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Book: “Princess of Souls” by Alexandra Christo
Publishing Info: Feiwel Friends, October 2022
Book Description: For sixteen years, Selestra has been trapped in her tower on the Floating Mountain, preparing to take her mother’s place as the King’s Witch, who foretells deaths in the Festival of Predictions. Outrunning your fate earns a wish and the chance to steal the King’s immortality. But die and your soul is forfeit. And though thousands have tried, nobody has ever beaten death.
A soldier in the King’s army, Nox is an unlikely candidate for the Festival, but, driven by revenge, he is determined to steal the King’s immortality and kill the entirety of his court, starting with Selestra.
Yet when Selestra touches Nox in her very first prediction, their fates become entwined, and death seeks to take both their souls. Only by working together can they survive long enough to escape the dark fate and the immortal King that now hunts them.
Review: I’m going to try really hard to resist going on a rant against Macmillan Publishing right now. Long story short, the Macmillan booth at ALA foolishly decided to allot 5…FIVE!!!!…ARCs of each of their books per day of the conference. So unless you were crazy enough to line up at the entrance to the convention center at the crack of dawn, chances were low you were going to get your hands on any books from them. This is truly an insane policy at a convention where you’re entire purpose is promoting your titles to librarians who will hopefully than purchase your books. No, no I will NOT wait in line for an ARC copy of a book I’m not sure I’ll even like. Ok, enough of that. All of that to say, this was the one ARC I was able to snag from Macmillan over the entire conference. And the fact that (spoiler alert) it was a solid “meh” is exactly why I would never get up early to get ARCs, especially by unknown authors. So…change your plan next time Macmillan!
For years, Selestra has remained trapped within the castle walls, standing to the side of her mother learning to one day take her place foretelling death for those foolish enough to bet their souls on the chance of riches. Every year, hundreds take this risk, with only a small few making any gains; and any who risk their lives, always losing. Selestra has always wondered what would make these individuals choose these odds. So when she has a vision of her life tied up alongside one of these foolish risk takers, she is more confused than ever. For his part, Nox has very fixed reasons for why he has entered this tournament. And getting involved with the King’s magical protégé is definitely not part of the plan.
This book was one of those strange reads where I started it up and thought “Wow, I’m really liking this. It’s definitely going to get a solid rating from me.” And then the longer I read, the more and more it began to feel like a chore. Until by the end, I had a very ambivalent feeling towards the entire experience. I can’t even point to very clear reason for this, but we’ll try and tease something out. But, to start with positives, I did enjoy this to start with and I’m sure that for many other people, this positive first impression will last. The writing is entertaining and smooth. The plot moves quickly. And both of our main characters were interesting and had distinct inner voices. Nox, in particular, was the type of witty guy lead that I typically very much enjoy.
But, again, I simply couldn’t sustain interest in this story. For one thing, I thought all of the twists were incredibly predictable, especially as the story continued. I also struggled with the world-building as the plot progressed. Things that had started out as interesting concepts began to stick in my brain and raise continuing questions about how exactly any of this works or how this history/culture really came to be. I understand that this book is set in the world of the author’s previous book, “To Kill a Kingdom,” but the success of a stand-alone book relies on the fact that it is meant to be approachable to readers who may not have read related works.
I also had heard that this book was a re-imaging of “Rapunzel,” part of the reason I was on the look-out for it at all at ALA in the first place. And…I just can’t see it? I mean, sure, she’s a girl stuck in a tower (and even this is highly questionable as she breaks out with ease within the first quarter of the book). But that’s about it. Her hair is kind of a thing, but not at all in the same way as the story. And really, there were no obvious connections to that fairytale at all in the way the story was plotted or paced. I really dislike being sold this type of false premise. If you’re going to try to hook a reader in with a specific reference like this, you better follow through with a story that actually meets that expectation in some way.
So, overall, this was a miss for me. However, I can also see it working for a lot of YA fantasy readers. For one thing, if you liked “To Kill a Kingdom,” this will probably be a nice return to a familiar world. And, like I said, there was a lot of immediate appeal to the characters and style of writing, so for many, this will likely carry them through. But if you’re looking for a tightly plotted story or a complex exploration of character and motivation, this probably won’t be.
That being said, if you’re one of those fans of the first book or are a YA fantasy reader who’s looking for a fast-paced read, don’t forget to check out our giveaway! It is open to U.S. residents only and ends Oct. 26.
Rating 7: A promising start sadly wasted away over the course of this read, though I still think it will appeal to a lot of YA fantasy fans looking for lighter fare.
“Princess of Souls” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Rapunzel Retellings.