By Rin Chupeco
Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Goodreads Rating: 3.53
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: March 7th 2017
Format Read: Phone Ebook via Netgalley
Goodreads Summary: The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.
Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.
This is one of those books that takes you a while to get into, but once you do you don’t want it to end. I think part of the reason for this is that it’s a series (which I didn’t realize when I requested it) and it takes place in a world very, very different from our own, which meant that it required a lot of worldbuilding. Plus, Chupeco uses a lot of flouncy, descriptive imagery in her writing, which makes me vaguely nauseous at times and reminds me of the reason that I wasn’t a huge fan of Jane Eyre. It just felt like there were some paragraphs that took FOREVER to read, just to describe a girl’s hua (a type of apparel with Asian roots)
That being said, I still adored the story and gave it 4 stars because the characters were magnificently developed, and the plot was interesting. It kept me going throughout because I desperately needed to figure out what would happen to Tea. The book follows her story, so it is sort of a fantasy coming of age novel, which is something that I appreciate. Plus, there’s elements of (semi-unrequited) romance, evil beasts which must be defeated, and a girl struggling with her identity. It’s perfect.
While I read, I was reminded a lot of the book “Memoirs of a Geisha” mainly because the life of an Asha, which is what Tea was training to be, is basically like a magic Geisha who at times has to go out and slay beasts. Since I always found geisha life mildly appealing (don’t judge please) now my main goal in life is to be an asha. Anyways, back to the review…
Tea, the MC, was super cool. And her name is pronounced Tay-uh, which I didn’t know until about halfway through when some minor character had trouble pronouncing her name. Not only could she use magic to raise the dead, but she was totally badass and a strong character, which made me love her. There was no “I need a man to save the day” whatsoever in this book, which was one of my favorite parts ever. I thought Tea was very very well developed and relatable, because you never saw her as just one thing. From the opening scene, she was this super powerful Asha, but also had some weaknesses, strong family ties, and wasn’t immune to what other people thought of her. Chupeco made her this incredible female lead while still showing that she was vulnerable, which made me relate to her more than I would have otherwise. She was also super dynamic, because she went from being somewhat more nervous, frightened girl to someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer, which is exactly the type of progress that I love to see. And this is only book one. The fact that it isn’t going to take Tea the entire series to become “tough” is a testament to the writing and makes me wayyyyy more excited to read the next books in the series.
There are virtually no men in this novel except for the love interests, and Tea’s brother Fox, whom she rose from the dead. I think that made it very women’s empowerment-y because it was women that were teaching and helping Tea “come of age” without the influence of a male role model to help her.
All of the minor and side characters in the novel had strong backgrounds and you could see how they became the people which they are today. You wanted the best for all of them, especially Mikaela, Tea’s sort-of mentor.
Hmmmmm…. what can I say here. The plot was very very good, but at times I felt like Chupeco put the story on hold in order to write overly detailed descriptions. And I don’t mean there wasn’t a lot of action in parts, because there was always stuff happening, and Tea developing, but there were a lot of paragraphs of description that almost made me ditch the book in the opening parts. I don’t understand why there had to be so much flouncy detail. I think part of it was Chupeco wanting to make the reader understand teh worldbuilding aspect better, but the bottom line is that it put me to sleep and caused me to move very slowly through the book, since I just didn’t want to pick it up. That being said, I felt like it got better– or I just got used to it– as it went along, and the story itself makes it worth pushing through the beginning.
The plot contained flashforwards every chapter or two to Tea on a beach after she has already gone through a lot of her story. In the whole book, the story lines never intersect, which is weirdly cool.
The ending has a sort of present-timeline plot twist which is confusing to everyone (I think) even if you had guessed that it would come, because Chupeco doesn’t really explain it at all. That being said, I think it’s coming in the sequel and that we haven’t caught up in the past timeline plot yet.
A lot of this story had a coming of age, geisha training vibe. I wouldn’t recommend this book if you’re looking for a tale of adventure and defeating monsters. It’s not that. It’s more about Tea’s emotions and the way which she develops both as our protagonist and in her feelings and confidence. I think the next book will have more of a defeat the system feel to it, but this book did not, so bottom line is you won’t enjoy it if that’s what you’re looking for.
I think I’m going to make a list, because listing is fun and why not.
- Tea’s development and the way she was always portrayed as just as strong, if not stronger, than men
- Mikaela and the motherly yet all powerful role she played in the book while still having weaknesses
- The wordbuilding. Let me tell you that it was amazing. Like, so unique and vibrant and real. You literally wear your heart in a necklace, and have to kill this unkillable monsters called daeva on a yearly basis. I felt like I was really in the world, and could imagine it just as well as I can my own. (That’s actually why I put Chupeco in my dream worldbuilding panel, if you were wondering)
- Likh’s whole story line was perfect, but I can’t really explain without including spoilers so you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
- The plot twist at the end of the past timeline was so so so good
- All of the side character’s personalities and yet realness. Nobody was a one dimensional character, not even the “mean girl”, thank gods for that.
- The geisha-ness
Another list, you ask? Why not, I say!
- The excessive description
- The romance aspect that wasn’t really going anywhere but just felt like two people who had a crush on each other but neither would admit it but not in the awkward tension kind of way, just in the “we’re too little to be in a real relationship” way
- Not much else!
This whole book drew a lot from Asian culture, and the MC is a PoC, which is great and super rare in the fantasy genre as a whole. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the culture, but I do think that it made the book more real than it would have been otherwise.
There was a minor character, one of Tea’s friends, who ended up being transgender and coming out over the course of the book, which is really awesome because of how accepted and the fact that Tea never once thought that it was anything out of the ordinary.
The dark asha (so basically Tea and Mikaela) cut themselves in order to draw their runes in the air, which I’m not really sure is a trigger or not, but I figured I’d include it.
“I would much rather remain undetected in the shadows than saunter out into the light, with my flaws out for all to see.” (chapter 11)
Once you got past the over description, the book was really solid, and I’m very excited to read the next books in the series when they come out. I think the worldbuilding was incredible, and would highly recommend to fans of YA fantasy who don’t mind it being minimally action-y.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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