Serena’s Review: “Divine Rivals”

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Book: “Divine Rivals” by Rebecca Ross

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: After centuries of sleep, the gods are warring again. But eighteen-year-old Iris Winnow just wants to hold her family together. Her mother is suffering from addiction and her brother is missing from the front lines. Her best bet is to win the columnist promotion at the Oath Gazette.

To combat her worries, Iris writes letters to her brother and slips them beneath her wardrobe door, where they vanish―into the hands of Roman Kitt, her cold and handsome rival at the paper. When he anonymously writes Iris back, the two of them forge a connection that will follow Iris all the way to the front lines of battle: for her brother, the fate of mankind, and love.

Review: I really enjoyed Ross’s “Elements of Cadence” duology. It was lyrical, full of adventure, and centered a lovely romance at its heart. So it was a no brainer to place a request for her next novel when I saw it was due to arrive this spring. And while I don’t think this first book necessarily reaches the highs of that previous series, I did enjoy it a lot and I have high hopes for the next book in the series!

Several months ago, Iris’s life fell apart. Her brother felt compelled to join in a god’s war hundreds of miles away. Her mother fell into depression and alcoholism. And Iris was forced to drop out of school to support her family. Now, she works towards one goal: becoming a reporter for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the city. But she’s not the only one pursuing the position. Unknowing to her, her rival, a young man who is unfortunately as skilled a writer as he is frustrating, also happens to be the mysterious pen pal she found only by chance. But as the war becomes more and more real for Iris, she begins to realize that the world is much greater than she ever imagined, and her pan pal may be the only one who really understands her.

There was a lot to like about this book, but I think the book summary really buries the lead on the true strengths of this book. Yes, it starts out as a fairly standard work rivalry story alongside a sweet pen pal subplot. But about a quarter of the way in, things quickly shift and Iris travels to the front lines of the war. Here, the story really comes alive as it explores the experience of trench warfare and the experiences of those whose lives have been upended while living through a war that is taking place right outside their own front door. I really loved all that Ross had to offer in this part of the book.

This was all obviously a parallel to WWI, with similar tactics used, like trenches and the terrible use of vicous gases. But, of course, this is a fantasy novel, so the constant terror and threat of air raids were replaced by fantastical creatures that could target any town at any moment. I can honestly say that I can’t remember reading a fantasy novel that read anything like this one, and that was incredibly refreshing.

I also really liked Iris as a character. She was brave, but not foolish. Compassionate but also struggling with her conflicting emotions about a war that stole her brother away from her family. I also liked Roman Kitt, and, for the most part, the romance between the two. I think the title of this book does mislead a bit as far as the romance goes, however. The “rivalry” between these two barely warrants the term. Not only do we see very little of it, but it is quickly shunted to the side in favor of a completely cordial friendship building quickly towards romance. Indeed, an entire romantic arch from start to finish takes place within a fairly short period of the middle and end of the book. While I liked the love story, I kind of wish that it had been drawn out between this first book and the one to come. As it was, the romance just barely sidestepped becoming an instalove situation. It’s spared from this category only by the fact that, while quickly established, it does spend a good deal of time building up this relationship.

I also liked the idea of the feuding gods in this story, and the fact that the humans caught up in the war don’t have a full understanding of the history between these characters. But that also gets to my main issue with this book: in many ways it feels like an extended prequel. A very interesting and romantic prequel, but still. It was only towards the last quarter of the book that it really felt like the story got started. I still enjoyed my read overall, but I think the pacing was questionable, and perhaps, depending on how the next book goes, there might have been some better decisions to make with how this story was broken up. The one thing I can say for sure, the fact that the story really picks up towards the end of the book really leaves the reader primed for the second book. Despite a few quibbles here and there, I’ll definitely be right there in line to read the second one as soon as it’s available!

Rating 8: Lyrical and atmospheric, this book uses the fantastical to illustrate the horrors of war and the bravery of those who risk it all to save those they love.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Divine Rivals” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Working Women in Fantasy and Female fantasy authors – Children’s, YA and adult.

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