Sylvie has always known she deserves more. Out in the permanent twilight of the Dusklands, her guardians called her power to create illusions a curse. But Sylvie knows it gives her a place in Coeur d’Or, the palais of the Amber Empress and her highborn legacies.
So Sylvie sets off toward the Amber City, a glittering jewel under a sun that never sets, to take what is hers.
But her hope for a better life is quickly dimmed. The empress invites her in only as part of a wicked wager among her powerful courtiers. Sylvie must assume a new name, Mirage, and begin to navigate secretive social circles and deadly games of intrigue in order to claim her spot. Soon it becomes apparent that nothing is as it appears and no one, including her cruel yet captivating sponsor, Sunder, will answer her questions. As Mirage strives to seize what should be her rightful place, she’ll have to consider whether it is worth the price she must pay.
Unexpectedly hilarious is one way to describe this book. I remember when this came out because of course I was attracted by the cover (it’s so pretty) but then I started seeing some pretty ‘meh’ reviews and decided not to pick it up. But Mary at Mary and the Words recommended this one to me as the tropiest book that ever troped and my immediate reaction was ‘I’m in!’. So glad for that rec because this book was a lot of fun, but not in the ways I expected. Please enjoy my journey as I recount to you my time spent with Amber & Dusk.
Okay so let me first get this out of the way. There are a lot of negative reviews for this book. And I get it. I think if you take this book for what it is on the surface then you will be rolling your eyes so hard that your eyes might disappear forever (or at the very least you’ll get a mild headache). But I think there’s more to this book than some folks are willing to credit the author with. Yes, this is probably one of the tropiest books that ever troped. But I think it’s purposefully done. And part of my evidence for that is the POV character of Sylvie aka Mirage (snort). Sylvie is, as one of the other characters puts it,
“…an ignorant, unreliable, loud-mouthed provincial with delusions of grandeur and an entitlement complex…”
which is a quote that literally made me laugh out loud, highlight the passage in my kindle, and add the note ‘no lies detected’. Because, LOL, yes. Sylvie is all of these things and more. While reading this book I kept thinking about how ignorant this character is and how brazen she is in her ignorance. She’s an orphan who thinks she might be someone important because of this magic she has (which at first appears no more than a parlor trick that she’s NOT EVEN GOOD AT) and waltzes right into the palace demanding to see the Empress and be admitted to the court due to her birthright. The utter GALL. I’m reading this thinking ‘wow, this girl is hilarious! She’s can’t be for real. Wait, is this happening? Ahahahahaha.’
BUT HERE’S THE THING.
Okay, well, you all know how much I detest characters like this in some other stories (*coughTheBetrothedcough*) but here you have ‘the main POV character is a complete moron’ written really well. The thing that makes it work here is that it’s acknowledged! Yes, Mirage’s own ignorance is lost on her MOST of the time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s lost on the other characters. You don’t get other people endlessly praising her for how clever she is because, well, she’s not. In fact, when she finally admits (due to her frustration) that she has no idea what’s going on, another character is basically like ‘lol no kidding’. All of this comes later in the book so you don’t get this payoff (well it was a payoff for me) if you don’t stick with the story. Of course at the very end of the book she suddenly does become smart? But also I think she was always smart, it’s just that she had a lot of false bravado (not so false as it turns out, later) and was walking into a pit of vipers while being completely ignorant of the situation. But somehow it all works out for her, because reasons.
Yes this book has a TON of tropes. It’s like the author took all these things common to YA Fantasy and put them in a blender and said ‘weeeeee’! We have:
- Orphan protagonist
- Court politics (based on what seems to be Versailles because, oh, the decadence and splendor)
- A makeover (including pretty dresses, make up, and a new hair do)
- Magic powers that are like the X-men (including ‘code’ names that go along with those powers)
- Birth secrets
- Evil tyrant
- Bad boy love interest with a secret heart of gold
- Who is also kind of Draco Malfoy probably
- Two ‘houses’ or ‘factions’ that the court are ‘sorted’ into based on ‘good’ and ‘evil’ but seems pretty shallow
- Revolution because of course there is
- Another possible love interest because why not, gotta have a hint of a love triangle
Etc. There are probably other things I’m missing. BUT. All that being said, a lot of these tropes are utilized in interesting ways. The love triangle never actually manifests, for instance (at least in this book) because everyone is too busy being revolutionaries. And it was sort of obvious to me that there was more to Sunder from the start of things, even if it wasn’t obvious to Mirage because, well, she’s ignorant and kind of self-centered.
There’s a lot of exposition in this book which also usually bothers me but it didn’t here because, quite frankly, Mirage needed this stuff explained to her in a recap at one point. I thought the world building itself was interesting as well, the idea of a world stuck in a static state of day or night is not anything new, but it’s fun. Most of the time is spent at the palace but we do get a hint of things outside and how each area of the empire is unique in its way. And I loved the mythology that is woven into the world to explain the static state of the sun. If there was one downside for me it was that the end took a swan dive from ‘ridiculous’ to ‘bat-shit-crazy-how-do-you-expect-me-to-be-on-board-with-this-silly-ass-story?’. But, I still had fun with it and I was already invested by that point. So. 🙂
This book feels like, in its own way (whether the author intended it or not), a bit of a satire of YA books? But it also celebrates all these common tropes, sort of the way that Jane Austen both satirized social issues, including the institution of marriage, while writing them as damn good romances with weddings at the ends. And even if that wasn’t the author’s intent, clearly she set out to write something that was fun, so, mission accomplished because I had a lot of fun with this book. Its utter ridiculousness is part of its charm. 4/5 stars.