces. (I particularly enjoyed seeing the young queen reassess her own educationally ingrained biases when confronted with the reality that was previously only a concept.) You have to feel for her. Kelsea has inherited a dumpster fire of a kingdom, fraught with decadence and corruption. But despite poor self-esteem, and the low expectations most seem to have of her, she possesses a determination to far exceed her mother’s impotent reign.
Bottom line? This new young queen is far out of her depth. But she’s quick to adapt, and isn’t without some intensely interesting allies…
I will certainly be reading on in the series!