[A quick note: A friend over on bookstagram has been begging me to read this series for a year. Even my older sister begged me. It’s one of those that I knew I’d enjoy it, but never had much reason to dive in. I didn’t know much about what it was. I’d also heard some controversy about it when it first came out. I can’t imagine why there was so much initial drama about this book. It was incredible.]
“𝐏𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐞 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐞𝐱𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐬𝐞𝐞,” 𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐚𝐲𝐬 𝐬𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐩𝐥𝐲. “𝐓𝐡𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡 𝐚 𝐟𝐢𝐥𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐨𝐰𝐧 𝐡𝐚𝐭𝐫𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐣𝐮𝐝𝐢𝐜𝐞.” —Laurie Forest
Sheltered and unaware of the world, Elloren Gardner has no idea what she’s gotten into when she appears at Verpax University. It’s a dominate or be dominated environment. She’s there to learn the apothecary trade, but instead, she learns about the cruelty and awful lies surrounding the history of her people. Will she stand with her people and perpetuate their cruelty, or stand against injustice?
I ADORED this book. Why aren’t more people talking about it?! It’s emotional, chock-full of deep themes like racial prejudice, bullying, and oppression, and riddled with my favorite tropes like enemies to lovers and forbidden romance. Every time I set this book down, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It even kept me awake at night. While some of the scenes were a bit hard to read due to the nature of Elloren’s cruel world, there were many feel good moments where Elloren stood up to those who would hurt her and others.
Elloren is from the most prominent family in Gardneria. She’s also the granddaughter of the last Black Witch. She’s royalty among her people. Except that she’s grown up in the middle of nowhere, sheltered, and has no idea exactly how much she looks like her grandmother. Pair that with the fact that her grandmother is responsible for committing atrocities against other races, and she’s not earning herself any favors when she goes to Verpax University, which is full of Kelts, Lupine, Elves, etc. These races are viewed as “lesser” by her people. But Gardnerians aren’t the only ones perpetuating hostilities. Elloren is bullied and threatened by people from every race, illustrating the deep seated racism running through everyone. It’s a dominate or be dominated environment. After a few horrifying experiences, Elloren closes herself off. But she soon finds that by opening her eyes, those around her are also suffering from their own mistreatment by the hands of her own people. They all have more in common than she first realized. She’s forced to pick a side.
I loved the way Laurie Forest handled the deeply unsettling themes in this book. Racial oppression—which was sometimes hard to read about—bullying, prejudice. There were so many difficult moments that rang true with today’s societies around the world. The author presented these ideas in such a way as to elicit deep emotions from her readers. LOTS of emotions. I was so impressed. She never glorified any of these themes, although some of the “bad” characters certainly did, which is what made them the villains of the story. It was Elloren’s quest for answers that ultimately opened her eyes.
“𝐑𝐞𝐚𝐥 𝐞𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐝𝐨𝐞𝐬𝐧'𝐭 𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐲. 𝐈𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞𝐬 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐦𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐲 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐝𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐛𝐢𝐧𝐠. 𝐁𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐚𝐥𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞...𝐢𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐥𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐛𝐚𝐬𝐞𝐝 𝐨𝐧 𝐢𝐧𝐣𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐥𝐢𝐞𝐬.” —Laurie Forest
I loved the found family, enemies to lovers trope, and the forbidden love. It was really hard to watch some of the characters from different races fall in love and not be allowed to act on their love for fear of being alienated by their race and family. The themes were so easy to relate to.
All of this is neatly set to the backdrop of a fantasy world full of races and differing histories. Every race has its own idea of how the history books should be written. And at the top is the ruling Gardnerian Elite, who are about to elect the worst dictator in history. This dictator plans to kill most of the “lessor” races. Elloren quickly learns that she must stand against this kind of cruelty, even if it means abandoning her people for the friends she’s made at university.
This book deserves ALL the stars! It should be read by everyone. It’s eye-opening, and it really makes you think. It will stay on your mind for hours. I still can’t stop thinking about it, days later. I adored the characters, their struggles, watching them traverse their hardships, watching them come together to fight, watching them find courage. Also, the found family gave me all the feels. 𝐌𝐘 𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆: 𝟓/𝟓⭐️