My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoyed it, and I want to read the sequel. To me it was not a novel, more a prose anime or an unillustrated graphic novel, but I don't think that's necessarily bad. I don't read manga, so I can't speak to the similarities there, but culture is mere brushstrokes around the author's true idea of storytelling as drama and romance. It takes place in not-Mongolia, not-Japan, not-China. Here's where the American habit of pushing things into genres helps: when I am reading fantasy, I don't expect historical fiction. I expect the culture within the book to have only vague resemblances to the "real world". There is drama aplenty, an attempt to reflect a world transitioning from matriarchies to patriarchies, under magical assault by demons. And the drama of teen love. Two teen girls (warriors! possibly divine!) in love is drama and tragedy by definition, and so while I would have loved this sans reservations in my teens and twenties, I was bored with the angst (though not the adventure) until the last third of the book. Take away all the trappings of grandeur and grime, and we have all either been these girls or met them. What changed my mind to up the star score on the book is that it felt so much like a Chinese martial arts movie, with gods and legends and doomed love--but with an American flash of hope instead of full-on tragedy. (So far--enough for me to read the second book.) As a gamer, the author has a learning curve to establish character and background for readers, but those of us who did not grow up with the visual shortcuts and Hollywood trope shorthand of movies and video games are dying off, and that kind of depth may be something no longer provided by authors but by readers (consumers, appreciators?) in the future. I love this kind of mish-mash when it works, an exploration of the cracks and possibilities in the borderlands of myth and history, culture and conquest, and this one works for me.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the EARC for review.
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