I was so lucky to get this ARC, but due to some circumstances unrelated to the book, I struggled to get to it and then finish it (part of it is really my struggle with ebooks). But I did finish it as part of my mini-readathon this weekend, and I’m very glad I stuck with it, because every bit of it is just brilliant.
Exiled by her despotic brother when he claimed their father’s kingdom, Malini spends her days trapped in the Hirana: an ancient, cliffside temple that was once the source of the magical deathless waters, but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
A servant in the regent’s household, Priya makes the treacherous climb to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to play the role of a drudge so long as it keeps anyone from discovering her ties to the temple and the dark secret of her past.
One is a vengeful princess seeking to steal a throne. The other is a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Their destinies will become irrevocably tangled.
And together, they will set an empire ablaze.
I received this ebook for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.
I’ve a lot of feelings and I’m not sure where to start. What I can say for sure is that all the raving reviews it got are not exaggerating one bit. It’s an absolutely brilliant piece of epic fantasy and whenever I picked it up I found it so so hard to stop again, even if it was like 2am and I had work in the morning.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it except wlw, an Indian-inspired universe, and something like enemies-to-lovers but not quite? I’m still not sure how I’d describe the plot but it exceeded all my expectations.
The main characters (the women, I mean) are both relatable and flawed, realistic people, who’ve been hurt by what they’ve been put through and have to put the pieces of themselves back together. The men, and especially Chandra and Ashok, the main heroines’ brothers, are deeply flawed but in a cruel and unusual way, which makes for great antagonists. Ashok at least has some deep trauma and reasons for acting that way, but he’s never given a pass, which I really appreciated. But you also get to see the baseless cruelty of some people, out of fanaticism or just plain hatred, in Chandra, and I thought that was just right too. Yes, some villains have their own story and redeeming qualities, but some really are just horrible people, and that is that.
This is also a book about patriarchal oppression and colonialism, and in that way it hit all the right notes for me as well. Following the stories of three women who’ve all been deeply wounded by the empire felt right, and the difficult positions everyone had to take at one point or another, while not necessarily moral, felt just within the circumstances they’d been dealt.
The prose is amazingly good, and I was 100% invested the whole time, whatever was happening. There’s not a boring moment in the whole book! But I think my favourite part was trying to guess at Malini’s intentions and what she would do next.
As the book grows towards its ending, I kept thinking we’d reached the climax, only for the next chapter to hit an even higher note! I’m quite impressed at how tightly plotted the whole thing is, and how all the cards lay just right at the end. True craftwomanship! Makes me super excited for the next one!
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