“When you’re very young and you’re different, you begin to believe that no one has ever been as different as you and that no one has ever felt that difference as keenly as you.”
When I sit down to write I review I usually make a list of likes and dislikes. It should tell you something about how much I like this book that the list, in its entirety looked like this:
“Likes: everything about this book
The book begins with Ariah, a young elf, journeying far from his familial home to study with a mentor who will help him control his rather unusual gifts. He lives in a world where elves are looked down upon by their human compatriots. Ariah is part Semadran, an ethnic variant of elves with strict and conservative family values, and part Red Elf, a wilder, more carefree people who don’t hold with the same traditions as the Semadrans. Ariah is a mimic, a gift that allows him to learn language and the nuances of voice with ease, but he is also something more dangerous, something he tries very hard to play down and hide. He is part shaper, very in-tune with others’ emotions, able to manipulate the emotions of others and can find himself losing all sense of who he is the great sweep of others minds. It is a gift that is heavily regulated in the empire and is viewed with great mistrust.
He begins his training with Dirva, his mentor, but familial problems lead to Ariah travelling beyond the borders of the empire alongside him. There he meets Dirva’s younger brother, Sorcha, and comes face to face with the realization that he does not know himself at all.
This is a wonderful, beautiful book. I don’t think I’ve read a book that’s lingered with me after reading the last page quite like this in a long time. I want to read it again even though it’s only been a handful of hours since I put it down. I can’t tell you how long I have been looking for a book like this. Beautiful, beautiful fantasy world building with diverse incredibly written characters and relationships that are delightfully non-heteronormative. As a bisexual fantasy lover this was a dream come true.
‘Ariah’ is very much a character as opposed to plot driven book. That’s not to say that nothing happens because by the end of the book you feel as if you’ve been on an odyssey with the main character, but if you’re looking for page after page of action then you might be disappointed. In my humble opinion, this is honestly some of the best character writing I have ever come across. You feel as if you could reach out and actually touch the characters they are painted so vividly. I love Ariah, I love Sorcha, I love Shayat and Dirva, I’m having a very hard time putting into words just why and how. They are all imperfect people, you embrace every inch of them through Ariah’s eyes, every feature and flaw, every moment of affection or miscommunication. It is very intense and strangely comforting.
“For some of us, the places we come from are not the places we belong, and never were, and never will be.”
Sanders touches on some very important issues in this book, most notably the idea of ‘difference’ and what it means to be ‘different’. I adored the way they handled Ariah’s internalised homophobia due to his strict upbringing and the effect that has on his sense of self after he develops intense feelings for Sorcha. The fact that Ariah has very little sense of self to begin with, that he ‘loses himself’, molds himself to the wants and whims of others, damaging himself in the process, becoming whatever he feels the other needs. The book ponders the different types of love, the different types of need, and the different possibly configurations of personal relationships. It talks about gender, attraction, identity and race all smoothly bound within the narrative. It is an incredible rich book and I had a tear in my eye and a tight feeling in my throat for a lot of it.
Sanders has incredible prose, it lulls you along, so smooth and rich, it honestly does not feel as if you’ve lost an entire afternoon in reading. I read part of this book on a train and I was very shocked when I realized I was at my destination and two hours had passed. I may also have had a handful of very groggy mornings due to late night reading sessions…
(Also, have you seen that cover art?? Gods of cover art have truly blessed Sanders. I’ve been a huge fan and follower of C. Bedford ( @c-bedford) for the last couple of years, so it was a match made in heaven to find their art on the front cover of my new favourite book.)
I can’t recommend this book enough. I already have plans to order a hard copy because I can’t wait to read it again, this time with the pages physically in my hands. Seriously, if you’re looking for a wonderfully written fantasy with diverse protagonists and sublime character development go and get a copy, I repeat, go and get yourself a copy now.
(Thanks to Zharmae Publishing and Netgalley for a copy in return for an honest review.)