In epic YA fantasy about a girl with a special power to communicate with magical beasts and the warring kingdom only she can save.
Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the beasts mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath she manages to send her daughter to safety.
Alone, far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can talk to both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great powers, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no way of escaping the terrible battles to come?
So, this was really different. It’s a lovely book with great prose and an interesting story line which follows a young girl through several years of her life as she grows up and learns some harsh truths about the world while always remaining true to herself.
The protagonist of the story, Elin, is such a lovely character. I don’t want to say that she’s perfect, because I don’t think she is–sometimes she’s reckless and her curiosity often gets the better of her–but she’s got a great heart and a huge capacity for love. She not only makes friends and cares deeply for them, but she cares a lot for the the animals and even the insects when she is, briefly, a beekeeper. She experiences horrific tragedy at a very young age and despite that she still is able to care for others, even when those too may leave her. She’s a resilient person and there’s something about characters that don’t just give up when they’ve honestly had every excuse to do so.
There are some other characters in the book that I really loved as well, especially Joeun, the old beekeeper that becomes Elin’s foster father and the headmaster at the school. These characters at first seem simple but they are actually more complex as you learn things about them later on, their motivations for why they made certain choices in life and why they struggle with some things. I also really liked Ialu, even though I feel like we didn’t really get to know him that well despite having some chapters and scenes from his POV.
The structure of this is pretty straight forward although it does take place over a number of years and there are a couple of major time jumps. The story starts out when Elin is twelve and goes until she’s about twenty or twenty-one, I believe. I know that this was originally two shorter books that are fit into one book and that there is a sequel that consists of books 3 and 4. That being said, this does have one coherent storyline and overarching plot as Elin takes everything she learns in the beginning and applies it to her later life at the school and then later as a teacher and beast trainer.
There is also a lot of groundwork laid early on that comes into play later having to do with the world-building. I really enjoyed the world that was created here! Both the toda and the royal beasts were fascinating creatures and I think there’s probably some more story to be told there. I also liked learning about the history of the world and how events from several hundred years prior were still affecting things in the current kingdom even though some of the reasons had been forgotten or become nothing more than stories.
Overall, I thought this was an interesting read and quite refreshing. Though there is some sadness and tragedy, there is also a lot of hope that is expressed through Elin’s character. I thought this was a lovely read. 4/5 stars.