Twelve Kings in Sharakhai
Synopsis: Ceda despises the immortal kings ruling her home. Their authority stems from indoctrinated loyalty and a reign of terror, fueled by power no one else can match. No one has ever successfully challenged them. The Moonless Host has come closest to becoming an actual problem for the kings–but Ceda hates their tactics almost as much as she hates the rulers of Sharakhai.
This leaves her with no one to turn to, no alliances to make. But she’s done waiting. She’ll find a way to take down the kings, no matter what she has to risk to do it.
POV: Multiple, most often from Ceda and her childhood friend Emre.
This book contains a heavy focus on worldbuilding and setting. The author has an understanding of the details of his world, and we get to see that. Moreover, this isn’t the quintessential pseudo-medieval setting. Sharakhai is a desert city, whose people have a nomadic history prior to the current period of settlement.
There’s also a great deal of history that Ceda needs to discover in order to plan her next move. Before she figures out how she’s going to challenge the kings, she needs to delve into her own past and her mother’s prior opposition to the same enemy. Because after all, the kings are all-powerful. Her mother has left behind the knowledge she’s acquired on what it would take to defeat them, but Ceda must find where that knowledge is hidden and discover what it means.
Ceda herself is recklessly determined to destroy the kings. She’s an experienced pit fighter who’s watched the kings and their bodyguards walk the streets, waiting for a real chance to get at any of them. Then an opportunity to learn more presents itself, and she throws herself at it, irrespective of the danger. She isn’t willing to go on a mission with no chance of success, but she’s certainly willing to play the odds with her life on the line. In some ways, it’s scary the sorts of risks she takes. She’ll do all she can on her end, but then she’ll leave the rest up to fate–to the chance that someone else will act in a way that allows her success. That kind of determination is impressive in a way that’s also unsettling. But it’s interesting to watch how she manages to maneuver herself into a position where she can do something, albeit with plenty of opportunity for things to go horribly, horribly wrong. A combination of skill, planning, and sheer luck bring her into some situations where things fall into place. And those moments where things just click can be pretty cool.
But Ceda’s plans create tension with her childhood friend, Emre. Ceda and Emre care about each other no matter what, but choose to take different approaches to this conflict. Ceda’s going it alone, but Emre has decided to join something bigger than himself, if that’s what it takes to accomplish something.
Emre himself has some interesting characterization. He’s not stereotypically strong. If anything, he’s astoundingly normal. It’s his dissatisfaction with how he’s handled situations in the past–with how he hadn’t been brave enough, or strong enough–that drives him to push himself. He’s going to do something now, because he hadn’t been able to before. He’s going to force himself to become the man he wants to be.
There are definitely some really cool things about this story. I do love the conflict between Ceda and Emre, in terms of what they will and won’t rely on each other for, even as they matter deeply to each other. I like the places that the characters get maneuvered into, some of which feel pretty clever. And I’m really interested in seeing where this story–this intersection of revenge and hatred and determination–continues on taking the characters. Especially because the ending created more questions about what is actually going on.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Synopsis: Tana wakes up the morning after a house party to find that nearly everyone else had been killed. She finds her ex-boyfriend, alive but infected, in a room with a chained up vampire, and decides to rescue them both. Then they travel to Coldtown, a walled-up city that no one with the infection–and hardly anyone without the infection–can leave. Along the way, Tana has to decide if she’s willing to chance that she isn’t infected, and what she’s willing to risk to protect the people around her.
POV: First person.
This was so skillfully crafted that I couldn’t help but be sucked into it, despite the presence of vampires–I’ve mentioned before that vampires aren’t my favorite.
For me, this book was a struggle between Tana, who’s set on a decision once she’s made it, and everyone else trying to take bits of those choices away from her. Tana lives straggling the line between good-hearted and reckless, risking her life to help someone she’s just met, though she knows he’s likely to be a danger to her. She walks into situations she’s afraid of out of loyalty. For much of the book, no one really reciprocates that loyalty to the extent that she gives it.
She keeps fighting for this one thing, for the future she wants for herself, and obstacles are constantly thrown in her path. The people around her don’t understand why she’s struggling against something that so many others want. And Tana has doubts herself. She wonders if she shouldn’t just give in. But when the time for action arrives, she keeps going.
As much as Tana’s looking out for other people in this book, other people aren’t necessarily looking out for her. There are people she can count on, but none of them are in a position to help her. She’s mostly on her own. Sometimes, even those who want to be on her side are more of a hindrance than anything. The people around her stir up trouble and Tana is left trying to find a way to fix things. And sometimes she can’t.
She’s out of her depth, but she doesn’t stop, and it’s kind of impressive to see how much she actually accomplishes by playing her cards right. And even though getting there really sucks, she does finally reach a point where she makes her decisions stick.