by Julia Ember
Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as a inhabitor, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, and Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.
Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi discovers a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander—a side that draws them to Xian.
When their spying unveils that everything they’ve been taught is a lie, Tashi faces an impossible choice: save their country or the boy they’re growing to love. Though Tashi grapples with their decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn’t question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabitor’s bond to their animal is for life—if Katala dies, so will Tashi.
We follow Tashi, a young inhabitor as they flee from a sudden outbreak of war, leaving their country in ruins. But Tashi and their friend Pharo must hide so that they aren’t caught and found out what they are by the invading army, inhabitor’s possessing a magic that the other country desperately wants. So they hide in among monks as one of the commanders takes a post at that monastery, taking Tashi as a servant. Tashi risks themselves as a very reluctant spy in hopes of finding information that might find out information they can use against them.
Not my best little summary, I admit, but this book is all levels of complicated that I didn’t really stand a chance to describe it without giving away too much or leaving out important elements. I will say of the books I’ve read by Julia Ember, this has to be my favourite one so far. This book has roots in Asian culture and reminds me strangely of Avatar the Last Airbender. Though there’s no bending of elements, the magic in this book and the idea of those who posses it giving up their lives to keep a balance in the world reminds me hands down of Avatar. Fans of the show would probably enjoy this book.
Tashi as a main character is really interesting. Their genderfluid (which made this my first full novel I’ve read with someone genderfluid and I seriously freaked out). They are brave in their own way, but sensitive, which makes some characters look down on them. That doesn’t change the fact their strong. They just aren’t the normal pig headed, rush into danger type of protagonist. They’re one of the few that put themselves and the ones they love first, not just the greater good. They’re forced to make a hard choice, but one that will help some but possibly hurt more. And it’s something they grapple with in a thoughtful manner. If I was in their position, I honestly don’t know what I would have done. It’s also diverse and gives us an interesting cast of characters next to Tashi. Every character is complicated and has a story that is just as gripping and leaves you desperately wanting to know more.
The plot of this book is beautiful. There wasn’t a slow moment in the whole book. You know someone is wrapped up in a story that the sun sets and they don’t notice their reading in the dark until someone points it out to them. Which happened to me with the last half of the book. I was just completely wrapped up in this story. I honestly can’t wait for the second book and need to know what happens. I’ve read good books this year, but not one that wraps me up so completely as this book had without me feeling bored at least in one or two parts of it.
The writing itself was well done. I saw everything clearly in my mind and it was simply beautifully done. The only thing I had a small problem with was the fact a queer character died to advance the plot and the character of Tashi. I don’t know if it can be considered a ‘bury your gays’ situation because its complicated from the start because as soon as we start the book we know this character will die. All of the inhabitors know they will die young. It’s part of the balance I mentioned before.
The world building in this book is well done. The conflict itself is part of what reminds me of Avatar along with the use of magic. I honestly love how much thought went into each place and each of their cultures. It’s been a while since I read a fantasy novel that gives us a world so completely thought out like this. And that just adds to awesome quality of this book.
Do I recommend this? H*ck yes. Go get this book as soon as you can. If you love magic and the feeling that Avatar gave you, pick this up, enjoy it, and come gush with me because I need to gush about this book with you.
Rating: 5 stars