Roshani’s writing is always stunning. I love her voice and the voice she puts on the page. This not quite modern day fantasy, but definitely advanced fantasy is no different and is excellent through the lens of her prose.
Set in turn of the century Paris, this story follows Severin, a treasure hunter and hotelier that has a deep investment in the magical world that goes on without him. Denied his birthright he has become bitter and obsessed with finding a way to get it back. When the leader of a rival house offers him an opportunity that will open the door to his inheritance he cannot resist the call to adventure.
That said, while Severin is the main character in my opinion, he has a wonderful band of characters to aid him on his mission. All are diverse and have a range of identities, which define their ideas of their place in society, whether good or bad.
- Enrique is a Spanish-Filipino history buff who is always there to aid with his knowledge. He grapples with his faith and his sexual desires. Sarcasm to the extreme.
- Laila is South Asian and was remade. (what does that mean, you ask, read the book and find out, I reply) She has an ability to see the history of the things she touches and is looking for her own specific piece of treasure. There is also a somewhat tense past relationship with Severin to account for.
- Zofia is Jewish, got expelled from University, arrested for arson and is an over-thinker to the extreme. Is worried what those around her think of her and recognizes she doesn’t always know the right thing to say and her filter could use some work. My favorite of the characters, honestly.
- Tristan has been with Severin since childhood. He has an intense loyalty and concern for the wellbeing of his friend. He is one of the best gardeners in the city and is widely known for his work.
There are a lot of identity themes in the story that echo through the pages. Severin and Hypnos are biracial and the difference in their skin tones very much matters in the world. Enrique understands colonialism and the effects it has on his country. It is a good approach to inclusiveness and did not feel forced or like it was token placed.
The magic in the world is intriguing. I enjoyed the aspects of alchemy and family ties. The downfall to all of this was that it is based on a biblical story. For me, it was uncomfortable to see Bible verses taken out of context and even changed verbatim. The Bible is a holy book and using it for your story idea is alright, but maybe we shouldn’t change the verses that are quoted? Idk, I’d be interested to see how other Christians took this.
Getting past that though it is fascinating. The babel fragments are very powerful and different nations in the world are able to draw from them to almost create and grow their civilizations. We are at a point in history in the story now where these babel fragments are protected by certain families and organizations that may or may not be corrupt.
My favorite character by far was Zofia. She had SO MUCH character development in the book and what happens with her in the end had a satisfying sort of tension that makes it devastating but in a good, I want to know where it goes next way. If I continue the series it will be because of her. As for the other characters, I just didn’t connect with them in this one. Hypnos is the distant second to Zofia, I love his personality and style, but I don’t think it quite makes up for the other areas I was disappointed in.
The Severin/Laila relationship has a lot of tension and through most of the book I was okay with it. There aren’t many relationships in YA that have the, let’s not do this again, type of romance. So I had a lot of hope, but towards the end some of the choices they made really frustrated me. I think you want to have a ship you enjoy, and this one took some directions at the end to the point where I lost interest in them completely. Which is part of why the Zofia build up became the most focal for me, and why my emotions got all tied up, but in a good way.
The conflict grew steadily for me, but the last 60 pages or so of the novel just felt so off. The time jumps, the conclusions, didn’t work for me. There is a nice reveal at the end, that when you look back over the story again, things look very different. I am always impressed when an author can pull those sorts of things off.
In the end, I did like the story enough to be hooked with questions unanswered. Those will probably be my drive to pick up the sequel. I have pre-ordered the book, and will probably be skimming through to see if much changed between the ARC and the finished copy. That cover is GORGEOUS. There is also a pre-order incentive going on for the book, this set of character cards, which I think are super cute. The book releases on January 15!
I won a copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway. My review is honest and unbiased.