Cas has finally come home, three years after his capture and imprisonment by the enemy. But home no longer looks the same. Everywhere has been ravaged by the Plague that devastated the world, leaving no one untouched by its horrors. The war is over as well, and the king has married the daughter of his enemy—and they are celebrating the name day of their son when Cas arrives to his home city and disrupts an assassination attempt. Honored by his king and returned to his noble status, Cas finds himself neck-deep in a conspiracy to attack the queen and her newborn child…a conspiracy with roots that could threaten the very foundations of the fragile peace.
“Oh, I do think [you’re mad],” she assured him, and Cas smiled. “But this past year…I wonder if we’ve all gone mad, just a little bit.”
Ever read one of those books where the first few pages hit you across the face, but in a good way?
This is the book.
This felt very much like a young adult version of The Curse of Chalion meets a Certain fairy-tale retelling by way of 2020, in that a young man recently escaped from the prison of his enemy returns home after being thought for dead, immediately foils an attempted assassination against his king’s newborn son, and stumbles into a mystery that threatens the peace between his kingdom and that of his enemy. Oh, and the young man can see the dead.
The seeing the dead part was underutilized IMO, but I didn’t mind. It was such a light touch, so well done, to show how Cas was literally haunted. It’s not easy to write a character like Cas, and I loved how he was portrayed and written, and how his motivations were shown instead of told. You never quite get into his head, but you are in his head through his actions. He’s a very quiet character, and recovering from an awful lot, and highly intelligent, and…literally haunted. PTSD is a bitch, even in a world where literally everyone is suffering from some version of it. Throughout it all, however, he has retained his soul.
The writing is superb, the world-building was incredible (the food, the descriptions of the cities), the relationships of the people who were beside themselves over the return of their beloved lordling (COOK!!!!!), and the way the slow recovery from a decades’ long war and even worse plague were handled was just *chef’s kiss*
Holy shit, and Cas and Lena’s relationship, and, quite literally, the relationships of everyone with each other.
“Loss is a part of life, my lord Cassiapeus, and grief is constant. It is unbearable at first. Then you find you can indeed bear it. Over and over again. As many times as necessary.”
I was in tears for something like 80% of the book. How heartbreaking, and heartwarming and just. I dunno. It’s so, so good, even if the murder mystery aspect of it was fairly simple. But even though the “twist” is easy to find (I can’t say the fairy tale because it would reveal the twist, but I will say that it’s not one of the Big Three—not Cinderella, or Little Red Riding Hood or Beauty & the Beast—but that it is a very popular one that is hard to do well), the way Lucier wrote it made my heart catch as all of the implications were so emotionally engaged.
This is a world that has pivoted from dealing with one mass tragedy (a decades’ long war) into another (a brutal plague), where the slow-burn hurts of the previous tragedy were overshadowed by the up-ending trauma of the recent one. In the midst of the mystery are people coming to terms with and recovering from both tragedies, and the way the scars have engrained themselves into society (and the backlash reactions) and what people do to survive were very well done.
My only (very minor) gripes are the marketing, the title and the cover.
I don’t think this should be YA.
It has an adult feel to it, although I can see why it was marketed as YA instead of Adult, and not just because the characters are young. Also, the title and the cover and the blurb made me feel like I was stepping into a war-like book, when it’s not warlike—it’s violent and brutal and filled with death, but this is about the aftermath of war and death and plague, and what comes next. So the cover—as hilarious as it is, when I figured out what it’s supposed to depict—felt a little mismarketed.
Anywho, my one last minor gripe is that I NEED AN EPILOGUE!
Preferably set five years into the future, on that day. IYKYK.
Overall, however, this is just an incredible book, and I am so honored to have been granted an advance copy.
“We are not promised a long life, Cassia. Just a life. Take what happiness you can. Hold tight to it.”
Trigger Warning: dismemberment, torture/imprisonment, attempted murder, death by fire, graphic death, starvation of a child, plague/pandemic, war
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review