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Book: “Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove” by Rati Mehrotra
Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, October 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat
Book Description: Katyani’s role in the kingdom of Chandela has always been clear: becoming an advisor and protector of the crown prince, Ayan, when he ascends to the throne. Bound to the Queen of Chandela through a forbidden soul bond that saved her when she was a child, Katyani has grown up in the royal family and become the best guardswoman the Garuda has ever seen. But when a series of assassination attempts threatens the royals, Katyani is shipped off to the gurukul of the famous Acharya Mahavir as an escort to Ayan and his cousin, Bhairav, to protect them as they hone the skills needed to be the next leaders of the kingdom. Nothing could annoy Katyani more than being stuck in a monastic school in the middle of a forest, except her run-ins with Daksh, the Acharya’s son, who can’t stop going on about the rules and whose gaze makes her feel like he can see into her soul.
But when Katyani and the princes are hurriedly summoned back to Chandela before their training is complete, tragedy strikes and Katyani is torn from the only life she has ever known. Alone and betrayed in a land infested by monsters, Katyani must find answers from her past to save all she loves and forge her own destiny. Bonds can be broken, but debts must be repaid.
Review: I feel like I’ve read a number of India-inspired fantasy novels over the last few years or so. Most of them have been very good, and it’s always refreshing to see new fantasy world built on the foundation of other cultures, histories, and religions from around the world. This one was particularly interesting when I stumbled across it because it was toted as being inspired by Medieval India, a period that I know even less about that the more recent history of the nation and region. Other than this general point of interest, however, I had very little to go on.
Ever since a forbidden magical intervention was performed to save her life as a child, binding her to the queen of the realm, Katyani has always seen her future as bright and clear. She was worked tirelessly to become the best guardswoman she could be and is in line to become the personal guard of the crown prince. But as persistent assassination attempt goes unthwarted, Katyani’s stable future begins to become shaky. Not only has she been unsuccessful in thwarting this threat, but she is now being sent away from the queen and castle to guard the prince and his cousin as they train in a remote school. And while there, she begins to question more and more in not only her future, but her past.
In a lot of ways, this book felt like it was right on the verge of being a story I’d love. The world-building is interesting, the magic had its moments, and there were some excellent fantasy monsters and creatures. But all of this fell just a little short of being particularly interesting. The world-building had some good moments, but I also never felt fully grounded, often unable to picture anything particularly unique about this world. This left me filling in the blanks. And, unfortunately, when a reader is left to fill in blanks, they’ll do with elements they’re most familiar with, thus completely undermining the goal of being exposed to a world/culture that is completely new.
The magic system was also barely a system, with many things working “just because.” I don’t always need elaborate systems ala Brandon Sanderon, but I do need to feel as if there are some rules around how magic is used and what is and isn’t possible. Without this, magic begins to feel like it could just be a silver bullet for any problem that should ever arise, thus dramatic lowering any and all stakes. But, I will say, the monsters and creatures were definitely the saving grace for fantasy elements. They were all new and interesting, doing most of the work of making this world feel like a unique place and touching on the cultural and mythical Indian elements that I was looking to learn more about.
I also couldn’t connect to the characters at all. The main character was supremely bland, suffering from the all-too-familiar case of a teenage character who is somehow the best everyone’s ever seen at a highly skills based occupation. This is a personal annoyance for me, of course, so others may not be bothered by it. But even personal preferences aside, Katyani didn’t have a lot going for her. She wasn’t annoying or prone to ridiculous dramatics, but she also didn’t have any real character traits that made me care about her personally. Beyond that, all of the characters had as similar sort of blandness which made them even less interesting as they began to blend together.
Lastly, I found a lot of the story highly predictable. From the very first few chapters, it was easy to guess what a few of the “reveals” would be. When you can see all of the twists coming, it’s very hard to feel investing in sticking it out while the characters themselves discover these truths. Ultimately, this book just wasn’t for me. Given that I didn’t particularly enjoy the other duology by this author that I’ve read, I think this is maybe just a sign that I should stick to other writers in the future. Fans of her work, however, might enjoy this, as I do think it was similar to that first duology (in that my annoyances have been the same between them, so if you weren’t bothered by it then, you may be good to go here too!)
Rating 6: Everything felt like it was lacking that certain spark that needs to come together to make a great read.
“Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove” isn’t currently on any Goodreads list, but it should be on Indian Inspired Fantasy Novels.