But the truth is, I was lucky enough to be one of Rae's crit partners for this novel, and I'm immeasurably pleased to see it in its (nearly) final form.
There's nothing about this book I don't love. Rae's writing is gorgeous and lush, but never feels cumbersome or gratuitous; she finds the perfect detail to share with you. The plot is exciting and complicated enough to keep you guessing -- though never so complicated you can't figure out what's going on. The story carries you along at a good pace -- not too ponderous and not too breakneck. Truly, this one is a rare perfect-for-me book.
But my favorite part of the story, even above all the nerdy pacing and prose stuff, is Elisa.
Princess Lucero-Elisa is chosen. She's the bearer of the Godstone, which comes only once every century. It means she's destined for greatness and to perform an act of incredible service.
Elisa just wants to stay in and eat pastries. She gets winded climbing the stairs, avoids political functions at any cost, and her wedding dress gives her four breasts.
She is a hero more unlikely than most.
But she also has a quick wit, clever mind, and a delicious sense of humor. She is kind, loyal, and pure in her faith. In spite of some less-than-desirable-in-a-princess-and-hero qualities, Elisa is someone you'd want to hang out with. I loved her relationships with other characters, how they grew, how they changed depending on the circumstances -- just like any real-life relationship might change. I loved how her views of other characters unfolded as she gained more insight into their lives.
The book opens with Elisa being married off to the king of Joya d'Arena, a large neighboring kingdom, and then she's whisked away in secret. Through jungle attacks, palace intrigue, kidnappings, desert journeys, and incredible personal loss, Elisa undergoes a subtle transformation hardly realized at first, shown in word choices and unconscious character choices. Through Elisa's very readable narrative, Rae builds her world around the characters so skillfully there are no seams.
Rae's respectful treatment of faith adds another quality to Elisa's character and the worldbuilding -- a quality missing in a lot of SFF-YA. Never preachy or judgmental, religion in Elisa's world is approached in the same way many religions are viewed and accepted in the real world. Some believe, some don't, and there's a wide spectrum in between. This aspect helps make Elisa's world as real and vivid as our own.
My love for this book is epic, and I can't wait for everyone else to share Elisa's incredible journey.
I'm recommending this book to readers who've been waiting for the next great high fantasy.