Breathe, deep breaths, exhale, phew. This book is good, like really good, but it ends on a cliff hanger and I was not prepared for it because I read a digital copy and didn’t think 528 pages had gone by. Needless to say I was not emotionally prepared for there not to be a resolution. Then the afterward said it was a duology, and I may have freaked out and contacted the wonderfully patient author and had her talk me down, because such words could imply that Thorn was book one. Also, when I’m frantic I don’t read clearly, but now all is well, she assured me there will be a conclusion, inshaAllah, to Rae’s story. Picking up chronologically where Thorn left off, this book is a companion in the Dauntelss Path series, but follows a different protagonist and while I highly suggest reading Thorn first, it is not necessary to understand this original tale. So, phew, I am breathing again, and happy to venture back to Menaiya to share my review of a lovely story, written by an amazing Muslim who once again weaves such an engulfing tale that doesn’t drag or have holes in the narrative, is filled with strong female characters, and text that reads so effortlessly it just sweeps you away. Truly it is fun for middle school and up (13+), and clearly I’m not passionate about books and fictional characters and don’t need to get a reality check.
The book opens in a small village where Rae is in the market with her littlest sister Bean and their friends, Ani and Seri, when the unspeakable happens: Seri goes missing. This isn’t a tale of a child who has wandered off, it is about a child taken by the snatchers and the materialization that the rumors and horrors they have been hearing of children being taken, becoming very real. Niya, Rae’s middle sister is a secret mage who tries to track Seri, but can’t break through the mark that keeps her hidden. As the townsfolk exhaust all resources and resolve she is just another child lost, Rae gets an opportunity to find answers. Her pregnant cousin has invited her to spend the summer at the royal court and attend the wedding of Prince Kestrin and Princess Alyrra. Convinced that the palace must have more information about the snatchers, Rae reluctantly agrees to go and investigate what is being done to stop the country’s loss of children. Rae is nervous to leave her horse ranch, afraid of the teasing she will receive because of her twisted clubbed foot, but above all desperate to help her friend’s family.
Everything about Tarinon baffles Rae: the extreme poverty on the outer skirts of the palace, the vacant stares of the children, the ignorance of the courtiers, the politicking and secrets. She doesn’t get much time to ease into this new role though, because she is thrust head first in to it when asked to be one of Princess Alyrra’s attendants. She once again reluctantly agrees, with the hope of getting answers to help recover Seri and other lost children. After tests to gage if the princess can trust Rae, the two join together to secretly unravel what is going on. This work in and of itself is incredibly dangerous as those that ask questions often go missing. Her work is compounded when the princess sends her to get information from the head of a thief ring, Red Hawk, and his informants. The closer Rae gets to answers, the more perilous situations she gets in and out of, often having to count on her bravery, determination, and wit to stay alive. She finds an unlikely ally in Red Hawk’s right hand man Bren, help and friendship in an employee in the tax office, Kirrana, and the need for favors from a Fae mage and his Cormorant. As the investigation progresses, it leads to battles with neighboring thief rings, Rae held hostage at one point, getting her finger chopped off at another, the Circle of Mages seeming guilty, and royalty within the palace duplicitously involved. All this while a week long royal wedding is underway and the princess’s brother is attempting to kill the princess. No wonder 500 plus pages still ends with a cliffhanger, eh?
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the world building and detail and speed of the story, but I’ve really delayed writing this review as I try and pinpoint and articulate what it is about the characters that I truly am invested in. And the answer is, I really don’t know, it probably it isn’t just one thing. They are believable, and flawed, yet so very strong. Rae in particular has her own self doubt and questioning, but she is a force and she makes mistakes, yet is still gracious and humble, she really is well rounded. There might be some romantic twinges between Rae and Bren, but she isn’t going to compromise one bit of who she is for him or anyone for that matter, which doesn’t mean though that she isn’t still growing and learning. The book absorbs you right away, there aren’t dull parts that you skim over, or character’s that you mess up and have to go back and clarify. Unequivocally, the writing is superb.
The snatchers are inspired by the slave trade and child trafficking that unfortunately is not fiction and is all too real. I think the edginess and intensity is heightened when that realization occurs for the reader to see that it isn’t just a fictitious conflict within a fantasy plot.
There is nothing Islamic in the book, the characters have their own religion that pops up as Speakers are involved in healing the recovered children and Alyrra goes to pray at one point, but it doesn’t detail what that looks like. The author is Muslim.
The book is remarkably clean, especially for the genre. It does mention that some of the girls snatched end up in brothels, and the guards sent to investigate take advantage.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think I would absolutely do this for a middle school book club book. To open the students eyes to quality writing, taking a real problem and nesting it in fiction to be sorted out, and just to see their response to the journey that Rae under takes would make for a great lunchtime discussion. The book has not been released yet, so there aren’t a lot of reader’s guides or author interviews about it, but I suspect there will be soon.