Title: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Series? Yes, 1 of 2
Rating: 4/5 Stars
I was instantly drawn to A Song of Wraiths and Ruin (henceforth referred to as ASOWAR) the moment I saw its majestic cover. Karina and her billowing green dress, coupled with the powerful typography, is hard to pass. For a debut novel, ASOWAR is accomplished in the complexity of its world building, and the multifaceted characterisation of its two protagonists.
From the start, ASOWAR draws its readers into a detailed and carefully constructed world filled with gods and monsters inspired by West African mythology. Although sorting people into arbitrary groups is an oft-time tired staple of SFF, I enjoyed the alignment system in ASOWAR, and how it was applied to the Champion and other key elements in the book. The history of Ziran and beyond was also intrinsically linked to the plot itself, making its exposition feel natural, although at times overwhelming.
ASOWAR is a fine example of a great YA Fantasy, where the focus is as much on the individual character’s internal journey as it is on grander physical stakes. The two protagonists in ASOWAR, Malik and Karina, had vastly distinctive voices that complemented each other. Karina is fiery yet cynical, Malik is earnest and hopeful, and when they finally meet the two serves as foil for one another. I particularly enjoyed Karina’s chapters, as she was a clear agent driving the forces in her story, owning every flaw and mistake. Malik was also a rare YA hero, sensitive and deeply considerate. His chapters also deal with his anxiety issues particularly well, and I am glad to see a neuroatypical protagonist in a fantasy.
Initially pitched as “What if Jasmine and Aladdin tried to kill each other?”, the romance in this book strive to hit all the expectations that the pitch promises: natural enemies to lovers, pauper and princess, pining and betrayal, the collisions of two vastly different worlds. However, though I enjoyed the characters individually, I found their chemistry lacking when they finally meet. Personally, I am particular about my enemies to lovers, I want there to be as much angst and pain as there is love. Karina and Malik did not have enough history between them to make their conflict believable, and the book had me wondering about their commitments to their respective mother and sister rather than rooting for their romance.
Although I was not wholly invested in the romance, I rooted for all the non-romantic relationships. The book had a way in making you care for the familial relationships, whether it’s the blood bond between Malik and his siblings, or Karina with the servants she grew up with as children. As Malik and Karina’s journey began with their goal to rescue their family members from the clutches of death, the strength of these bonds kept me turning the pages.
ASOWAR also kept me turning the pages with its excellent pacing and synchrony between the two POV chapters. The final 100 pages of the book left me on the edge of my seat and upturned several expectations I had for the book. Needless to say, I eagerly anticipate the sequel.
Overall, this is a YA Fantasy with great worldbuilding and characters, although I did not love the romance. What have you been reading?