Review posted February 8, 2023.
Clarion Books, 2021. 324 pages.
Review written November 9, 2022, from a library book.
2022 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Teen Fantasy Fiction
When I was more than halfway through this book, I looked at some ads for other books in the back and realized that this author also wrote The Isle of Blood and Stone, which I had enjoyed very much during my Newbery reading, but ended up being more Young Adult than Children's. There's something about her writing that captivates me. I'm going to look for more of her books.
This book takes place after war and plague have ravaged a medieval world. A prologue shows us a delegation from Brisa, including Princess Jehan and her maid Lady Mari. She is going to Olveras to marry the king -- and stop a war that's been going on for fifty-two years. But on the way, they left behind guards who came down with the plague, until finally the ambassador himself, Lady Mari's father, succumbed. He sent her on with a small party. Because nothing is more important than stopping the war.
The main book starts a year later, featuring Cas, a nobleman coming back after three years in a Brisan prison. He didn't get out because of the new peace. He got out because everyone in the prison caught the plague, and Cas survived. On his way home, we learn that Cas can see ghosts. He tries to pretend he can't, so they won't try to talk with him, but sometimes he gives himself away.
He has some adventures along the way, including a woman stealing his horse and then him needing to save her from a lynx with the plague. But when he arrives in his home city, he learns the king and his new queen are there, and it is their son's naming day. But when Cas sees an assassin in a tower shoot an arrow at the prince's nurse, Cas is the one who is quick enough to save the baby from the lake. But the assassin escapes.
The story that follows includes Cas trying to get used to living among people again, as well as trying to keep the royal family safe from whatever the assassin has planned.
I'll admit that I saw a major twist coming right from the start -- because a very similar twist happened in a book I'd recently read. But that was merely coincidence. I thought it wasn't obvious if you hadn't just read a similar book.
The characters in this book won me over -- they're flawed, and they're dealing with tremendously difficult things. But you watch them, for the most part, making good choices and caring about people. It's a story that won my heart.