Elloren is sheltered and doesn’t know much about the other races or their conflicts. Her naïveté is very apparent in her first encounters with different races, not fully grasping their precarious positions in society and why she and her people are a threat to their survival. When bullied she lashes back with the same prejudice that they show her. For a while she’s more concerned about making friends and boys than she is about anything meaningful. Over time, however, she begins to open her eyes to the many injustices around her and slowly question her previous assumptions.
I appreciated what this book was trying to do in terms of showing the slow and clumsy hurdle people take to overcome prejudice, but I feel that it was a bit heavy handed. It’s not an easy subject to tackle so I have to give some credit to Forest for trying. This book is a fairly standard epic young adult fantasy story, filled to the brim with tropes, instalove, and of course a love triangle. There were several times throughout the story that I said to myself, “I feel like I’ve been here before.” The author’s inspirations are pretty obvious as many of the plot points or scenes were strikingly similar to ones in a number of other fantasy books I’ve read in the past, Harry Potter being the most notable.
Elloren was a mildly annoying character, not because of any of the race issues, but because of her flippant attitude toward romance. While the main love interest was a great character and thankfully not a case of instalove, Elloren was jealous over him before they were even remotely involved with each other and she had already been making out with another guy. As for the other guy, well, he plays such a minor role for half of the book and the romance between them is so underdeveloped that I don’t even know why it’s even there, especially considering it’s the backbone of her conflict with another character. I get the reasoning, each of the male leads is supposed to be symbolic of Elloren moving on from her old Gardenarian views of purity and rebelling against her aunt but it just felt so unnecessary. I honestly wish there wasn’t a love triangle, especially since it doesn’t seem like all that much of a competition. I also rolled my eyes a little that almost every character is conveniently paired off.
“Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing.”
Despite my gripes with Elloren I actually enjoyed this book for the most part, even if it took a while for the story to fully hook me. The book is quite long and it takes it’s time developing the plot, the characters, and the politics of the various races. I liked seeing Elloren’s world open up as she learned about the other races in college and started questioning established truths. I like that each race had their own variation of religion, their own histories and how different their own versions of the same events. While the conflicts between many of the races weren’t terribly complex they were understandable.
I liked the elemental focus to the magic system and the world building in this book is actually quite good. The series introduces some new fantasy races while also revisiting old favorites and giving many of them a unique twist. Many of the characters and romances were likable and there were plenty of humorous moments. Sure the story isn’t incredibly deep, but sometimes that’s a good thing as long as it’s fun.
I was initially conflicted with how I wanted to rate this book for a number of reasons. While reading it I seemed to fly through the pages easily and for the most part enjoyed it. Whenever I put the book down, however, I didn’t feel all that compelled to pick it back up for a few days. It was difficult to put a finger on why, but I guess the story just felt really average for a large portion of the book. It definitely picks up in the second half and sets things up nicely for the next book, so there’s definitely a lot of potential.
Will I be continuing the series? Definitely, because I enjoyed most of the characters and I am actually interested in seeing where the story goes. I’m a little apprehensive, since it seems that the love triangle is still very much a large part of the story and won’t be going away anytime soon. At the same time I’m optimistic that the book will have a little more freedom to develop now that the story seems to be moving away from the initial magic school wonder to a more serious plot.
Also this book would have benefited greatly with some kind of index because there are an awful lot of places, characters and side characters, races and separate factions within those races. There were a handful of times that a book would reference a character that I hadn’t seen for a couple of chapters and I had to pause to try and remember who these characters even were. Maybe it’s a personal issue, but I just feel that indexes are nice for books that unload a ton of information on the reader, it really helps.
A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.
Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.
When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.
As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear.