Eek! I finished this more than a week ago now but have just gotten around to doing the post. I am working on my bookstagram (@ashlett26) and language classes – but we’re back on schedule. Gotta just do a book review as soon as I’m done…
On the island of Fennbirn, there are born triplet girls from the current Queen who are destined to kill one another when they turn 16 to determine who will be the new Queen. Each Queen has a specific power, of which there are “families” that take care of them during their training, from the time they’re children – I think about nine? – until “the Year of the Awakening” when they fight each other.
Katharine is a poisoner: able to eat/touch any deadly poison and feel no pain. Arsione is a naturalist: able to grow plants and influence animals. Mirabella is an elemental, able to control the elements, and is especially good with lightning and storms. Now, the big thing is that Katharine can’t actually eat poison. She’s acquired some immunity to certain poisons, but she’s sickly: pale and losing her hair and with scars from her time with the poisoners. The Poisoners, led by the Arrans, are training Katharine and Natalia – the head of the family – is especially worried. The poisoners have run the Black Council, meaning that they run the Fennbirn government between the choosing of the Queens. (The previous Queen leaves when the new Queens are born, and does not raise her daughters.) A nephew arrives, Pietyr, with the idea to make Katharine win the Year and be chosen Queen not through her gift but by her ability to charm everyone. He wants to make her seductive and basically make the other sisters kill themselves out of sadness for not having any suitors (as during the Year, the Queen must find a King-Consort). And he does, but it doesn’t take back the fact that Katharine is extremely un-gifted.
Arsione is in a similar position. Her story is mostly told through the perspective of her friend and teacher, Jules. Jules is in love with Joseph, who was exiled for five years to the mainland (where the Kings come from), and was friends with Arsione as a child too. Jules, Joseph, and Arsione tried to get her off the island five years ago, but they simply got stuck in the mist. The island doesn’t let any of them leave. Jules is incredibly powerful: the most powerful naturalist in 60 years. But Arsione…Arsione can’t even open a rosebud. Arsione starts developing a relationship with the foster brother of Joseph while he was in exile: William (she calls him Junior). Junior eventually tries to sneak her off the island – though he claims he’s not in love with her – because everyone knows she’ll lose. And when you lose, you die. Arsione has kind of just accepted it…But then she starts doing low magic with Jules’ mother (who is pretty petty and jealous) and she dreams of a bear. She believes she finally has her gift and runs – with all her friends – to find it. But the bear attacks her and Jules saves her by killing the bear. The bear seems like it had been brought back from the dead, probably called up during a major casting of Arsione and Jules’ mom. Arsione has a huge gash on the right side of her face and wears a kind of patch/mask to the beginning of the Ascension Year. Also, Jules has come up with an idea: Arsione will bind herself to a bear with low magic and Jules will control it and make it LOOK like Arsione has a powerful gift too.
Mirabella IS extremely powerful, as all the rumors say, but she’s actually a pacifist. She doesn’t want to kill her sisters. She remembers them as children together – though it appears all their memories have been erased or modified. The Temple – though usually neutral in the Choosing – support her as Queen and oversee her training. Mirabella runs away, hoping she’ll somehow escape the whole process. She hides out in a cave during a nasty storm, where she sees a sailor drowning. She saves him and they sleep together. Turns out, this is Joseph – Jules’ lover and Arsione’s friend – who had been sent out for a delivery. Arsione uses low magic to find him, but finds Mirabella too. Mirabella reaches out to her, to run away together and side together rather than kill each other, but in that moment the Temple finds Mirabella and drags her away, leaving Arsione thinking it was a trap. The Temple was going to kill Arsione for trying to flee again with Joesph off the island – but Mirabella saves her.
Now, the Ascension Year is starting, and it begins with the Disembarking of the Suitors. The sisters all line up on big stages in front of anyone who wants to come see, as the suitors get off their boats from the mainland. One suitor bows only to Arsione: Junior. The sisters all have to perform for everyone, to show off their gifts. Natalie – who is very good at slip-of-hand tricks – makes all the food for Katharine’s showing off (called the Gave Noir, where she feasts on all poisoned food) makes a feast with not one drop of poison in it, making it look like she’s powerful. Jules and Arsione pull of her trick, but…when Mirabella is performing hers – a fire dance – Joseph is overcome and runs towards her, calling her name. This breaks Jules’ heart and she loses control of the bear she was controlling for Arsione. The bear attacks Mirabella, but Joseph jumps in front of her. And in the chaos, Katharine is lost. She runs to Pietyr, who told her to meet him in this chasm cave they found if anything should go wrong. He decided that he would rather kill her himself than have her go through the torture of losing to her sisters. So, he pushes her down a chasm.
A. couple days pass, but guess who shows up? Katharine goes back to Natalia, having somehow climb out of the chasm. But how?! After that, Junior’s father – who had sided with the poisoners, being the lover of Natalia – sends Arsione a box of chocolates via Junior. Jules eats some and falls into a horrendous near-death sickness. The chocolates were poisoned. But Arsione ate three…turns out – she’s not a naturalist, she’s a poisioner.
As you’ll read in other reviews, the pacing is off. All the excitement happens in the last 75 pages or so. I mean, THAT part is great. You fly through it. But to get there…you feel like you really struggle. Not much happens. And when Mirabella and Joseph meet…Ugh…It was like “Oh, here’s a random guy, let’s sleep together!” Just like super duper random. I really did not like that. Want a little more development in my relationships. The rest of the time it’s just kind of…boring.
The premise is great, and I really like all the powerful women in here – and there are a ton. In fact, men are rarely in positions of power. There are a lot of female relationships and all kinds of different women and how they handle things. That part is great.
The whole time I was really thinking: how is this going to end. I knew it was going to be a series – it’s just too built up a world and a history and there are so many questions! I had a feeling that Arsione and Katharine weren’t giftless but switched pretty early on. So how did that happen? And what happens now that we – and they – know that? Jules and Arsione are great friends, but naturalists and poisioners are supposed to be enemies. I think that the sisters are going to all end up coming together and not killing each other – though I’m sure someone will die in the process. They’ll be some kind of powerful triumvirate Queens who all rule together. At least, that’s how I would like it to end. I’ll definitely buy the next one, even if this one was slow, just to see how it goes on. I really like the relationships with Pietyr and Junior, so hopefully those continue too. Though – uhh – Katharine may never forgive Pietyr for what he did…
What did you think? Did you think the pacing was ok? What was your favorite romance? Favorite character?