“The Waking Land” is an enthralling YA fantasy that follows Elanna Valtai. The prologue shows us Elanna’s nightmares over the life-changing event that altered the course of her life. Elanna was only 5 years old when the Ereni king came to her house and attacked her family, holding a gun to her head and threatening her parents. He took her captive and treated her somewhat like a daughter, indoctrinating her into the Ereni way of life. Elanna is Caerisian and the other young courtiers won’t let her forget it. Caerisians are seen as backwards, ignorant, and pagan. Caeris and Eren used to be the same land but the people were divided long ago, and after a bloody war, Eren captured Caeris and exploited its riches. Caeris was ruled by three- the mountain lords, the elected king, and the steward of the land with a balance of power and strong respect/reverence for nature.
Magic has been outlawed across the empire- not just in Eren/Caeris, and magicians are tortured and killed. Elanna not only tries to hide that she is from Caeris but also that she carries magic. She desperately wants to fit in, so much so that it appears she may have Stockholm Syndrome, believing all the lies that have been fed to her over the last fourteen years and hating Caeris, her family, and her people. Early in the book, the king who had taken her captive is poisoned and dies, leaving her not only uncertain about her future but a victim of the king’s daughter and new queen Loyce, who has always hated her, and her sadistic lover, Denis. Loyce and Denis accuse Elanna of murder and witchcraft (although they do not know that she has any power). Luckily, some of her father’s people have come to save her and escort her away to Caeris. Elanna resists them at every step, seeking any other option, as she has been raised to hate Caeris. We slowly watch her transform to understand the lies that have been told to her and appreciate the truth of the events that led to her capture.
Elanna also begins to understand that her magic is unique and special, tying her to the land as the steward (a position currently held by her father) also called the Caveadear. The story begins to take some twists and turns as we learn more about why her family was threatened and she taken captive when she was five years old, as well as the history of Eren, Caeris, and the powers at play in the laws and nature. This is not a short book and the pace is surprisingly perfect with how we watch Elanna grow and learn. The content seems to fit a whole trilogy of books, and I liked that it was all in one novel rather than divided as has been the trends these days. It does take longer to read than others, but I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it- the explanations and content were really right on target.
The romance is also really strong; although there is an instant attraction, we see the relationship grow and develop, and I really enjoyed the couple who emerges. While on this topic, I would mention that there is explicit sex (one scene) in the book. That, along with the violence and bloodshed of war, would make this book more appropriate for older young adult or new adult readers. There is emotional and physical torture as well as violent deaths that may not be appropriate for younger readers.
There are several really fantastically developed and strong characters, including some really great stand-out females, like Elanna, Victoire (who I wish we got to hear even more about), and Rhia. This is a really fantastic book, and I really hope to see more in this series, as I am not yet ready to let these characters go. Perfect for fans of “The Girl of Fire and Thorns” series, this was an engaging and thought-provoking coming-of-age story set in a beautifully-developed fantasy world. I look forward to seeing more from this talented author!
Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher through netgalley. All opinions are my own.