(From Goodreads) A young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut.
On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion.
Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem — and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined with that of mad Queen Isabel. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.
I'm going to be upfront about this book. This book was hard to get through. I consider myself a pretty mature reader, despite that I don't really read a lot of adult fiction, but this book was tough. Especially for a book marketed towards young adults. I would recommend this for adult readers or for more mature readers.
This book hit hard because it doesn't shy away from horrible content or from describing it. It pulls no punches and brings the reader through a roller coaster of emotional turmoil. If you ever wanted to live in the time of kings and queens and knights, this book will make you reconsider all those beloved fantasies. I would definitely say this book is not for the faint of heart or easily squeamish or those uncomfortable by things.
Cokal definitely did not pull away from describing subjects traditionally taboo in YA like sex, homosexuality, rape, assault, and all sorts of things. While parts of me wondered if she went into so much detail for slight reasons of shock value, I also have to say that it made the book much more realistic and valuable to the reader. This book will make you uncomfortable in every way, want to go shower, and then come back for more. It will also make you think about hard things and question ideas.
If there was any book I could see people wanting to ban, this book would make the list. But for those with the maturity level, I think this is a valuable book to read or at least take a hard look at because it tackles such hard themes in a way that is neither preachy, condemning, or approving. I write so much in this post about it because I am in a way impressed and equally still disturbed a month after reading this.
Yep, it took me a month to be able to feel like I could decently write about this book.
The book is written in alternating points of view focusing on Ava Beign and Midi Sorte, but also includes other points of views from different characters. The changes are slightly confusing as there is no patterns to the switching, but nevertheless, works beautifully for the story.
For our main characters, I was never sure how I really felt about them. Ava and Midi were certainly not your typical YA characters. They were definitely not mary sues nor were they your now stereotypical "Strong Heroine". This was another point that I was impressed with because her characters were simply so real and well rounded.
I liked Ava more than I did Midi, but at times, it was the opposite. I struggled with these characters because while I understood the choices they made, I also didn't agree with them and at times, I found myself disappointed in them because I felt they were digging themselves into deep holes that they didn't have to be in.
As for Ava, I found myself slightly confused with her relationship to one of the king's men. It seemed slightly just like a plot point to make her interact more with Midi or to create tension between them. It seemed more superficial to me then a lot of the other relationships characters had in the book. Although that might also have been the point, that a lot of relationships in the court were superficial in order to increase their standing or to survive at court.
One of the reasons I say that I liked Ava more was that she was simply more likable than Midi, although that isn't a bad thing. Midi had a harsher personality than Ava but it was understandable due to her past and her understanding of the world.
As for the other characters, I'm not sure what to comment on them. The main "villain" of the story was certainly a despicable man and I hated him with every fiber in my being, I put villain there because I wouldn't really describe him as that. An antagonist for sure, but he didn't fulfill the typical villain archetype for me. He was simply so despicable to me, that I can't even describe him as a villain. But perhaps even something beyond that. And the other characters, although beautifully written, were sadly manipulated puppets. Fascinating though, but sad, and realistic.
In the way that some of the characters were puppets, I felt that some characters were very well developed, our mains, and our secondary and third characters seemed almost too stiff at times. I wish there had been a level of growth applied to some of them more than there had been. Granted, that would have made the book even longer than it already is, but I would have enjoyed seeing a little bit more development to some of those characters.
The plot was very detailed and well thought out and I felt no stone was left uncovered. I also thought the ending was satisfying but in a way, it seemed a little bit of a let down. Only in the fact that everything was so detailed and then there's a summary and I felt it seemed almost out of place. In a way, I wish that Cokal hadn't ended it with a summary of events after the book, but it was also fitting to see what all happened afterwards.
The writing of the book was beautiful as I've tried to say before. I was captivated by her style and found myself at times pausing to reread a line or a paragraph because it was well done. I like Cokal took some time getting everything perfect and it worked out wonderfully.
There were a lot of details in this book. Its a big book in itself- one of the reasons I picked it out at my school library- but all the details is one of the reasons. The storyline itself is complicated and provoking, but the details added a new level of wonder and fascination to the story. I believed that it must of taken her years to research everything because nothing seemed to be left out and even the science-y, medical parts were described in a way that I could understand without it getting boring.
Overall, I would have to say this book is a book I would recommend to anyone looking for a thought-provoking YA with more mature content. I believe there is a central theme of power in this book and the way the abuse of it is handled in this story is breathtaking. Her characters at times seem powerless, but grow to gain their own power in sorts and eventually make a sort of stand for themselves. It was a very realistic book and I loved and hated it for that reason.
I was very impressed with this book overall and it was a struggle to get through it. At times I found myself having to put it down and go do something else for a while because it was too much at times. The way some of these subjects were written was brutal, but definitely realistic and thinking about my own writing, I don't think I even have the guts to write about some of these subjects like the way Cokal did. It makes me almost wish that more authors, especially YA authors, would take a shot at tackling some of these subjects like Cokal does more often.