Book Review: The Waking Land

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Rating Three Star

Title: The Waking Land

Author: Callie Bates

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Waking Land offset the wonders of magic with human imperfections through the journey of the book’s complicated heroine, Elanna Valtai. Raised by a king who branded her father a traitor to the realm, Elanna grew up believing that her people are ignorant and unworthy. The Waking Land has a lot of potential, but falters at times with its portrayal of Elanna’s characterisation, and with maintaining a consistent pacing. For me, the book ended up being a compelling but unmemorable read.
The Waking Land

One of the largest underlying conflict in The Waking Land is the oppression of the Caerisians by the new ruling class. I am always cautious when I see fantasy races used as a tool to commentate on racism, as when not done in a respectful manner, it can be quite hurtful to marginalised readers. However, The Waking Land takes care to constantly challenge Elanna’s thoughts and the institutionalised racism around her – the text constantly questions the prejudices that drives royalty and noblewomen of Laon to jeer at Elanna’s skin colour and Caerisian parentage.

Elanna will be a controversial heroine, as she takes time to reconcile with her own internalised bigotry and self-doubt. Her character arc was a fascinating study in Stockholm Syndrome, and her naivete is at once frustrating and compelling. In order to cope with growing up under the guidance of her father’s enemy, Elanna has concocted a narrative where she is set apart from other Caerisians. She constantly hides the marks of her true heritage: her earth magic with its potential power to awaken the land. It’s an interesting take on the old trope, ‘blood always tell’. In this case, Elanna’s blood literal manifest itself as power – however, to wield that power she has to confront her identity and become a deserving leader for her people.

There are times when I thought that Elanna’s character development stagnated or felt repetitive, as there are countless number of scenes where Elanna is shown her prejudices in one paragraph – yet reverts back to her previous behaviours within the next. While this may have been done intentionally to portray the extent of her trauma, it weighed down the pacing of the book. A lot of the book’s narration was also focused on telling us about Elanna’s emotions and reactions, rather than showing them to us. I found it difficult to engage with the writing style of the novel, as I felt it always held the readers at arm’s length.

Aside from Elanna, the other characters in this book were underdeveloped. We meet two potential love interests near the beginning of the novel, and it took me several chapters to even tell them apart. Aside from their names, they were largely void of distinctive characteristics.  I also had high hopes for the relationships between Elanna and her estranged parents, it had potential to be character development gold – however, I felt its potential was squandered by their lack of screen time.

I also enjoyed the magic contained within The Waking Land, and did not mind that it was not fully explained. The magic is inherent within the land, it’s alive within stones and plants and rocks – waiting to be called upon by those who have an affinity to it. In a tale about the reclaiming of the land, it was powerful to see how the earth itself played a major role in the revolution.

While I have mixed feelings about The Waking Land, I think the book contains a fine example of an unlikable protagonist. We don’t often see heroines allowed to make so many mistakes and learn from them, so I found Elanna’s character very fascinating. I would recommend the book to anyone who like reading about complex and flawed characters.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Waking Land

  1. I’ve never heard of this book before your review. It doesn’t sound like a must-buy book, though? I feel like there are too many mediocre books out there that I can only spend time on those that grip the reader and take them on an emotional adventure, leaving them heartbroken and hunger for more and it doesn’t sound like it did any of this to you? But I could be wrong…

    There are so many mixed reviews on Goodreads that I can’t make up my mind with this one….hmm.

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  2. Wonderful review, I have been actively seeking out reviews on The Waking Land after receiving my copy & wasn’t sure whether to start it sooner rather than later. I continue to hear issues with pacing but this is the first I hear about the main character. If for only this “The Waking Land takes care to constantly challenge Elanna’s thoughts and the institutionalised racism around her – the text constantly questions the prejudices that drives royalty and noblewomen of Laon to jeer at Elanna’s skin colour and Caerisian parentage”—–> I am more inclined to give it a go now. As frustrated as I will possibly be with Elanna, it seems to have some potential. Enjoyed reading your thoughts Aentee 🙂

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  3. Elanna wasn’t perfect, but I gave her a lot of passes because of her upbringing and I liked the fact she was caught between being “the chosen one” and Stockholm Syndrome 😛 Honestly I felt like there were so many tropes in this one, but there were some interesting concept as well. Typical traditional fantasy, but fun!

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  4. Oooh your review has me excited for this one! As strange as it sounds, I usually like books that other bloggers struggle with because of pacing issues – what can I say? I like a slow, meandering fantasy every now and then. And controversial and even unlikable characters fascinate me…so long as they aren’t *too* unlikable. It sounds like Elanna fits the bill! I won’t expect too much from this one, but from all you’ve said I’m sure I’ll enjoy it nonetheless. 🙂

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  5. Wow, this one sounds tough with the Stockholm syndrome (which i’m not a fan of), but the fantasy world around it and questioning her bigotry sounds liek an interesting part about it. The magic sounds beautiful as well, but a shame about Elanna not being particularly likeable. Lovely review An!

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