A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (9780062891495)
Karina knows she isn’t the daughter her mother wanted. After Karina’s older sister and father were killed in a fire that she can barely remember, Karina had to take her sister’s place as heir. But her mother, The Kestrel, never taught her the same way that her older sister was taught, and Karina found great pleasure in defying any expectations. Now the country is starting a new era, triggered by the appearance of a comet in the skies, where the various factions will fight to see whose god or goddess rules in the next 50 years. Karina’s mother shows her for the first time, the magic that keeps their country safe, but then is killed before explaining it fully to her. Now Karina must find a way forward, led by a book’s instructions on resurrecting the dead. Meanwhile, Malik is a refugee caught outside the city’s walls. When his little sister is trapped by a dark spirit, Malik must promise to kill Karina in order to gain his sister’s release. He soon discovers that what he had been told was mental issues was actually his magic, a magic that he uses to get closer to be Karina by becoming a Champion, seemingly selected by his god. As the lives of the two run parallel to one another, they find themselves negotiating politics, magic, greed, and betrayal.
Brown has crafted an entire world of matriarchal queens that spirals with hidden and forgotten magic. Filled with African elements, the story weaves around figures such as Hyena, wraiths that lurk in the corners of the world, and the savagery of power. Brown also speaks to the plight of refugees, of entire people’s being seen as lesser than and vilified while still used as servants. Her world is detailed and fascinating, including a well-crafted alignment system that plays into the contests and much more.
The two main protagonists are complicated. At times, each of them becomes quite unlikeable, making choices that are questionable. And yet, one can’t help but root for them to figure things out, come back to being the people readers know they are deep down, and to realize that they are heroines and heroes of their own lives. Readers will enjoy the romantic elements, but nicely these are not the main focus of the novel which is jam-packed with action, contests, battles and more.
Unique, detailed and fascinating, this first book in a series is a heady mix of African myth, political intrigue and fantasy. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.