This is definitely the most creative high fantasy book I’ve read in a really long time. I’m so glad to have friends who put together this readalong this month because I found myself a new favorite author. Thanks to Del Rey for the gifted copy of the book.
Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.
Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.
Clear is the blood of the slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.
Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.
Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment, by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the empire. But dust always rises in a storm.
Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution.
As the empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.
I’m so glad that I took the time to read this one because it truly became a favorite of mine for this year. Wow, I didn’t know what to expect going into it, but it has so many elements that I truly love: a competition-style battle between competitors you get to know, a enemies-to-lovers relationship between the two main characters, a world that needs some big changes and the level of social commentary the author is able to incorporate into this world. I loved all of it!
The story follows Sylah, Anoor, and Hassan. Sylah and Anoor’s stories are more intertwined with each other and while Hassan’s story becomes integral to Sylah and Anoor, it’s definitely more the Sylah and Anoor show and I’m here for it. The biggest part of this story is the plot, the world building, and the character development. I thought it was strange that there wasn’t a major villain aspect to the story, but it pays off as you read through the events that takes place.
The world building in this one is exquisite and feeds deeply into the political structure of this world. They live in a place where people are discriminate by their blood. Embers have red blood, can use blood magic, and they have rule over the world. Dusters have blue blood and are considered beneath Embers. They’re your common folk, but still considered beneath the ruling party of this world and mostly take positions as merchants and servants. They are branded at a young age to differentiate them from the Embers. The Ghostings are even lower than Dusters. They have transparent blood and natives of the land the Embers rule over. However, because of their uprising against the Embers, they’ve been punished to be the lowest class, who have their hands and tongues cut off at a young age as punishment of the crimes their ancestors committed.
The Dusters of this world are tired of being second-class citizens and nearly 20 years ago replaced the children of high-ranking families with Duster children. The Ember children were raised as Dusters to hopefully take over the world in the future with the idea that Embers aren’t the only party existing in this world. Of course, Sylah and Anoor are caught up into this whole endeavor and their parts on both sides is what really drives this story. I loved the perspective that these two characters bring. Because they’re raised in two entirely different ways, they already have their ideas set, but it’s not until they meet each other that these ideas change and evolve to a better world. I loved how that all came together.
I honestly need to commend El-Arifi with her ability to create this world. It is so intricate and the discrimination and political ruling are so intertwined. It was incredible and I thought having Anoor being a Duster living in the Ember world and Sylah being an Ember who only knows the Duster life was truly brilliant. You see how these two characters exist in their world hidden by the people surrounding them, but also how it provides perspective of how they live their lives.
This is also a competition-style epic fantasy where Anoor is competing to become a disciple of the Wardens. In this world, anyone within the Ember community are allowed to compete for a position of power within their government. There is one disciple of knowledge and one disciple of strength who will eventually become Wardens themselves. And the competition that Anoor enters and her training towards this great goal is what takes up most of this story. Of course, the challenges are all ways that Anoor can expose herself as a Duster, but she believes that she can really enact change if she were to become a disciple, which is enough motivation for her to continue.
Anoor and Sylah are also the kinds of characters you want to keep up with throughout the book. Because they come from different backgrounds, they have different personalities and that clash between them before they finally submitted to their friendship and then some is truly worth the read. I loved getting to know both of them and seeing them fighting through the harder parts of their friendship as well as working together to help Anoor win the competition. Sylah was also interesting because she struggles with drug abuse throughout the story. It felt realistic where it’s something that constantly comes up, where she admits that it’s one of her priorities, and how she constantly fights the addiction in her own way.
I also loved how this book wraps up so well. You will be totally swept into this world, the drama of the events that take place, and find yourself with a pair of characters you can’t stop thinking about. While there is a little bit hanging on for you to explore in the second and third books, you’re still just finishing this book with the satisfying feeling that things will turn out for the better of these characters. I truly found hope at the end of this book.