**I audiobooked this one**
Ok, so, wow. There is a lot to unpack here.
Let's go good things first. The world building in this book is next-level phenomenal. I loved the imagery Brown created, and the fact that it was inspired by west and north African folk-lore made it that much cooler. The history of the kingdom and the wraiths and spirits that existed within it were so interesting that I would've loved fo it to be explored more (although there is another book coming so hopefully that will happen then).
The magic systems, including the two opposing magical communities, was intriguing and I hope that gets fleshed out even more in book 2.
The two MCs, Karina and Malik, were interesting in their own rights - Malik was very much not the strong, confident main male that is so often portrayed in YA fantasy, suffering from self-doubt and panic attacks. Karina, who had never expected to be Sultana, is so often doubting herself in the first part of the book that it almost got to be a bit annoying at times.
Their story arcs follow similar paths, asking the question of what would one do for the life of a loved one? Malik, however, follows through with what he believes he must do, whilst Karina realises that she needs to accept the death of her mother rather than fighting to change that. The struggles were there, though with Karina, I found that hers was less of a struggle to do what she had to do than it was to accept what she should've in the first place.
Right, so now I've gone over what I liked, here's a few things I had issue with:
Though the first 2 thirds of the book wasn't slow by any means, there was A LOT crammed into the final third with regards to exposition and information. I felt like not much was revealed until that point and then it was a scramble to understand it all (listening to the audiobook doesn't help in these kinds of situations I feel!).
Malik and Karina both possess magic, though Malik's manifests earlier in the book. That said, for both of them, there is little struggle with learning how to use it and it's almost as though they are suddenly like 'yes, I can do magic - boom!' Whilst Karina struggles a little with the fact that magic does actually exist, with Malik, he very readily accepts it. This might be because he's had an inkling that something was different about him for a while, but it's still very sudden.
The whole thing with the faceless king and his reasons for doing what he does is very roundabout and I found myself having to stop and really try to unravel who was the puppet master of what in the end. Also, considering the fact the the whole story was based around Karina planning to kill one of the champions and Malik trying to kill Karina, there seemed a lack of real loss in the end. Malik escaped death and got his sister back, and Karina ended up accepting the death of her mother. I kind of wanted something more, but then maybe that will happen in book 2.
One last thing - I found Karina and Malik's 'relationship' to be lacking in the chemistry department. I know they felt drawn to each other and that this was most probably the magic they possessed pulling them in, but I just felt a lack of spark between these two characters.
However, despite all these points, I really enjoyed listening to this book and am keen to see where book 2 goes (and here I was thinking it was a standalone!). It was fast-paced and intricate in its world-building, and even though I'm not sold on the MCs connection, I really want to see where Brown takes it.
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