4 stars | Gooreads review
I’m gonna show you this quote:
“Every book makes me see and feel things, Brienna.”
If this doesn’t scream book boyfriend, idk what to tell you then.
Note: I get really sarcastic and salty in this because I was told this was problematic and boring but it’s none of those things.
Wee woo wee woo wee woo YA purity police told me this was problematic but is it really? Answer: no.
I probably read a different book from the people who said this was boring. So often I see readers complaining about the lack of friendship between female characters, conveniently absent family members and unsupportive, problematic love interests and no action when there is a freaking war. Well, here I present to you a wholesome tale.
1) Academic Woes and the Path to a Career
What was striking to me at first after I got over what the heck a freaking “passion” was supposed to be, was that Brienna is the underdog amongst all these talented young ladies and how this book presents academic failure/success in the Magnalia house. As someone who hated school and hated college because of how much your value is tied to success, I was surprised and happy to see this book explores the feelings of someone who has tried her best but had the odds stacked up against her from the start. Brienna bombed her patron interviews and instead of throwing her out and telling her she’s a failure, the people around are supportive of her and reassure her that it wasn’t the end of the world and that she was still worthy in their eyes.
This book doesn’t base Brienna’s value in what she can do for other people. Her classmates, principal (the Dowager) and teacher all want to see her succeed except for Ciri, an ambitious pre-med, of course LOL, but she comes around after she gets into a medical apprenticeship like she wants. Yeah I judged the fuck out of Ciri because of people I know irl who are like that. But whatever she’s probably jealous teacher’s not hot for her like he is for Brienna.
Me: [reaches out for my iPhone]
Me: Hey Ciri why are you so jealous of Brienna and Cartier?
Ahem… where was I? They all have faith that whatever Brienna chooses to do in the end, she deserves happiness and success. This is an incredibly positive and relatable messages, especially for people who are struggling to find their way in life, whether it be academic, career or otherwise. Although it’s not explicitly talked about in the dialogue, this first section of this book in Magnalia does a good exploration on self-worth and academic success/lack thereof academic success and how it should not define you as a person.
THIS IS AN EXCEPTIONAL MESSAGE FOR YOUNG ADULTS. IDK WHAT PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING ON THIS??? It’s a good, wholesome message, guys. I guess you’re all A+ students with A+ reading comprehension but just skipped over this fantastic part of the book. But I guess having a heart and supporting the people in your life because you’ve personally never felt the singe of failure from not being able to meet society’s standards is WAAAAHHH boring. Well, ok then.
2) Female Friendship Galore
Ok, admittedly the friendships we get between all the girls in the story aren’t as fleshed as I’d like, but they’re a pretty nice addition given the other girls from Magnalia for the most part aren’t major characters.
We spend almost 130 pages with the girls at Magnalia house and what one might call Brienna “gossiping” with these girls is actually… just the girls being friends and interacting as friends?! *gasp* I know a shocker. Sometimes I love a good piece of gossip and wow I even talk to my friends about their interests and school! It’s almost like the world is still spinning on its axis even though Brienna does this too. These girls are about to graduate into their passions (professions) and they’re saying goodbye to eachother by creating momentos and giving gifts to each other to remember them by. It’s almost like these girls like each other enough to think about their friends while they’re not together anymore. Is this (butterfly skitters around) Friendship?! Shocker. This is normal stuff. If you finish school and your friends, the ones whom you actually like and care to keep in contact with, scatter with the wind, OF COURSE YOU’LL MISS THEM?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?! Revolutionary.
Brienna also makes friends with the queen-to-be and they are very wholesome and supportive of eachother. Isolde teaches her how to Study the Blade and Brienna is the female company Isolde sorely lacked in her childhood. I suspect their relaltionship will play a bigger role in the sequel, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
3) Wholesome, Supportive Book Boyfriend (aka My Fave Who is Not Problematic)
That would be Cartier, Brienna’s former instructor at Magnalia.
Before everyone jumps on me for even uttering about the student/teacher dynamic, for most of this book, Brienna has essentially graduated from Cartier’s instruction and he is essentially a mentor on the same career path as her. There is no abuse between them and they clearly had a thing developing along the way. If you wanna yell at me for liking student-teacher relationships in fiction, that’s your perogative, but you better be yelling at random couples on the streets for having a 12 year age gap and making an ass out of yourself then (also Bri and Cartier are only ~8 years apart and they are both adults so hush).
Even when Brienna fricks the frack up on her job interviews with potential patrons, Cartier remains supportive and encouraging and tells her that the patrons who rejected her were unworthy of having her as an employee. And when she *does* find a suitable patron he asked her to wait for him to return from summer vacation so he could see if that patron was worthy of her and also to give her the graduation cloak he designed for her. Which we find out has a matching constellation design to the cloak he has. They write letters to each other and he tells her about his tragic backstory and how he has no mom (honestly, this book checks all my boxes). I didn’t expect Cartier to be so open about his life to Brienna, but color me surprised because he spills a lot of the beans.
Despite being a passion of knowledge, Cartier isn’t emotionally distant or brooding like a stereotypical intellectual man is usually portrayed a la Benedict Cucumber (who plays like the same character all the time and I hate that I can predict all his quotes). I honestly hate that nasty, emotionless intellectual portrayal so much. If they’re smart why the fuck are they not learning people skills? Cartier is honestly refreshing to read for a YA love interest. He supports her, takes interest in her interests, cares about her future and emotional wellbeing, gives her a personally designed cloak. He also ends up being lord so I guess he’s rich too. Is this not the Book Boyfriend people always wish for? I guess loyal and supportive book boyfriends are boring and problematic… lol.
So, in my opinion, it’s a Very Wholesome and overall healthy relationship. Cartier gives Brienna books and they talk about nerdy stuff and make Brienna’s fellow arden/student, Ciri, feel left out because of the affection they have for each other. He teases her with that famous line, “Every book makes me see and feel things, Brienna.” and it’s cute and almost a little kinky if you think Brienna calling him “Master Cartier” is kinky. That’s the way they address teachers in the Magnalia, but hey, if it pleases you. Brienna and Cartier trust each other. Even when Brienna’s loyalties are being tested, Cartier tells her that he’ll accept her decision, no questions asked and follow her as she carries out her plan.
4) Wholesome, Supportive Found Family
Man, the Maevans really know how to treat their ladies right. Not once was there any weird sexual energy between Brienna and her adoptive/passion family and thank the lord there wasn’t. In any other YA book maybe we’d get that vibe and they’d make Luc (Bri’s adoptive brother) the love interest instead. BUT THIS ISN’T THAT TYPE OF BOOK. Jourdain and his son Luc welcome Brienna to the family with open arms. I was shook. I had to knock off one star for how quickly this all developed and I wish we had more time to flesh out these characters and their relationships with each other and Brienna.
I also enjoyed that this book acknowledged that Luc and Isolde were cross culture kids. Though, I believe you can go between Maevana and Valenia without being too scrutinized based on ethnicity and you cant distinguish between Maevana and Valenian based on looks, Luc and Isolde are solidly written as 2nd generation Valenian immigrant kids. A nitpick is that I didn’t know what Valenian culture was supposed to be like, but as it was constantly used as a point for comparison I could guess what it’s like based on what it’s described Not to be like.
Jourdain was a wholesome adoptive dad. Luc was a wholesome older brother and even teased Brienna about her Thing with Cartier like a brother would. Brienna’s \other brother\ Sean even got to be wholesome in the little time he appeared.
So, I guess it’s worth noting that the three disgraced lords have their wives killed for their rebellion against the king of Maevana. Does this count as fridging of the wives for their husbands’ character development? Well, in my opinion, no. From what I can tell they loved and cherished their wives and want REVENGE and want to defend and honor their wives’ memories. Technially these women are killed off to give their husbands pain and trauma, but it was evident from the story that the king has a woman problem because his line of succession basically usurped the Queen’s throne. It is rightfully supposed to be a Queen ruling the country. It’s not a “this is for my wife/sister/female relative!”. Maevan men traditionally revere Maevan women and reserved inheritance to their daughters over sons. It was Lannon’s rule that jumpstarted this whole anti woman shit in Maevana. So, NO we can’t even call this problematic when the entire point of this book was to DETHRONE the king who started taking away Maevan womens’ rights.
The writing in this book was great. I suppose I like the type of prose where it leaves just enough room for you to insert your own idea of what the image they’re presenting looks like. It’s a good balance between descriptive and open to the reader’s interpretation. This is the type of writing I inhale read in a couple of days – that’s exactly what I did. I inhale-read this in 2 nights.
Was this book predictable? Yeah, if you take all the foreshadowing and read the appendix of family trees in the beginning. Absolutely – the reveals are predictable depending on how much you pick up on. But this is wholesome stuff and I could enjoy it even if I knew what was going to happen. I was glad to read something where the characters all cared about each other so deeply and there was none of that typical Miscommunication is the Source of All Drama shit that happens in almost every YA book coming out these days.
Thanks to Rebecca Ross for writing a wholesome, enjoyable read. I’ll see ya in the sequel.