(3.5/5 ⭐️) “Blood endures through ages long. Build the castle high and strong. Keep your secret, guard your lore: Nothing must unseal the Door.” Dripping with political intrigue and a curious castle, you’ll find yourself sucked into Ryx’s struggles.
Ryx is the mage-marked grandaughter of the Lady of Owls and warden of Gloaminguard Castle. Unlike the rest of her family, her magic is broken. Instead of giving life to the world as a vivomancer, she takes life, killing everything she gets close to. When outsiders threaten to unravel the peace Vaskandar has seen for four thousand years by unsealing the door to an ancient artifact, Ryx must use her broken magic to keep her people safe.
What I liked most was the poem at the beginning of the book and the way it was woven into the story. It was the backbone that pervaded everything. The vivid world building and unique magical system made this book worth reading. The dark complexities of Gloaminguard Castle created a backdrop of intrigue that drove the story forward and kept me reading. The political tension splattered across page after page was something I enjoyed, but it moved slow at times. Then there was the character development. This was the thing I liked the least. The character development was lacking and made the characters a punching bag for the plot. It was a plot driven rather than a character driven story. Finally, there was an overall lack of closure at the end of the book.
Ryx lives with a great deal of pain. Her broken magic is responsible for killing someone during her childhood, and she has lived in fear ever since. She can’t hug people, touch people, she can’t ride horses, get near trees. She’s alone. She has spent her entire life living in the shadow of her family members who all possess great magical power. She’s a misfit struggling to get by. So she has done what she can to remain relevant by becoming more of a politician, someone who brokers peace between her country, Vaskandar and the Serene Empire.
I was so excited to read a story with a bisexual female lead. You don’t see her sort of lead very often. As a character, I loved Ryx’s brokenness, that she was forced to face difficult challenges. Broken characters are the ones with the most room for growth and change, and this left me hopeful. I was eager to see a large character arc. Ryx hates who she is at the beginning of a book so I expected to see her love herself by the end. That didn’t happen. Moreover, her character fell flat for me. Beyond her broken magic and knack for politics, I didn’t feel that she had much more depth. What were her passions? Why did all of this matter to her? Was it because she was trying to prove that broken magic can do some good? She certainly didn’t make that clear. Her only change is that she goes from having no friends to having friends. That’s not really an internal change.
What annoyed me was, she displayed a juvenile attraction for multiple characters that she meets throughout the story. She was first attracted to Kessa, and then Ashe. Then she was attracted to Aurelo. Then she was attracted to Severin? It felt like the author’s way of trying to overdo the fact that she was bisexual (attracted to both males and females). Maybe I am being naieve, but are bisexual people naturally sexually attracted to everyone they meet? It made her seem like a horny teenager who was depraved of touching people.
In terms of a personal transformation, she goes from loathing her magic and hating her propensity to kill, to avoiding it by using a “jess” to suppress it. She never really confronts it. She continues to simply avoid it. How non-confrontational! She failed to come to terms with what she was/who she was. That was disappointing. I would have loved to see her come into her own, learn to control her power, or something along those lines.
The other characters were interesting, but also didn’t have a ton of development. I really liked Kessa and Ashe, but they also felt somewhat lacking. The only character that goes through an arc was Severin, who was too cowardly to stand up to his brother throughout the story until the end. For him, that was a big win and a big transformation. Unfortunately he wasn’t a main character.
The plot was intriguing. Paired with the world building that was the only thing that really kept me reading. The Gloaminguard Castle was fantastic and mysterious. It reminded me of the mansion in Rose Red or Winchester Mystery House. I was so curious about it and loved those concepts.
Now for the really heavy critique. Spoilers here. My biggest disappointment was the lack of resolution on any front. There were no resolutions. Completing one of the following would have been a big win: A) Ryx goes through an obvious personal transformation (didn’t happen) B) Ryx’s romantic interest develops into something substantial (sorry, holding hands is not a substantial ending to the development of a romantic relationship) C) The defeat of the Shrike Lord. This was anticlimactic because he simply banished Severin. They never rose up against him or put him in his place, even though the entire book was essentially his fault. He got off easy. D) Conquering the gate to hell or conquering the black tower or saving Gloaminguard from the Lady of Owls (it is clear this will happen in later installments). E) The banishment of the demons who entered the world. They are now roaming free. F) Saving Ryx’s grandmother G) Killing Aurelio
The fact that A - G items that were not resolved shows how little resolution there was. I would have been happy with simply ONE completion. Just one. I would have felt fulfilled. Instead, I feel totally unfulfilled. Literally everything was left unresolved. The only thing resolved at the end of the book was that Ryx, Severin, and the Rookery were able to retreat to safety. Great. They are safe. Who wants a safe hero when you can solve problems and feel fulfilled? What about all the loose ends? What a disappointment!
I’m being harsh in my judgement, but only because I feel these things are really important to take a book from three stars to five stars. This book was a really enjoyable. It hooked me from the start because I really enjoy political intrigue and the mysterious Gloaminguard Castle. I had a lot of fun reading this story. I will definitely continue on to the next because I have hope that the things left open will be closed (hopefully). If the second book doesn’t tie up these loose ends, I’m not going to be left dangling from twenty strings forever. In terms of recommending this book, I have mixed feelings. If you’re not a picky fantasy reader—most people aren’t—then you would enjoy this story. You should give it a shot. It will peak your curiosity.
Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for the advanced read.