I have to make a confession. Fantasy novels are not really my thing, regardless of the dozen or so that I have admittedly adored in my lifetime, yet it only took a handful of chapters for this book to become one of my favourite reads of the year. There’s been so much talk about this series, and rightfully so, because Jennifer Armentrout has woven a truly fantastical new world for us that is fascinating, singular, and marvellously unexpected from the get-go. In this gripping tale of resilience and survival, the protagonist is a young woman who’s been forced onto a path that was never her choice, only to become entangled in a maze of secret agendas and deadly twists at every turn. As a centuries-old war between two powerful kingdoms begins to heat up again, everything she thought she knew is suddenly called into question, including her own heart. I just know that this whole series is going to be a wild ride start to finish.
I came here to live. To experience. To choose. To be anyone other than who I was.
When we first meet her, Penellaphe “Poppy” Balfour is only known as the Maiden, an eighteen-year-old Chosen by the gods to lead one of the largest Ascensions the Kingdom of Solis has seen in centuries. With the fate of so many on her shoulders, Poppy lives a life bound by rules she never agreed to, taught to never question the gods’ plans even with no real knowledge of them, and sheltered in a cocoon of loneliness and pain inflicted by those entrusted with her care. But every chance she gets, her rebellious spirit leads her to secretly challenge the boundaries of the only life she’s ever known by experiencing the very things she is forbidden from doing. She trains to use a dagger and sword because she wants to know how to protect herself. She sneaks out of her chambers to watch others, listen in on conversations because her solitude is greater than her fear of getting caught. She shares her first kiss with a handsome stranger in a seedy gambling den because when nothing in your life is within your control, a single kiss can taste of sunlight and freedom and warm sand under your feet.
I was forbidden to do anything but ignore. To never speak of the gift bestowed upon me by the gods and to never, ever go beyond sensing to actually doing something about it.
But before she knows it, Poppy finds herself in the hands of the man she’s been told to fear the most—the Dark One, heir to a fallen kingdom set on bloodshed and revenge—and everything he shares with her goes against everything she was taught to believe.
“Don’t forget this.”
I touched his jaw. “I don’t think I ever could.”
“Promise me,” he said, seeming to not hear me as he lifted his head. His gaze snagged with mine. “Promise me you won’t forget this, Poppy. That no matter what happens tomorrow, the next day, next week, you won’t forget this—forget that this was real.”
With an uprising on the horizon and Poppy’s own heart in turmoil, the scene is set for war. And the more she sees and learns along the way, the more Poppy’s role in the upcoming battle begins to take shape.
I’d been changing, evolving just like the gift I was forbidden to wield but remained determined to use. It was in every adventure and risk I took. It was in my desire to experience what I’d been told was not for me.
If you expected a scene-by-scene rundown of all that happens in this book, you won’t find it here because this is the kind of story you want to discover on your own, one mind-blowing, jaw-dropping scene after another. Between Poppy’s soft, yet headstrong nature, the hero’s many contradictions, a vividly rendered cast of secondary characters, and the surprises that keep coming, there’s so much to unpack in this book, but I get the feeling the best is yet to come. The story plays out like a mythical tale set in a long-gone world, but the author gives the characters modern makeovers by infusing their language with a contemporary flavour, while still retaining the epic fantasy style plot at its core. Jennifer Armentrout is a marvel, and I don’t throw that term around with abandon. Her writing is tight and tense, with every word and sentence being made to count, and if this first instalment is any indication, this series could become one the most unforgettable adventure epics I’ve ever come across.
“I hope you realize that no matter what anyone has ever told you, you are more worthy than anyone I’ve ever met.”