When she returns to the city, her mother is scheming. Never sure of where she stands with her mother, Arrah is wary but still shocked when her mother announces that children have been disappearing. When a child who feels like a brother to Arrah goes missing, Arrah is willing to take a step that she never thought she could out of desperation to find him- she will sell her years (potentially life) for magic that does not come naturally. What she finds is shocking and leads to twists and turns in the plot that transform the book into something else entirely.
Note that I will not give too many details to avoid spoilers- this book has many twists, turns and surprises.
What I loved: This is a slow-building fantasy that takes a lot of time and care in world and character building. As such, the characters feel closer and the world more real, in the vein of THE LORD OF THE RINGS series. This is a highly compelling and emotionally challenging book- I list that as a strength, because I love books that can make you feel so many things. The story evolves throughout, making it feel like reading multiple stories in one book, and mirroring the changes that Arrah undergoes throughout them.
The portrayal of the orishas (gods) was also intriguing. We see their perspectives here and there in sections during the book that add quite a bit to it. They are compelling in their own right and reveal much to the reader.
Morality is a big theme here, and the definition is not so clear. One thing I really loved is that there is not a clear evil/bad guy here- even the reader is left questioning who is in the right or who is good or evil. This complexity is achieved over many pages and is really powerful.
What left me wanting more: I am going to venture into a spoiler here, so skip this if you do not want to know (I'll try to be vague). In two scenes, characters have sexual encounters under false pretenses in a way that seems like sexual assault but is not addressed (and in one case, the victim is vilified for it). In one, their body is possessed/under magical control and in another, the victim was made to believe the person they were sleeping with was someone they loved- only to later find out that it was not the person they thought it was. Upon this realization, this person is shamed as if they should have known better, by pretty much all the other characters. It seemed unnecessary to the plot and could have been handled better.
I would also give warnings for multiple character death, child death, torture, and emotional/physical abuse.
Final verdict: Dark and slow-building, this is a unique YA fantasy that grapples with important questions around family, destiny, morality, and sacrifice. Highly recommend for fans of epic fantasy that transcend stories and feature diverse/#ownvoices characters. This book is sure to leave you reeling in the best way and excited for the next in the series (a bit of a cliffhanger at the end).