In 1847 Britain, magic is all over high society. The upper class, or Luminate, have magical powers that let them control either illusions, elements, or feelings. Given power from the Binding, they are the only ones with magic, or at least, that’s what most people believe.
Anna is Barren, meaning she doesn’t have any magical power. Although her bloodline is strong, she can’t do any magic. All she wants is to belong, but when she accidentally breaks her sister’s debutante spell which was supposed to introduce her to society, the leading Luminates, the Circle, start to focus on her.
She is exiled to her grandmother’s homeland, Hungary, where society is quite unlike that of Britain. But Anna begins to uncover secrets the Luminate doesn’t want getting out, and rebellion seems to creep nearer and nearer for both Hungary and those not a part of the Luminate.
Anna is a catalyst for all this, perhaps unwittingly, and she’ll have to decide whether she should take the risk and break the Binding that separates the classes and blocks magic, or play nice with the Circle until they let her back into society.
Here’s the official summary:
The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.
Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.
Her life might well be over.
In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.
As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.
I’m somewhat apathetic to this novel. I’m just mostly happy that I’m done reading it and can go and read other books now without the weight of DNF on my shoulder.
I was pretty excited getting into this novel because historical fantasy is such an interesting topic to read because historical fantasies are usually unique as each author takes their own spin on embedding magic into history.
But historical anything is always very tricky because if not executed properly, things can get very confusing.
That’s what it was like with this book.
I’m no expert on European history–I took AP World History and AP US History, not AP Euro. European politics of the past are overly complicated and full of stuff that’s not particularly relevant. Like the Habsburgs of Spain? Don’t get me started on Charles II.
(Just look at that chin! What glorious inbreeding! Did your father marry his sister?)
Asides aside, I found it hard to get the historical context of this novel. It takes place in the mid 1800s, but what was happening then? There are all sorts of dates at the beginnings of chapters, but I had no idea what was historically accurate and coincided and what was fiction.
I only understood the relevance of 1848 as I write this review because 1848 was when there was a rebellion in Hungary.
I wanted some more substantial historical details–like details on the Whig party or something. But instead there was this fluffy aristocracy who held all the power and everybody else was poor because they didn’t have magic.
Sorry, but no. The middle class was substantially growing at that time, and the gears of the Industrial Revolution had already been set into place. I may not know my European politics, but I know my human geography.
This book didn’t really come off as historical despite being set in the mid 19th century. I didn’t get that depth that related it to the actual happenings of history, and it seemed like Eves just pulled a few aspects from the time period (the clothing, transportation, and Hungarian Revolution of 1848) and discarded everything else.
Especially in Britain, I found the setting way more oligarchy rather than Parliament. Although it suited her purposes, the pick-and-choose of the historical aspects made a lot of it confusing.
I don’t know much about Hungarian history, and so I would have appreciated more historical world building. Are there rolling hills? Steep cliffs? I felt like Eves assumed we knew stuff about Hungary while also remaking Britain to contradict what we know.
Besides this debacle, putting magic into it blurred it further. I kind of understood what was happening with the magic, but some of the finer tuned details of how it worked were blurry and I wasn’t 100% sure how something happened, just that it did happen.
The female main protagonist was okay. She was tolerable.
Anna is very indecisive throughout the whole novel about whether or not she should use her anti-power (that’s what I’ll call her power to break spells) to break the Binding which restricts the common people from accessing magic. She jumps back and forth on her decision until making the decision we all know she’s going to make by the end of the story.
A lot of the plot was her jumping from “Let’s break the Binding! Free the people!” to “Oh no, I’ll lose my place in society if I break the Binding.” And the other part was her worrying about acquiring magic (even though she knows it’s futile).
This is also an issue of another female main protagonist who’s so special and unique and unlike anyone else before her. Remember Alina from Shadow and Bone? Hello again Sun Summoner.
And then the romance. There’s just not much to say about it. The romance between Anna and a Gypsy second-class citizen was (gasp! scandalous.) fine. She grows attached to him, but I personally don’t think she loves him.
It’s not insta-love because in my perspective, no love happened. In Anna’s perspective, love happened.
There was really no real romantic subplot established, just a few kisses and preparing the readers for a ship to sail. I’m sure Anna and Gabon will become very important for the plot later on, but a lot of this novel was about breaking the Binding.
Not a lot really happened. Anna is the catalyst for the rebellion, but no rebelling really happens until the last 20%. The other 80% is deciding whether we should rebel or not, which dragged a little as Anna dips her toe into rebellion, then pulls it out. Then dips it back in again, and pulls it out. Then finally decides to jump into the pool.
I’m going to start naming this “Prequel-Syndrome” or something because I’m seeing more and more books stretched unnecessarily or with too much exposition.
Rebellion is such a cool topic to write about, but it was hard to read from Anna’s first person POV because she’s not entirely sure what’s going on either. And she struggles with whether or not she wants to give up her high society life, something I don’t have much patience for (High aristocratic white woman deciding whether she wants to help the throes of poor commoners. Give me a few weeks to think about it while you starve, okay?).
I wanted to like this novel a lot, but it just didn’t live up to my expectations and instead crumpled them up and chucked them out the window. The combination of an indecisive MC and a lack of historical context and world building made this novel more tedious to read than it should have been.
Unfortunately, I would not recommend this novel for someone looking for a historical fantasy, or just a fantasy or just a historical fiction novel. If you’re looking for magic, this isn’t the book for you (she sucks out the magic). If you’re looking for the olden days, also don’t look here.
Although a great concept, this debut just fell flat for me.
Have you read Blood Rose Rebellion? What did you think?