I've been really excited about reading this one. Maybe because of the cover. Maybe because of the exotic atmosphere the tale promised. The surmise definitely sounded interesting...and is.
But I won't babble any longer and will just let you take a peek for yourself. Oh- and don't forget the giveaway!
Sixteen-year-old Rilla Marseas believes she has a calling to become a healer. Her soul yearns to help people and save lives. Why else would Heaven grant her a singing voice that can heal any ailment? But if the palace discovers her power, she’ll be selected for the annual Showcase, where the most beautiful and magically gifted girls in Seracedar Kingdom compete for the chance to enter the emperor’s harem. That’s the last thing Rilla wants. To avoid such a fate, she hides her power. No matter how the other villagers ridicule her for being worthless and talentless, she suppresses the urge to reveal her powerful voice and prove them wrong. When a palace scout poisons Rilla’s auntie and coerces her into revealing her power, she’s thrown into the competition. The scout threatens to harm her family if she doesn’t win. But Rilla learns there really is no winning. The emperor and empress keep girls with magical powers as pets. In cages. With some help from a handsome, but brooding prince and his mysterious bodyguard, Rilla must outsmart the palace and escape. If she fails, she’ll spend the rest of her life as the royal couple’s puppet, using her voice to grant them eternal youth.
The moment I saw this one, I was eager to dive in, and I wasn't disappointed.
Rilla has grown-up in a fishing village, her parents both dead at the hands of pirates, and her brother and his wife taking care of her. Her brother has the magic of a healer, but his talents aren't nearly as strong as hers. She wants to heal but knows that would land her in the hands of the emperor and, probably, in his harem. While every other girl in the kingdom dreams of this chance, she does her best to avoid it. But one tiny slip lands her in the yearly contest, where the top 30 girls compete to gain the highest positions in the harem. And taking part in it is not a choice. She'll do anything to avoid winning...until she discovers that no matter what she does....win or lose...her life is over.
This is a very rich world with characters to love and hate, situations to make the skin crawl, and determination as true hero has to have. It starts out with the simple life of a fishing village and Rilla's impossible dreams to become a healer, a profession which only men can have. This one follows a culture, where women rank low...especially when it comes to the king and the surrounding court.
Light is not something found often in this book as darkness drips from every seam. While the story begins fine, the darker tones are quickly hinted at. And these take their time to build and sink in as Rilla's own life warps from happiness to an endless fight to survive. The world she faces is more than cruel, and leaves women at the bottom of the food chain. And worse. There are more than a few rough scenes in this book as it hits hard on difficult themes. So sensitive readers definitely need to be aware of that before grabbing this one up. Triggers such as rape, slavery, self-mutilation, and more are more of a obvious fact than a rarity in these pages. Rilla faces a deadly, vicious game, where making a mistake means horrible suffering to the evilest degree.
While this is book packed with darkness, Rilla beams like a light of hope. She carries an innocence with her, which sticks until the last pages, and yet, she's not stupid. She does have extreme powers, but these don't unfold until later on, giving the reader time to grow with her. There are messages of friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice, and Rilla's character does learn and mature during the story, which sets a perfect state for books to come.
There is also romance, but this plays on the sidelines as there's more important things for Rilla to concentrate on. However, even here there are solid strings, which promise much more on that end...but it's really not clear completely which direction these will lead as there's more than a tiny hint at a possible triangle.
Fans of fantasy, magic, intrigue, and impossible situations, where hope seems out of reach, will enjoy this one quite a bit.
And here she is...
I was a Bio major, pre-med in college, but I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I used to write poems and stories in the margins of my science notebooks. Well, after a reality check, I decided to pursue a career in Food Science because I like food, and everyone needs to eat. Meanwhile, I continued to write. My absolute FAVORITE books are YA Fantasy, so it’s no surprise that I chose to write it, too.
Having been raised in Southern California, where there’s a healthy blend of cultures, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t put an Asian American spin in my stories. And having always been the “quiet, shy girl,” who often felt like a wallflower even though I wanted desperately to be the heroine, I’m so glad I now get the opportunity to make the underestimated good girls my heroines. But of course, I’m forcing them out of their comfort zones so they have to embrace their dark side and kick some villainous butt.
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