I downloaded this book from Netgalley in March. March 2016. I knew I had a few ARCs hanging around from a while back, but I didn’t realise I was that bad. So I’d just like to apologise to Claire Humphrey, and also to St Martin’s Press / Thomas Dunne Books, because this absolutely did not deserve to languish on my Kindle for over two years before being read. I think part of the problem was that it comes from the era before my current Kindle, and therefore disappeared off the face of the planet until I actively went looking for it, but still. I’m so sorry. I am terrible.
So, in an effort to finally clear out all those neglected ARCs, I picked this one up. I figured there must have been a reason it had taken me this long, and didn’t expect to like it, but within a couple of chapters I was hooked, and found myself trying to cook dinner while reading it. Pro tip: cooking and reading really don’t combine that well. I put way too much salt in.
Overall, this was a really enjoyable read. It’s an adult book, but the characters are fairly young — mostly in their early twenties, although I don’t think a concrete age was given for any of them. This made a nice change for me, as someone who is ageing out of YA but doesn’t yet see themselves in the majority of adult fiction. [Just checked the NetGalley description and it says that Lissa, the main character, is 22. So, same age as me. That fits with how it felt.]
I also enjoyed the balance it struck with romance: there was a romantic subplot, but it was a fairly minor part of the book, without seeming meaningless. Much more central to the story is the developing sisterly bond between Lissa and Stella, and I’m a sucker for sibling relationships, so I enjoyed that.
There’s a substantial amount of magic in this book, but because it’s something Lissa has grown up with, a lot of it isn’t explained until a sbustantial way through the book. That suited me just fine, though — it was easy to follow what was going on, and I quite enjoyed having a character who wasn’t entering the supernatural world for the first time, even if some elements of it were beyond her experience. It gave it a very different vibe to a lot of urban fantasy-type books.
It also had a strong Russian cultural element, which I liked, though I can’t entirely explained why. This was found in the everyday: Lissa is a member of a Russian church community, even if she’s not actually allowed in the church (because she’s a witch), but also in the magical, and the various folktales and stories referenced to explain pieces of magic.
I liked Lissa a lot, and the way her competence occasionally conflicted with her inexperience in the normal world. The other characters were interesting too, including her stepsister Stella, who was a lot tougher than she initially seemed. One character, Nick, was a bit of a jerk, especially when it came to women, but you kind of felt able to overlook that because of everything he was going through, and because he genuinely seemed to regret it when he was being a dick. And, well, no spoilers, but I’d say Nick probably had the hardest time of it in some ways.
This is … not exactly a vampire book, but it features a group who call themselves ‘kin’, who do occasionally drink blood. The main two are Maksim and Gus. Maksim is, in some ways, your typical tortured immortal — trying not to hurt people, wandering around the modern world with speech patterns that are about a hundred years out of date, that kind of thing. Gus is very different, though, and from the glimpses of her past you get the impression she’s always been a firecracker, even if she damps it down with alcohol. I like her a lot. I’d have liked to see her youthful adventures, back when she first became ‘kin’.
I also enjoyed the writing style, and I felt Humphrey struck a good emotional balance between the more negative emotional moments (e.g. when Lissa and Stella are fighting) and the cheerier ones (e.g. when they’re not fighting).
As you can probably tell, then, I liked this book a lot. The ending is… well, it’s not what I was expecting, I have to say. But I think that’s partly because I’m used to YA, and there’s a narrative decision Humphrey makes very close to the end that I’m not sure you’d find in a YA book. For me, it worked. It was bittersweet, but it makes the ending much more powerful. That said, it’s probably just as well it’s not the final scene, because that would be a bleak way to end. (I’m struggling to describe this without being spoilerish, if you couldn’t tell, though the book’s been out for two years now
sorry so that’s not a huge concern…)
I’m annoyed at myself for leaving this book for so long before reading it, because I could have been championing it from the beginning, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see if Humphrey’s got any other books out that I could read to make up for my lateness here.
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