Now here’s a thing: a book by Andrea K Höst that doesn’t set me on fire. It’s a perfectly fine, entertaining read, you understand, a solid YA fantasy with a little romance, but it just doesn’t quite have that extra something that normally lifts the author’s writing out of the ‘good’ column and into the ‘awesome’. That makes me sad.
badly. The first few chapters are a blizzard of names and titles and
nicknames and throwaway references to customs and ideas that the average
reader can’t possibly understand. And is that an orphaned heroine of
mysterious background I see before me? (Well, not quite but close
enough.) And - surely not? - that can’t be a girl masquerading as a boy?
But it is. Can we say ‘overused tropes’ here? Naturally the author is
far too creative not to put her own twist on all this, but it’s still a
slightly underwhelming start.
The magic of this world is quite
intriguing. The rulers are chosen by the gods, rather than simply
inheriting their power, and the gods give them a direct connection with
their land. Their job is to maintain the balance of the land, so that
it’s not overused or neglected, and they have powers to enable them to
do that. The gods also intervene at death, choosing whether a soul is
worthy to go to the sun god (a heaven equivalent), or goes to a
different god to be cleaned up first. A very few are rejected outright,
if they’ve been very evil, or are reborn, if they have some task to
The plot involves someone going round bumping off
herbalists. The heroine, Ash, the one pretending to be a boy, is a
friend of one of those murdered, and is taken up by outsider Thornaster
to help him investigate the murders, since she has some knowledge of
herbs. So there’s a lot of sneaking around, and improbable mingling with
the nobility, and dramatic rescues of various characters from attempted
murders and the like. And it’s all great fun and a nice, easy read, so
long as you switch off all logical thought.
The whole girl
pretending to be a boy thing is the biggest obstacle for me. Is it
really possible to do this convincingly? The author has considered some
of the difficulties, like breasts and periods and ways of walking, but I
always wonder quite how you’d get away with not being able to pee
standing up. And here Ash is mingling with an entirely masculine crowd,
yet nobody wonders why she always sneaks away to pee?
But if you
can get past that, the story rolls along very nicely, in the usual
crisis-resolution, crisis-resolution way, and I suppose the final
explanations and tidying up of loose ends made some sense. It just all
seemed a bit less surprising and a bit more ordinary than I’d
anticipated. The romance, such as it was, started too easily and
resolved itself without very many difficulties. There were some nice
moments along the way, though, and I rattled through this at a fair
pace, without ever losing interest. This is, by any standards, an
enjoyable read. It’s only by comparison with some of the author’s other
work that it falls a little short. Three stars.