What this book is about:
This is Volume 1 in the Cycle of Oak, Yew, Ash, and Rowan. The story follows Queen Ysa as she tries to manage her kingdom behind the face of her ever-drunk husband, consorting with dark magic to consolidate powers and create a lasting legacy for her house. Meanwhile, in the bogs, an infant is rescued by Zazar the witch, and raised until the call on her life becomes clear. Ashen then ventures out into the world, not knowing anything other than the bog, to fulfill a destiny that she knows nothing about.
What I liked:
- Setting: Each region of the world that we are introduced to is very distinct and its people adapted to that place. The richness of the world itself is definitely the best part of the book for me.
- Zazar – Even though she was confusing at first and purposely opaque for many things, I still found myself drawn to her as a character.
- The different people groups: I like the way she portrayed different cultures, giving them each unique characteristics that felt believable and appropriate.
What I didn’t like:
- Infodumps: I felt there were a number of these info-dumpy type sections that completely stalled the story.
- Ysa’s handicap: I found this to be a bit of a cheap writing trick that allowed for her to be overthrown much too easily. She was painted as someone who understands what is going on around her and knows precisely how to use everyone effectively, but her blind spot felt inauthentic to her character.
- The ease of Ashen’s transition into the big, wide world: This transition also felt MUCH too easy. As a rather hermited girl hated by the bog people, she had no trouble adapting to changing situations around her, interacting with strangers, and knowing exactly what to do.
Overall thoughts and opinions:
Some books I breeze through and others I have to work a little harder to get to the ending. This certainly wasn’t a “stick it out for a month” book, but in places, I really had to push to keep going. Once the story threads started coming together, I felt the book got better, but there were several key elements that I found really disappointing, personally.
In fantasy, one has to suspend their disbelief and in certain ways it was easy, but then things like what I mentioned in the ‘what I didn’t like’ section happened and it took me right out of the story because it felt like a cheap fix to the problem of overcoming the main villain.
I wish there would have been a tiny bit more struggle throughout – characters struggling to get to know each other or to overcome things that should have been their weaknesses.
All in all, though, it wasn’t a BAD book, I just wish that some elements had been handled differently. I give it three stars.
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