Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
American release date: June 2, 2020
Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Teen & YA Epic Fantasy/480 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★
Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes
The line of people waiting to enter the city-state of Ziran is long, and there is no guarantee that all who wish to enter will be allowed to do so. Malik is there with his two sisters, Leila and Nadia. They hope to be admitted so they can join the celebration known as Solstasia. Bahia’s Comet is due to make an appearance, and they don’t want to miss a thing. The problem is that they have to pretend to be people they aren’t, for if they are recognized as being Eshran, they will never get in. Ziran is harsh on those it considers inferiors, such as those from Eshran. Life is hard, and the three siblings are all they have.
Malik is not like other boys. Since he was little, he’s seen things other people cannot see. Grim folk, he calls them. Dark spirits. He’s learned not to tell anyone about them, lest they think him crazy. He is furious when little sister Nadia runs off. When he locates her, she excitedly tells him about the griot, who has promised a wish to the person who solves her riddle. Of course Malik and Leila don’t believe in wishes, and it’s hard for them to dash the little girl’s hopes. But they agree to listen to the griot’s story…
Karina and Aminata are hanging out at The Dancing Seal, a questionable establishment at best. Karina has her beloved oud with her. They want to enjoy Solstasia while they can, for life is not all fun and games, as Karina well knows. When the bard who has been playing mistakes her for a woman of easy virtue, Karina sets him straight and challenges him to a musical contest. If she wins, she gets all the money he has made that day. If he wins… well, you can imagine what he wants. She wins handily and takes his money, but he isn’t finished with the princess yet. And yes, she is a princess, albeit in disguise. One who runs away from the palace every chance she gets.
Malik finds himself in a bind when his sister Nadia is kidnapped by an dark spirit calling himself Idir. The only way he can get his sister back is to do as the spirit wishes. He must kill Princess Karina. And the only way he can think to do that, since most people have little or no chance of getting close enough to the princess to talk to her much less kill her, is to become one of the seven Champions of the tournament that is being held for Solstasia. But each champion is picked by the group he or she is meant to represent, according to their affiliation. How is Malik going to maneuver that into happening?
Karina’s life is turned upside down by an unthinkable event, when her mother, the sultana, is murdered before her eyes. Worse, it came on the heels of an argument with harsh words exchanged. Karina just wants her back. She learns of a magic that will resurrect her mother, but the ingredients she needs seem impossible to get. Especially the heart of a king. Ziran has no king, not since the death of her father, along with her older sister, in a fire some years before. But Karina has a plan… and if it works, she’ll have to kill the winner of the Tournament of Champions in order to have her mother back again.
Roseanne A. Brown creates a rich fantasy world in Ziran and the people who inhabit it, drawing on Arabic and Egyptian inspirations. Magic is in the air and in the people. I could see the whole story unfold in my mind as I read, as if I were really there, which is the mark of a great storyteller. Her characters are not all good or all bad, and even good people face difficult situations and make questionable choices. I was kept constantly guessing how everything would turn out, hoping that love would conquer all and Malik would save his sister, and that he and Karina would be together. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but a very wonderful journey. And the good news is that the journey is not over. There will be another book.
It’s hard to believe this is her first book. I just love the way she writes. I believe there is a movie deal in the works. I will definitely look for that to happen. I can’t say enough good things about this book. I highly recommend A Song of Wraiths and Ruin if you like epic fantasies and fantasy romances and good adventures. Can’t wait for the next book!