Thank you to Page Street Kids for an advance finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.
And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.
Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.
I honestly felt so lost throughout this book. The info dump that was the glossary at the beginning was totally disorientating and a bit overwhelming. There were so many things happening in this book, events that felt like they should have been connected but I felt totally disconnected from all of it and it wasn’t until the end that it all started to make sense.
The characters were extremely transparent and I felt like I never really got to know them, Sirscha especially so. She’s our main character and her personality was extremely shallow and surface-level. The secondary characters didn’t fare much better unfortunately. I didn’t understand the relationship between Saengo and Sirscha, couldn’t tell you a thing about the Spider King and Phaut along with the other guards or maids just kind of faded into the background. The one character who did stick out to me was Theyen. He was sassy, snarky and I knew what his motives were and why. I wish he was in the story more and utilized to his full potential. Also something that really bugged me was we had no character descriptions. I had no idea what Sirscha looked like until 30% of the way through the book. I knew what Theyen looked like before I knew how she looked.
The magic system was weak at best. There are 3 races specifically mentioned or called out; humans, shamans and shadowblessed. There was a distinction between those shamans born in one kingdom versus another (shaman and shamanborn) but only in title not in power. I think there were also necromancers and mediums but I have no clue where they fell into the race or kingdom system. It wasn’t really explained how shamans/shaman typically have their powers revealed or how they train. Sirscha never really learns about her powers because of their uniqueness nor does she ever really train but suddenly she can summon it to try to save her best friend again after failing multiple times before. Her powers were just conveniently there when she needed them. No struggle.
The world-building was super confusing as well. I wish the first book had just focused on Spinner’s End, the Dark Wood and Evewyn. I was so overwhelmed by the entire world introduced to me while simultaneously being able to tell you nothing about the other Kingdoms. To be fair Sirscha didn’t seem to know either though. The Evewynian peoples seem super cut off from the politics of the rest of the kingdoms, so Sirscha didn’t know how their governing powers were or what life was like elsewhere.
I really wish I understood what the actual plot of the book was but it was such a hot mess even now I feel like I’ve only grasped one of the plot lines because of how blatantly obvious it was at the end of the book. All these events or goals seemed so separate from each other and never really connected for me. It just didn’t work especially since Sirscha has no idea what the hell is going on either and never reallymakes the connections for tou.
That being said there were things I enjoyed about this book. You could see some typical Asian folklore woven into the story along with cultural insights like food and weapons used in battle. Sirscha herself while a cocky show off was an extremely talented soldier and could back up her cockiness with actual skills. I loved Theyen and his snark. He was the highlight of this book for me and I’m really hoping he becomes a love interest or somewhat more important in the second book because that boy has major potential.
I’m honestly so sad I didn’t enjoy this book more. It was one of my most anticipated releases and I love learning about different cultures through books and unique magic systems are some of my favorite to explore. I think too much was attempted to be established in this first book which made it difficult to navigate. Or I’m just an idiot who can’t make connections which honestly could be a possibility. This will be a trilogy and I will be giving the next book a chance just to see if the world is better established for me and if I can make that connection with Sirscha.