Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Release Date: September 30, 2014
In the city of Ashara there are two groups of people: The Kasari, the upper class magicians who run everything from governments to newspaper and the Halani, a lower cast who have no magic and are treated like second class citizens. Despite this Marah Levi sees a bright future for herself. As a promising violinist she plans on auditioning for a secondary music school and from there, possibly playing in an orchestra. However, plans are derailed as people, Kasiri and Halani alike, begin to come down with a terrible illness that turns the victim's eyes dark before ultimately killing them. As Marah watches those she loves fall ill, she finds an unlikely friend in Azariah, a wealthy magician boy. Together, they discover a terrible secret and possibly a cure, but there are secrets within secrets and both realize almost too late that they may have begun a revolution.
The world-building in this story is fantastic. Rich histories, stories, poems, secrets, ruins, relationships, and cultures are all blended together to create a beautiful tapestry of a world that felt almost real. At times, because normal words like violin and cinnamon were used amongst a plethora of strange words, I kept trying to make the story fit into a future Earth narrative, but eventually I gave up. This world is its own.
This is definitely a dark tale, showing the very worst of humanity. There are political asides and alliances, integration, racial purity, prejudice, death. Although the cover and ages of the characters may seem like a middle grade book, I would argue that in tone as well as pacing, this lends itself much more to a young adult novel.
Although I loved the world the story was set in as well as the fact that the plot was not predictable, which is always a relief, the characterizations were a bit lacking. Marah's relationship with her school friends and her best friend were, at times, puzzling. I was surprised that at 13, although she is so aware of this world around her, she and her friends didn't really speak of it much. She acts surprised by talks of rebellion when things have clearly reached a saturation point. You can only treat people so badly for so long before they begin to push back. Her relationship with Azariah also felt a bit muddled. There is a hint of love in the air, but this only makes Marah distance herself emotionally from Azariah, all while building a very deep life-threatening friendship with him. The two were a dichotomy that didn't work. The two most emotional scenes in the book for me involved the breaking of a violin which upsets me because I am a violinist and the second from a secondary character we meet at the very end. There are, of course, many deaths, but they were more expected and therefore less jarring.
This, in the end though, is a plot-driven story and what a plot it is. There is terrible darkness within some of humanity and Glewwe brings it to the surface, on display for all to see. It is heavy, with little humor to break up the terribleness, but it isn't bad. In fact, I have found myself thinking about it over and over since I read it. What the story lacks in characterization, it has made up for in though-provoking social commentary.