The only A (Blank) of (Blank) and (Blank) book is this one, okay? I don’t make the rules.
I was already excited to read this book when I heard what the plot was all about. I am a sucker for enemies-to-lovers, assassins, and fantasy plots centered around winning contests, okay? And this book had that in spades.
Combined with an amazing cover, a tightly-woven plot, and amazing world-building, this overall makes one of the best fantasy debuts I’ve ever seen!
Title: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
Author: Roseanne B. Brown
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Mythology
Rating: Highly Recommended
For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
Content warnings: Panic attacks, anxiety, depression, intoxication, dealing with grief, character death
☕ Quotes ☕
“Anyone can speak to the gods. The real trick is getting them to speak back.”
“Do not underestimate the strength it takes to be kind in a world as cruel as ours.”
“Even when my own mind is threatening to tear me apart, I fight. I struggle and I fail and I still fight, even when it seems pointless. That’s what you don’t understand about being human, and that’s why you can’t beat me.”
“A story ends when it ends, and not a moment before. If you are unhappy with this ending, make a new one.”
“The past devours those naive enough to forget it.”
☕ Plot ☕
The strength of ASOWAR’s plot lies in how it clearly managed to share with the reader the opposing goals of its main characters Malik and Karina, and then bring their different stories together toward one cohesive goal.
Malik and his sisters escape their war-torn homeland to the wealthy desert city Ziran, hoping to begin a new life. They arrive in time for Solstasia, a festival celebrating the founding of the city. But their plans are derailed when a vengeful spirit hell-bent on destroying Ziran’s royal family kidnaps Malik’s younger sister and demands that he kill the Zirani princess in order to get her back. Malik comes up with a plan to join the Solstasia competition, since all the competitors are housed in the royal palace.
On the other hand, Karina, the youngest daughter of the queen of Ziran, is dealing with the pressure of being her mother’s only heir after her father and older sister died in a freak accident. She turns to alcohol and wild behavior to manage her grief, but things take a turn for the worse when her mother is assassinated. She discovers an old spell to resurrect the queen, but it needs an ingredient that she can only get if she kills the winner of the Solstasia competition.
Obviously, with their goals so diametrically opposed, I couldn’t help but go into this book wondering how Malik and Karina were even going to become friends, let alone fall in love. But the circumstances of the Solstasia competition were plotted out and written so beautifully that the characters just naturally came together, befriended each other, and began to be attracted to each other.
What made this book doubly difficult to read – but in a good way, of course – is that you can’t help but root for both Malik and Karina. I’ll go into this a little later in this review when I discuss characterization, but basically, both plots in this book are so tightly woven and fit together so neatly that you can’t help but be excited to turn the page. That’s how I felt throughout this entire book: like I couldn’t wait to get to the end of the chapter and find out what happens next.
This book somehow masters being both the quick-paced plot and the slow introspective dramatic moments. It had excellent action scenes, but it also made use of some really great quiet moments between the characters that analyzed the circumstances surrounding them as well as their own personalities, idiosyncrasies, and prejudices. There was literally nothing about the plot of this book I didn’t like!
☕ Writing ☕
Before anything else, I really want to acknowledge how well-written the depiction of anxiety and panic attacks were in this book. I did include a trigger warning for them at the start of this review, but I want to reiterate that the descriptions of the panic attacks and just the overall sensation of having anxiety in general are really tackled in-depth here, so watch out for that and always take care of yourself.
The world-building and magic system in ASOWAR is incredibly unique and provided an excellent backdrop to an already incredible story. I loved the idea of being aligned, and the importance of storytelling really resonated with me as a person who is from a culture that places similar importance on the passing on of myths and legends.
And oh my goodness, the concept of Solstasia itself was just so amazing! I haven’t done any research into whether or not Solstasia was inspired by a real West African festival – so please feel free to slide into my comments or DMs with any corrections – but I just found the thought of the festival based on the arrival of a comet, the contest, and the following calendar year being determined by the patron deity of the contest winner just really freaking cool.
☕ Characters ☕
I love Malik and Karina both in equal measures and I would honestly die for them.
Malik is just so soft and vulnerable and tender, and he’s not afraid to show how deeply he loves and cares for his family. I’ve said this before, but I firmly believe that we need more soft male characters in fiction, especially in YA fiction. I’m tired of hard badasses, okay! They’re jerks and they teach teen boys nothing but toxic behavior. Give me men who aren’t afraid of their emotions, who show us there’s nothing wrong with being gentle and sensitive – or give me death.
On the other hand, Karina is deliberately written to be unlikeable (and yet I love her for that because we all know I simp for unlikeable female characters). She doesn’t seem to take any of her responsibilities seriously and often escapes the palace to get drunk. But we learn that it’s because she’s crumbling underneath the combined pressure of being the future queen and the debilitating grief of losing her father and older sister, and having her mother retreat from her as well. She’s incredibly sympathetic and you can’t help but feel for her and understand her, and root for when she finally decides to take action.
I mentioned in an earlier part of this review that the characterization was really well done and contributed a great deal to the story. I want to expound on this by saying that the spark-filled chemistry between Karina and Malik really was one of the biggest driving forces of the plot and just made an already intricate story even more exciting and thought-provoking. It was insta-attraction with a dollop of forced proximity and the slow discovery that your enemy is pretty similar to you and might not actually be your enemy at all.
☕ Overall ☕
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin was such a strong fantasy debut! It had nearly everything that I like to read in YA speculative fiction: a beautiful and powerful cover, a reluctant assassin, interesting magic systems, amazing world-building, compelling characters, attention-grabbing plot twists and turns! I can’t recommend this book enough.
☕ Have you read ASOWAR? What did you think?
☕ Do you like enemies-to-lovers?
☕ What are things you look for in YA fantasy?
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