This was nothing like I first made it out to be.
Starting with the subject material. See that cover? How bright and cheerfully illustrated? I actually thought that REIGN THE EARTH would straddle the line between high MG and low YA with a cover like that. And the synopsis, too. Instead, I was surprised with how utterly dark and borderline depressing the storyline was. Themes of domestic/sexual abuse, arranged marriages, and even threats of miscarriage were all heavily zoomed in on, and I would be lying if I said I saw that coming.
Because I surely did not.
Look, this wasn’t a bad book. It was not enjoyable, by any means, because of the dark material, and though sometimes I can handle depressing subject matter (I adore Jeff Zentner books, remember?), this was just too much. For a high fantasy, and a plot that promised forbidden powers and political intrigue, I don’t think the book needed to be so heavy. Not to say the themes weren’t handled well! But it was just .. gah. I found myself wondering when the suffering would end so we can get back to the epic magicky fights and dethroning evil kings and the like. And spoiler alert: The suffering never ends. Ever. Think of this as a high fantasy version of Kathleen Glasgow’s GIRL IN PIECES (which I couldn’t finish, because I don’t enjoy crying profusely. I did finish this one, though, if only so I could review it properly). Buckle up, folks, because this is going to be a long, tearful ride.
I found Shalia, our lead, to be incredibly passive in the moments that mattered most. And this shocked me, very much. I saw some reviews (and even one of my favorite authors that blurbed it!) calling REIGN THE EARTH feminist, and I just ??? No. Absolutely not. The entire Trifectate is incredibly oppressive to women, to a point where they aren’t even expected to work, until Shalia suggests otherwise, or fight. The male children are trained to be soldiers, and at the completion of their training, have the choice to select a bride. Select a bride. And Shalia herself never stood up to anything, remembering only to do so when it became too late. Which lead to (surprise!) even more depressing events.
The plot line seemed directionless. I spent time actually trying to figure out where the author was going with all this, to no avail. The plotline is structured so weirdly, so irregularly. Sudden burst of action that only lapse into a repeat of the same old daily routines, with little progress toward an end goal – if any. So I guess you would call the ending a surprise? But I don’t think I can be surprised after being bored numbly for the other 300+ dry pages, so I don’t even know what to make of anything that went down.
The writing style is lovely, though. There is something about the way Gaughen’s style that is very appealing, and I must confess, it did help to have smooth writing in scenes were no one did much. It definitely kept me turning the pages, and I even bookmarked some pages for their pretty sentences.
This was quite similar to CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi. Please note, however, that REIGN THE EARTH releases before BLOOD AND BONE, so. Yeah, I can’t really comment comfortably on the similarities, since its awfully hazy what came before what, pub date aside. But yes. If you read of plan to read CoBaB (which is getting a whooole lot of hype already, and for good reason, might I add), I find it baffling that this one isn’t as talked about as well, because the two are incredibly similar. If you’re excited for the other, look forward to this one, too.
All in all? A slow-paced high fantasy with much political intrigue, if you like those themes enough to brave the heavier ones. I think I’ll want to read the next book. The story has potential to be intriguing if the pace gets sorted out and the main character develops a more active role in the events around her.
Thank you, Bloomsbury, for the ARC!