Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my review in any way, and the thoughts expressed are my own.
A new mysterious, action-packed contest sees young men competing in an incredibly dangerous competition for a university scholarship. But little did they know a new competitor was entering; Rhen Tellur, a girl. Set in a fantasy period similar to the Industrial Revolution, women are expected to care and serve their male family members and only aspire for a good match. But Rhen wants more.
You couldn’t find a greater motivation than Rhen’s; she wants to learn in hopes of creating a cure to save her mother’s life. Her mother, as well as many others in the port, have caught a mysterious illness that renders them weak, continually fatigued, and bedridden. As the condition progresses, they have seizures, inability to sleep and eventually die. Rhen and her father have been working for years to create a cure, but every time the cure fails. Horribly. I have a medical condition that makes me fatigued, very weak and often bedridden, so I understood their struggles and found this story particularly emotional.
While Rhen leads mischievous adventures, she is accompanied by her cousin, Seleni Lake. Unlike Rhen, Seleni’s family is rich and live in the wealthy upper side – making her an Upper – and Seleni acts as the perfect young lady; modest, proper manners and social etiquette, content with her roll in society. However, as the story continues, it’s obvious she has more in common with Rhen than anyone expects. She is determined, strong and very intelligent and more than willing to fight for what she believes.
Seleni’s boyfriend Beryll is conservative and obsessed with proper etiquette, e.g. referring to Seleni as ‘Miss Lake’. Though despite his appropriate behaviour, it’s obvious he cares for Seleni as much as she does. It was a nice comparative to see their relationship compared to Rhen’s love life.
It’s no surprise Rhen has a variety of suitors. Vincent King is an Upper who pursues Rhen. Though she comes from a Lower family, her intelligence makes her an excellent prospect for a wife, a tool he could use to boost his career, or so Vincent thought. It was clear after a few chapters with him what kind of man he was, a small-minded, ambitious, misogynist who only sees people as tools he could use. I really hated him though he and his friends made for good villains. I couldn’t wait for Rhen to show them up!
But he isn’t her only option. She has always been drawn to Lute, a fisherman boy a few years older than her. Just like Rhen, he has a family to care for; a single mother and a younger brother with downs syndrome. Rhen and Lute can understand each other, their struggles and responsibilities. There’s a real spark between these two and I couldn’t wait for them to admit it. They belonged together despite all their troubles they could be genuinely happy. And I don’t know many people who wouldn’t pick happiness over money. To make it even better, Lute and Rhen can’t just simply be together like regular teens, they have more responsibilities than many adults. This was a realistic display of how love can be complicated, not only because of the two people but the rest of their lives, yet if it is strong enough and worked on enough then it can develop into something more profound.
This world is full of dangerous monsters and beasts. Ghouls that stalk through the fog in the night. Sirens that patrol the waters. Basilisks that rule the mountains. I loved the danger in this world and that these creatures were displayed as being just another natural element to avoid just like thunderstorms. No one seemed bothered by the fact that these monsters hunted in their streets every single night. It’s a fact, nothing to worry about unless you’re stupid. Know the rules, and you’ll be safe. Honestly, if I lived in this world, I’d spend every night staring at the front door, shotgun in hand.
The division between the Uppers and Lowers was a central theme in the book. Sadly, like real life, those who were wealthier had almost all the control over the city and the people that live there. Right before the Labyrinth competition, the Uppers restrict the fishing regulations, thereby cutting the fisherman’s income. And when people’s livelihoods -and ability to support their family- are endangered things become volatile. Rhen’s family places her in the middle of the upheaval, she has lived in the port with the Lowers but regularly spends time with her wealthy cousin. It was a clever technique at having the main character placed within the conflict without making them at fault or dependant on the results.
The pace ideally suited the plot. It was fast, action-packed and full of riddles and surprises. It was like watching an action movie with amazing twists similar to the Hunger Games. The twists leading up to, during and after the climax were incredible and had me reeling with shock. They were incredible! If it wasn’t already obvious, I loved, loved, loved this book! I give it 5/5 and hope the author will do another book set in the same world or somewhere similar.