So first, a disclaimer: with a lot of my one- and two-star reviews, I'm like, "I thought this book was dumb and a waste of my time." With this book, I actually just feel like it's a matter of me not liking the style. It's beautifully written and the plot is interesting, I just couldn't get into it, so if you are a fan of fantasy, in particular the type of fantasy that Orbit books is well known for, you'll probably love this.
I spent most of this book being really confused. And I'm going to mention a spoiler here that will probably help you understand what's going on so if you hate those, scroll past, but it took me forEVER to realize that huge swaths of this book revolve around the idea of fugue states: both DID (dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder (MPD)) and dissociative fugues. Fugues are a psychological coping mechanism in which the brain essentially locks itself down to prevent trauma. Another fugue state that is commonly represented in media, for example, is dissociative amnesia.
I'm actually not really sure how to describe the plot of this book because there is so much going on. But the heroine is a girl with freaky-colored hair who has an entourage of "boneghosts," or serving girls that she creates in vats. Each girl looks like her, but has a different function. One is named Pain, for example, and she can absorb others' pain. One is called Desire, and she has a lot of desires, and so on. The heroine is named Charm and she's a witch who works with the emperor, but the emperor is a suspicious son of a bitch and he's implanted something called a mindlock in her head, which is basically a psychic combination lock that forces obedience.
When the emperor dies, his final wish is that she has to find his murderer and bring him (he assumes it's one of his douchebag sons) to justice. If she does that, she's free. Gee, thanks Emperor Mind Rape, but also, what a tall order. You kind of suck. Charm immediately sets to work with her boneghost brigade and a lot of court intrigue ensues. Again, I thought this was interesting, but the writing style and the incredibly dense prose didn't grip me. I think I've said this in other book reviews, but I prefer fantasy stories that are all about the characters and the immersion into the storyline, so something like this, where it feels more removed and more political, is not really my thing. A lot of reviewers don't really talk about what a book is like, they are more about their feelings and what is happening in the book, so for someone like me, who loves fantasy but is picky about the telling, it's hard for me to look at reviews and tell what I'm getting into and whether I'm going to like the book.
So in short, this is a densely written fantasy novel heavy on the court intrigue that features a strong and interesting heroine, some pretty graphic body horror scenes, and has virtually no romance. If that appeals to you, and I know a lot of my followers probably will be like YESSS NO ROMANCE, you'll probably like the book. For a debut, it's a really impressive and ambitious work and I'm sorry I didn't enjoy it more. I wanted to DNF multiple times but I forced myself to finish it because I really wanted to like it, but for some reason forcing yourself to finish something you're not enjoying doesn't change your mind about the book. Fancy that (sarcasm). Moral of story: don't force yourself to finish things you aren't enjoying because life is short.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars