Reading this book was surprisingly fun. I tend to side-eye cultish fantasy novels because they tend to be over-hyped by non-genre readers, and then someone like me comes along, picks the book up, and immediately starts crying, "TROPES! TROPES! TROPES!" But I had high hopes for this author because I'd read a book by her before, called THE LAW OF MOSES. I wasn't a huge fan of it, but I liked her writing style and I thought it would translate well to the fantasy genre.
THE BIRD AND THE SWORD is a very gentle fantasy novel. It takes a while to get rolling and while there's action towards the end, it's not "grimdark" or over-the-top with regard to violence and gore. Lark is a girl with magic powers in a land where magic is punishable by death. She sees her mother executed before her eyes, after her mother takes the blame for her spells, cursing Lark to silence, cursing the father to protect the daughter at the cost of his own life, and cursing the visiting king who executed her - he will fall, and his son will die. That that, suckers.
Talk about a hell of a flounce.
Lark is a reluctant princess, kept illiterate and powerless by her father. When the son of the king who killed her mother takes her captive, she's furious and afraid. But Tiras proves to be an unexpected captor with pity his father never exhibited. Slowly, she begins to warm to him, and he teaches her to read and write, which unlocks the powers she's tried to keep suppressed all these years, and ends up giving her a very different kind of voice than the one her mother imagined, but no less powerful.
This is the story that Sarah J. Maas was going for when she wrote A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES and THRONE OF GLASS. The heroine is pretty and powerful, but also feminine and, in many ways, relatable. There's an evil king who hates magic and is trying to corrupt his son. You could even argue that the evil beings in this book, the Volgar, are a little bit like the "Valg." The difference is that this is actually a good story, there's solid character development, a slow-burn romance that unfolds over time, and some actual character flaws. The heroine can be petty, cowardly, and self-doubting. While irritating, they ultimately contribute to her growth as a character. Maas's characters are Mary Sues that don't really grow as characters; they just find new ways to be special.
I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, and will for sure be reading the sequel. That ending - ooh. Sounds like things are about to be shaken up.
3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars