Author: Mary Weber
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!
This is, I'm sorry to report, yet another first person PoV YA novel which has very little to distinguish it from any other YA novel in this genre. Do YA writers know that it's not actually illegal in the US to write in third person? This one is, as usual, about a young, down-trodden girl with special powers. Nothing new there. Her name is Nymia, although how it's pronounced isn't specified. She typically goes by 'Nym' so I don't know if her name is pronounced to sound like 'Nigh-me-uh' or like 'Nimm-ea', and the author doesn't help.
Nym (Nim or Nigh-m?) is a slave girl who has been through fourteen owners already and is up for auction yet again. Apparently she's a problem child. You can tell that she's been owned before by the series of brutal rings cut around her arm by each successive owner, each cut having had dye put into it while it's still raw and bleeding. Nym was orphaned when her parents died, so we're given to understand, but how that worked, exactly, isn't revealed. It seems that a lot of things aren't revealed in this novel, and I gleaned this state of affairs just from reading the first thirty pages.
The interesting thing about Nym is that she's what's known as an elemental. These are people who have magical power over an element (I guess), which I have to say, the way it's written here, seems like an idea purloined from Jim Butcher's Codex Alera hexalogy, although he certainly isn't the only one to use this trope. In this novel, there are also other varieties of power, such as a guy called Colin, who is a Terrene - meaning he can move earth and stone. Why he's not considered an elemental is yet another thing which goes unexplained here.
My problem with this is that earth, fire, water, and wind aren't actually elements. They're a mix of a number of elements, a large number in the case of earth. Of course, this is one of the things which you have to let slide if you want to enjoy fantasy novels. I typically don't have a problem with that, but I do have one with the idea, in this novel, that elementals are slaughtered at birth.
Nym got a bye on that because she's female and there are no female elementals (so everyone believes). Nym is unique. I can see how this would preserve her life since, despite her white hair (another thing in common with the Codex Alera), no one would have imagined that she was elemental; however, once she began manifesting her power, and especially after she became a slave, I see no reason why, in a savage society like this, she wasn't slaughtered long ago. This is another thing for which no explanation is offered by the author (not in the part which I read, anyway).
All that we glean is that evidently, once she does exhibit her power, she's quickly sold off to another owner, her elemental secret unrevealed. I couldn't believe that this would happen. I couldn't see how, in this world, she could go through fourteen owners with not a single one of them killing her or turning her over to the authorities. No. That doesn't work. If you want me to buy the idea that she somehow managed to survive, then you need to explain how that happened, exactly. Maybe the explanation arrived much later in the novel than I was prepared to await.
So credibility was rather low at that point, but it hadn't reached its nadir yet. When Nym's put on the auction block, she becomes pissed-off with some guy abusing a young red-haired girl who is his slave, and the thing about Nym is that you're not going to like her when she gets angry. She inadvertently summons a huge lightning storm, killing (so she's told, but I don't buy it) the little redhead as well as her owner.
Again, despite there being multiple witnesses to her display, she's not slaughtered or imprisoned, but is instead bought by Adora (no, really!), a rich and influential woman who is a senior adviser to the King. Her plan is to turn Nym into a weapon of war by having her personal trainer - Eogan (presumably pronounced like yogurt) - train Nym in controlling her power.
Nym isn't on board with the war - she's evidently allergic to killing, but she is on-board with learning control. Why elementals are born unable to control this power, and why they don't naturally learn to do so as they grow (just as we garner greater control as we learn to walk and talk, and later play sports, for example) is another unanswered question in a long line of such.
My biggest problem with Nym is that she's quite obviously a moron. The first issue is that she never questions why she should fight for a nation which literally enslaves her. I know she doesn't have a large number of options here, but to never even think that question once is too much. The second issue is, given that she's so powerful, how has she managed to remain a slave for so long? She never once escaped using her terrifying power? Again, no explanation. The world-building here - even the plot logic for that matter - left a lot to be desired.
The first time Nym is left alone for a minute in her new 'home', she wanders off through the castle because she needs to know more about Adora, Colin and Eogan, yet she's going to be working very closely with those latter two. Eogan - her trope male interest - is going to be teaching her and Colin. In short, she will find out all she needs to, and be able to ask them about Adora, yet this dip-shit cruelly gives her blind adviser the slip and wanders off! How inconsiderate can she get? Nym evidently doesn't think much of Breck, describing her at one point as "the blind servant", which is cruel at best.
This "blind servant" is Breck, who happens to be Colin's (fraternal) twin sister, and therefore a prime source of information about Colin, yet when Nym wants to find out about Colin, she thoughtlessly ditches the one person in all the world who knows most about him! Nym does this so she can blindly go herself to find out about him. Seriously?
But of course, in pursuing this dumb action, she's naturally rewarded by the oh-so-coincidental conversation on which she eavesdrops, between two men, one of whom - conveniently the more traitorous of the two - randomly draws out the 's' in some words; not all words containing or ending with 's', just random ones. I mean, yeah, we need to have a way to identify this guy later, but seriously? This is the best way you can think of to run a highlighter over him?!
Nym counts to a hundred by this method: "One, ten, twenty." Good luck with that scheme. Breck eventually tracks Nym down, claiming that she's "been lookin' all over" for her, but that's a rather cruel way to describe it. I'd have preferred "been searchin' all over", but that's just me.
Page forty has a real oddity: when Breck finds Nym, she's carrying only a plate and a jug, yet immediately afterwards, she's setting down a tray, then immediately after that she's setting down a plate? The page reads: "The plate Breck sets down clatters like she's almost tipped it off" which makes zero sense in itself. Tipped it off what? She's already set the tray down. If 'plate' was meant instead of 'tray' (which is what it ought to have been, I suspect), then she's already set that down. This isn't very good writing or editing. Why did no one catch this?
At a ball that evening, Nym tries and fails to get a look at the king and his rumored bride, Princess Rasha (I guess the king is bringing home the bacon?), who is evidently a luminescent. Really? I don't know if that's an elemental, or a separate branch of magic like a Terrene is. More confusion. Luminescents can read minds, so Nym seeks to avoid Rasha, but how she's going to manage that without knowing what Rasha looks like is another mystery. Nym is acting Rasha-ly.
As I mentioned, very little thought seems to have gone into world-building and back-story in this novel. For example, at one point, Nym rather abusively remarks that someone is so large they're like a whale cub, but she grew up in the mountains. How does she know what a whale looks like? We have no explanation because we know nothing about her.
Later she notes that Breck is eating oliphant. Now I have to ask why is 'whale' unchanged, but elephant changes to 'oliphant'? There's no consistency. At one point Nym almost has her hand bitten off by a horse which has been trained to eat meat. It's a war-horse and it's savage. If that's the case, then how do the soldiers manage to ride it safely into battle? A horse is an herbivore. It has neither the dentition nor the gut to be a meat-eater. How does it actually eat and digest the meat? No explanation. I skipped the chapter where Nym has to ride one of these carnivorous horses because it was boring.
When Nym first encounters Eogan (this is a guy who has skin which smells like sunbeams. WHAT? I'm not kidding. The author actually wrote that!), Nym rudely busts into his home uninvited, and plants herself there thinking he will have to throw her out if he wants her to leave; then she hypocritically accuses him of being rude. This was fifty pages in and was the point at which I decided I really detested Nym. I also started to seriously consider at what point I could ditch this novel without seeming rude myself. It's no small sacrifice of my time, because there were, at that point, still some 300 prospective pages through which I could wade.
Another oddity appears on page 62 where Eogan touches Nym's neck right where her "heart pulse is". Do I need to remind anyone that every pulse is a heart pulse unless you have something else pumping blood in your body? And what's with the inappropriate touching? Eogan is supposed to be sizing her up, which inexplicably involves touching her face and neck, and gazing into her eyes. I was surprised he didn't force her mouth open to check the filly's teeth. Colin is just as bad, yet Nym doesn't even see any of this as inappropriate! This means that on the one hand we're expected to see her as brash, independent, stubborn, feisty, etc., but on the other, she's very effectively depicted as slavish, submissive, passive, and so on. It doesn't work. So much for slavery being a hot-button issue in this novel.
Some reviews I read praised the fact that Eogan is black. While YA definitely needs more characters of color - and more colorful characters for that matter - this relationship struck me as standard. Yes, Eogan is black, but the main character, Nym, is still your standard WASP! Nothing has really changed. Had Nym been black (or Asian or Hispanic, or whatever), that would have been a big step, regardless of her love interest's color.
I didn't like Eogan. He's mean and cruel, and he's the one who brands Nym with her new slave ring. The only unanswered question is why they take so long to brand her, and why, when she has fourteen brands already, she even needs one more. We're not told what the purpose of multiple brands is, but that's relatively mild compared with what Eogan does to get her to manifest her power. Nym has a deformed hand and Eogan deliberately hurts her to see if he can set off a spasm, rather like Tony Stark did to Bruce Banner in The Avengers, but Eogan does it more than once and in many different ways.
On the other hand, so to speak, he's not as cruel to Nym as she is to herself. Nym is a cutter - doubtlessly to pay herself back for a death she's caused in the past - I'm guessing she killed her own parents inadvertently with her power which is why she's so dead-set against death, but I don't know that for sure, because I quit reading this. Call it a crisis of faith - I had no faith that my doctor would issue me with sufficient Promethazine to enable me to finish reading this novel.
I pretty much gave up on this in the nineties, around chapters 11 & 12, when slave girl Nym, servant girl Breck, and Colin go out for a night one the town. WHAT? Since when do slaves and servants in a cruel world like this with a villain for a mistress get a night off to go bar-hopping? I'm sorry but that right there is so far past ludicrous that it's gone plaid. I cannot recommend this novel. Not with a straight face.