A fantasy debut with a unique premise, Even the Darkest Stars is a magical novel about mountain climbing, sisters, and witches.
Kazmin is the youngest daughter of the tribe leader, and she’s always dreamed of being a royal explorer for the Empire so she can climb the highest peaks and spy on enemies of the crown (and get away from training to be a shaman).
When she learns of her elder sister’s expedition with the premier royal explorer, River Shara, Kazmin will do anything she can to go on the expedition with them. Her elder sister unexpectedly disappears with a river explorer, leaving River to take Kazmin instead and try to reach the peak of the unclimbable mountain–Raksha.
Only Kazmin and her sister survived a partial expedition to Raksha as their mother died on the expedition, and likewise, they are the only ones who know the way to the top. On her journey, Kazmin discovers the truth behind the dangerous expedition she is risking her lives for, and the danger becomes more and more real.
Interwoven with subtle romance, vivid world-building, and literal cliff-hangers, Even the Darkest Stars will enchant readers. Here’s the official summary:
Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the Emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the wintry, mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. She knows she could be the best in the world, if only someone would give her a chance.
But everything changes when the mysterious and eccentric River Shara, the greatest explorer ever known, arrives in her village and demands to hire Kamzin—not her older sister Lusha, as everyone had expected—for his next expedition. This is Kamzin’s chance to prove herself—even though River’s mission to retrieve a rare talisman for the emperor means climbing Raksha, the tallest and deadliest mountain in the Aryas. Then Lusha sets off on her own mission to Raksha with a rival explorer who is determined to best River, and Kamzin must decide what’s most important to her: protecting her sister from the countless perils of the climb or beating her to the summit.
The challenges of climbing Raksha are unlike anything Kamzin expected—or prepared for—with avalanches, ice chasms, ghosts, and even worse at every turn. And as dark secrets are revealed, Kamzin must unravel the truth of their mission and of her companions—while surviving the deadliest climb she has ever faced.
I found Even the Darkest Stars an enjoyable read, the concept interesting throughout.
There’s not a lot of books about fictional mountain climbing out there, so seeing Kazmin climb this icy mountain was very interesting. It’s an adventure story, plot first, character development second, romance somewhere down at the bottom of the list, which made it very fun.
But mountain climbing can only go so far, so with the added on mysterious artifact River Shara is looking for and the dangerous trek to the actual mountain, the plot was spruced up.
I found the plot well structured, but it seemed to lag at times for me. Mountain climbing is actually somewhat boring work (climb, look at weather, pack for the night, repeat), but the other dynamics helped make things interesting.
I was uncertain on how much I liked this book until the last 20% when the plot twists (which had fantastic foreshadowing, but I didn’t see it from a mile away) jumped in and a lot of action happened. Now I can’t wait for the next book.
This is kind of like Three Dark Crowns (but not as prequel-y, just paced slower than average fantasies) as the ending was what really hooked me into reading the next novel.
The characters didn’t grow very much, but seeing Kazmin’s internal struggles about her sister & attraction to River was very nice to see. I didn’t really connect much with Kazmin because she’s almost my polar opposite.
Kazmin likes going out and takes risks and breaks rules sometimes, while I just don’t. Although I didn’t connect with her character or her family struggles (only child, over here), I still liked reading about her, and hope she’ll develop as a character in the next book. Her dynamic with her sister was lovely to see, and although they didn’t agree very much, I liked how they were still sisters no matter what.
I connected more with her best friend who she used to be romantic with, Tem. Tem’s got healing powers but bad parentage, so he’s not able to be shaman even though Kazmin doesn’t have an ounce of skill. Tem seems like he has more struggles than Kazmin has, and reading about him, I could relate better.
Likewise, the romance was very low-key and barely there. There’s nothing super dramatic, and the novel really focuses on the adventure, but hopefully we’ll get to see more of the River x Kazmin dynamic.
The magic also wasn’t as present as I thought it would be. Although the tribes use small amounts of magic, we didn’t get to see any witchcraft until near the end. Hopefully it’ll be much more prominent in the next book.
I found the world building wonderful. This is one of the highlights of the novel as I imagined a Nepalese-ish theme. Many of the people live in tribes under the Empire and the setting is very snowy-mountain. Fawcett does a good job of helping the reader envision what the world is like.
When I learned that this was the Fairyloot September 2017 Book Box Book, I was somewhat disappointed to find the artist’s rendering of Kazmin to be blonde (I didn’t pay very much attention to diversity) because I was hoping for a more South-Asian look to her.
Nevertheless, I found Even the Darkest Stars a more relaxing, magical novel that has me waiting for 2018 to come so I can read the next book and learn more about this frigid world. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a more low-key fantasy that’s not super intense and magic-y.
Have you read Even the Darkest Stars? What did you think?