Balzer + Bray, 2013
Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.
When I first saw this book (with its old cover, I think), I wasn't much interested. Nothing personal, I just didn't think I wanted or needed any more YA fantasy at the time, preferring to explore more contemporary offerings. Then I started seeing reviews for this and actually read the synopsis, only to realize that I actually really did want to give this a read--and I'm so glad I've had a chance to do so!
Publisher's Summary: Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.The part that most intrigued me was the promise of Iolanthe as an elemental mage, based on my love of Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Mage series. There's just something so interesting to me about directing power through the four elements. Don't think this is a copy though-the rules here are very different. I think I have a grasp on everything but I bet there are still a lot of new magical surprises to come in the rest of the series.
Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.
But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.
Add in the meticulous plannings of Prince Titus and Iolanthe's disguise as a boy at Eton (some of my favorite moments took place during those times) and I was quickly sold in mind. My heart took a bit longer as I really struggled with the writing. It took me two days to read about 150 pages, which is rather long for me. Seeing that the imprint is one from HarperCollins, I assumed I would be able to get into the story really fast and fly through it; previous experiences with Balzer + Bray books (such as Everneath and Unraveling) have been exactly like that. Maybe it was the third person narration that sometimes zoomed in on Iolanthe in her boy disguise as Archer Fairfax, sometimes on Titus, and sometimes zoomed out for a macro perspective. Perhaps there were my struggles to become acclimated to this fantasy world; one of the reasons I love contemporary is that you don't need much world-building because so much is already familiar to me. Maybe I was a bit distracted. Whatever the reason, though I was enjoying this book and desperately wanted to finish it, I did not make good progress on it until finally something clicked and I was frantically turning the pages to finish the book.
As I mentioned above, Titus is a planner. He has contingencies for his contingency plans but oddly he never planned for the mage he would protect to be female. This throws him for a loop but he adapts, leading to a burgeoning romance. Though both try to fight it, there are so many little hints and tingles for the reader as we are privy to knowledge that the other is not. And when they do give in to their feelings, it's small and subtle compared to romance novels but it brought the swoon for me. This may also be because I'm a planner and I appreciate that in other people.
Another huge plus is her disguise as a boy at Eton. Given her dire need, it's no surprise that she would attempt with her utmost but due to some innate talent and acting experience (along with a pinch of magic), she is a very successful boy. I loved all the worlds we visited but have a soft spot for Victorian England so that was a special standout for me.
Overall: I would very much recommend this fantasy even to people who think they are tired of fantasy. What was a slow-starter turned out to be a very rewarding reading experience and I can't wait for book 2!
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