Book: “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin” by Roseanne A. Brown
Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, June 2020
Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!
Book Description: For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
Review: I’ve had this book on my TBR list since way back when it first released. And then when I took a second look, BAM! The second book was already out. So that shamed me into making it more of a priority, so here we are. I was able to check out both books from the library at the same time, so we’re going to have a bit of a double feature this week. Let’s dive in!
Torn by grief, Karina, the Crown Princess, is desperate to bring her mother back to life. Not only was the Sultana life cut unnaturally short by assassination, but Karina’s life as the new ruler is a hell of defiant courtiers and a constant fear of mutiny. The only way to return her mother is through a dark spell that requires the heart of a king. And how does a queen find a king? By marrying as quickly as she can. Malik, a young man looking for a brighter future, finds his path forward usurped when his younger sister is captured and the price of her life is the death of the young queen. To do so, he enters a grand contest, the winner of which has been promised said queen’s hand in marriage, the perfect way to get close enough to pull off such a heinous deed. But as the two begin to circle one another, each with the other’s death in their sight, they begin to find their hearts standing in the way of their plans.
This book was a strange mixed bag for me. I had read descriptions of it as a sort of West African “Aladdin” retelling, and I can sort of see that with the caged princess and the young man who comes from nothing but reaches towards a throne. But this expectation didn’t really serve me well, as I don’t think there’s much here that’s too similar to that story. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the West African setting. The descriptions of the clothes, buildings, and, most especially, the food was all excellent and really created a sense of place in which to tell its story. I also liked the West African folklore that we had in the book, and, again, I wish that had been enough without needing “Aladdin” comparisons to somehow familiarize the story to readers who might not have know what to expect. Half the fun of reading is discovering new worlds and new stories, no need to compare them all to something so well-trodden as “Aladdin.”
However, while all of that was good, I struggled to feel truly invested in the story. There was nothing overtly bad about any of it, but it did feel very “paint by numbers” YA fantasy. The writing was very straight-forward and no challenging. There were limited truly imaginative expressions or reflections. And the plot and romance followed the same beaten path that we have seen a million times before in YA romance stories. While I appreciate that publishers are adding more diversity to their catalog, I do wish they’d challenge their authors to push past these tired, very flat stories and writing styles.
I did like the two main characters, however. Malik was allowed to be softer and more emotionally available than the typical heroic male character. And the author explored mental health struggles in Karina’s storyline. Overall, I think this book was just ok. I wish the author had pushed herself to go a bit further, perhaps straying a bit further from the tried and true path. But I did think it was a fun enough read that I’m happy to pick up the second book I already have from the library.
Rating 7: The West African setting and folklore were by far the best parts of a book that otherwise played it rather too safe.