In March of 2017, I saw Samantha Shannon Speak on her tour for The Song Rising at my local bookstore (shoutout to Flyleaf). I LOVE The Bone Season series, it’s one of my absolute favorites, and it solidified Shannon as one of my favorite authors after just the first book. Anyways, during her talk, she mentioned that she’d be postponing the next 4 books in the (total of 7-book) series, to work on another project. At first, I was horrified (I want more of my favorites…plus, this epic series is based on a heroine who shares my name, which is not something that I can ever remember happening before and I am very into it!). But as she spoke more about this new project, I was less and less upset. Shannon was writing A GIANT FEMINIST FANTASY NOVEL BASED ON VARIOUS ANCIENT MYTHOLOGIES ABOUT DRAGONS AND MAGIC WITH STRONG QUEER FEMALE HEROINES. Like literally, nothing could actually be better. And so, I waited. For almost two years, I waited. And, FINALLY, here we are!!
“You are your own shield.”
The East and the West are separated by a giant sea called the Abyss…while religious differences and a self-imposed quarantine keep them even further separated. In the East, Queen Sabran the Ninth faces the pressure to marry and produce an heir in order to keep her safe. Secretly, her lady-in-waiting Ead, sent by a secret society, protects her from assassins that are getting ever closer. In the West, Tané has spent years training to be a dragonrider, yet makes kingdom a decision that may lead to her disgrace. In the Abyss…and ancient evil, one thousand years contained, threatens the entire land. And thus, the scene is set for this epic fantasy.
I literally could not have asked for anything more from this book. It was everything it promised to be and then some. The world-building, both what I recognized from mythologies and lore that I know, as well as the parts that were new/unique for me, were spectacular. It was all so real. There was a lot to catch up on, so the beginning parts of the story were a little slower, as I worked to make a full picture in my head (and referenced back to the gorgeous maps at the beginning of the book). But it was immersive from the start and I loved every minute I spent with it. The characters were just as fully dimensional and lush. Each of their story-arcs and characteristics were deep and full. And I really enjoyed how realistic things were. Considering that this is a fantasy, I realize that using realistic to describe any of it may be weird, but that’s the only way I can think to put it. The ups and downs, challenges faced, curves in their fortunes…it all just rang so true to me. Also, the sheer number of fantastically strong, inspiring, leading women in this novel is literally everything. They are all flawed in their own ways, but work through everything facing them to rise above and succeed and find their own truths/paths and literally save the world. Plus, the relationship that grows between Ead and Sabran is so special, full of stomach flutters and eye sparkles, yet neither of them sacrifices their responsibilities and strengths and rough edges in favor of this soft side. It was so wonderfully developed. I couldn’t get enough of them! The one main male character, Loth, was great too. I really appreciated how, when all the chips were down and everything he had ever known was thrown into question, instead of digging his heels in and shutting down, he did everything he could to adjust, recover, and accept. He was so supportive and open. In fact, basically all the characters in this novel were fantastically open-minded when it really came down to it. I loved that aspect of the novel and the hope that was infused throughout it as a result. So uplifting. I also need to mention the writing. Oh my goodness it was just freaking gorgeous, stunning, writing. Detailed and lyrical, with fun vocabulary sprinkled throughout and phenomenal pacing. I literally cannot say enough about how good the writing was. And last, the dragons, the magic, the dragons and the magic: yes, yes, yes, YES.
So, to sum it up, this book was absolutely phenomenal. This review is one of the shortest I have ever written because there is nothing to critique (and I don’t want to give too much away because you should just go read it yourself). This is my favorite book of the year so far, and really, one of my favorites ever. I’ve never read a longer book that felt so short in my entire life and I cannot recommend it enough. It was just the most beautiful adventure of magic and dragons and heroines and messages of female power and I never wanted it to end.
There were so many moments that I wanted to capture and remember forever…here’s just a taste:
“There is great power in stories.”
“Ead knew the scent of a secret. She wore it like a perfume.”
“Susa had risked everything for a dream that was not hers. That sort of friendship was something not found more than once in a lifetime. Some might not find it at all.”
“It was customary for the vows to be taken at midnight, during the new moon, for it was in the darkest hours that companionship was needed most.”
“In the story, she had no name, like too many women in stories of old.”
“No woman should be made to fear that she was not enough.”
“Childing is not always easy. It seems to me that this is the best-kept secret in all the world. We speak of it as thought there were nothing sweeter, but the truth is more complex. No one talks openly about the difficulties. The discomfort. The uncertainty. So now you feel the weight of your condition, you believe yourself alone in it. And you have turned the blame upon yourself.”
“She was lost and found and wandering, all at once. At the cusp of dreaming, yet somehow never more awake. […] …the kiss was hot and new and world-forming, the flare of starbirth on their lips. They were honeycombs of secret places, fragile and intricate.”
“Love and fear do strange things to our souls. The dreams they bring, those dreams that leave us drenched in salt water as gasping for breath as if we might die – those, we call unquiet dreams. And only the scent of a rose can avert them.”
“A feeling like dying and coming to life. The blood of the tree spreading over her tongue, soothing the blaze in her throat. Veins turning to gold. As quickly as it quenched one fire, it sparked another, a fire that torched through her whole being. And the heat cracked her open, like the clay she was, and made her body cry out to the world. All around her, the world answered.”
“My evening star. If the sun burned out tomorrow, your flame would light the world.”
“Death came for them like desert wind.”
“A woman is more than a womb to be seeded.”
“Some truths […] are safest buried. Some castles best kept in the sky. There’s promise in tales that are yet to be spoken. In the shadow realm, known only to the few.”