A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne.A.Brown was my 15th book of the year and another one I’d been really looking forward to starting.
I purchased this book, alongside a number of others, which were on a list of diverse fantasy fiction books, as this is a type of fiction that does have a habit of being set in one place and written from a particular point of view (white, middle class). I’m trying not to let my reading habits fall into (or continue to be, I should say) a narrow worldview so I went through this list, looked at the reviews and book summaries and bought the ones that looked like they were in my wheelhouse.
A rubbish summary of the plot
The story opens as Malik and his sisters try to gain entry to Ziran, the capital city but they have to hide their true heritage in order to get in. They are escaping the war torn Eshran mountains, which have been embroiled in civil wars under the Zirani empire. As Eshran they are considered to be of a lower class than their neighbouring countries.
But their papers falsely identifying them as from one of the other countries are stolen when Malik takes sympathy on a small child who is knocked down. In the panic of trying to recover their papers, their little sister slips away to one of the mysteriously powerful storytellers. She is given one wish in reward for answering one of the story teller’s riddles and she wishes that they would find a way into Ziran, which is granted in the form of a stampede knocking a whole in one of the walls. In the confusion they hide inside a building where an ancient spirit appears to take his baby sister captive. Malik strikes a bargain to save her life- he must kill the Princess of Ziran before the end of Solstasia.
Solstasia is a festival celebrating the arrival of the fifty year comet, where a representative of each elemental God is chosen (earth, wind, sun, moon, fire, water and life) to compete in a series of trials. The winner is given a prize by the royalty and the element they compete in honour of will represent the next 50 years. Those who are chosen live in the palace grounds during the competition, so Malik figures this is his best chance to get close to the princess to kill her and save his sister. Using his burgeoning magical gifts, he convinces the Priestess that he has been chosen by the Life Godess for Solstasia, by conjuring the animal that represents her.
At the same time we follow the story of the Princess Karina, who dreads becoming the future ruler of Ziran. Her mother is assassinated in front of her and so she is forced to don the crown that was never meant for her, as her older sister before her had been groomed for the crown before dying in a fire alongside her father. Karina thinks she’s found a way to bring her mother back from the dead but it requires the sacrifice of a king’s heart and so she offers the winner of Solstasia her hand in marriage, thinking this is the fastest way to make a king. Karina is also faced with the challenges of the politics of royal court and she must fight enemies within the palace too.
Karina and Malik cross paths throughout the story as the strive to achieve their seperate goals, growing closer as they discover the secrets that lie at the heart of Ziran, both have to fight their feelings for each other, knowing what they intend to do.
The story jumps between both of their POV’s and I think it deals really well with the mental health of both character’s, as I’ve always hated the trope in fantasy of characters somehow being ‘stronger’ than the trauma they experience.
The story is high fantasy, so it’s not set in a real place but the influence of the West African folklore it explores is built into the narrative setting. This was made it such a refreshing read because these are myths and legends that I haven’t really read in many stories, despite being a long- time lover of fantasy fiction. Plus, the location and cultural setting was something I haven’t experienced in many books, which is just more proof that no one needs to diversify their reading habits more than I do!
What did I think?
I enjoyed this book and thought the ending was great! It didn’t head the obvious direction I thought it was leading, which I liked, as its rare for me to not be able to guess how the book will end. My only complaint is that the pace was a little slow until you’re about three quarters of the way through but that’s mostly down to the rich world building and scene setting, which is no bad thing overall!
The characters don’t follow too closely to your fantasy stereotypes either, with our hero being the ‘inexperienced’ and shy one and our heroin is thankfully not the classic ‘blushing maiden’ you find in high fantasy. The story deals with topics like mental health, class inequality, racial inequality, as part of both protagonist’s journeys and story arcs.
I was gutted to discover that it was part of a duology because I thought it was a standalone originally! The next one’s not out until December but it’s already firmly in my pre-order basket.
One more review and then you’re all up to date with my 2021 reads! You can find my other books reviews under the ‘What I’m reading’ category. I do have a preference for fantasy but I will dabble in some other genres on occasion, so give me a follow if you’re interested in some general bookish talk, writing talk and book reviews!