Ilara was a queendom until the girl who would be queen ran away with her love to the sea and died. Since then, the royalty has only had sons, marrying the Varendan girls. Zadie and Nor were thought to be the most beautiful and most likely to be chosen to marry the prince- that is, until an accident leaves Nor with a small scar on her cheek. Beauty is prized above all, and the next most beautiful girl, Alys, is discounted for a crooked tooth. Zadie is chosen, but after an accident, they send Nor in her stead, covering the scar, fearing what would happen if they don’t send “Zadie” to wed the prince.
Never having been on land before, Nor is not only surprised by all the social constructs of Ilara and the troubled political climate, but also everything about not being on the water. As she gains her footing, she realizes she has entered a world more dangerous than she ever could have imagined.
What I loved: The world here is really interesting, and I loved the mythology and legends that are told throughout. Nor and Zadie also have a beautiful relationship, and I adored the celebration of sisterhood. As a character, Nor is brave, strong, and everything I love in a heroine. Her journey is easy for the reader to leap into and empathize with. Adding this to themes about beauty and oppression, and it becomes a powerful story.
The villain here, Ceren, was really well-developed. The reader easily empathizes with him and can see where his concerns arise- which is not to say that he doesn’t take everything further than most of us would. However, there were times where I wondered if he could just be misunderstood (until his next terrible deed), but this conflict makes him a stronger character and villain as a result.
What left me wanting more: As a minor point, I would have loved to see more of the relationship building between Talin and Nor. A few more scenes where they get to know each other and develop something deeper would have aided in building something stronger between them. At times, it did feel a little insta-love-ish, but I still adored them as a couple anyway.
Final verdict: A celebration of sisterhood, political intrigue, and an intense villain make this book a delicious read. Highly recommend for anyone looking for an exciting new YA fantasy, and especially fans of THE BELLES, THE EVIL QUEEN, and RED QUEEN.