An extraordinary teen girl may be the chosen one to halt an imminent war in this launch of a prospective YA fantasy series.
Maya Dempsey plans to compete in the Cluiche, an annual event in the Leigheasan sect, one of four sects in the land of Sori. Though females take part in a trivia contest, the physical competitions, from archery to jousting, are traditionally male only. Maya, however, is more than capable in these and other skills. Leigheasan can control elements, but they are prohibited from doing so during certain Cluiche contests. But when a fellow contestant uses a fire element against Maya, she retaliates with her own. Not only was Maya unaware she could control elements, she also didn’t know that she could wield all four—a singular trait among her people. Some suspect she’s the chosen one to “rebalance” power in Sori. Indeed, the goddess Nantosuelta has granted Maya various powers, and there are more on the way. Maya soon uncovers a plan to provoke war among the sects, which include the werewolflike Galenvargs, the vampirish Veirlintus, and the merely human Duines. Though she’s increasing her potent supernatural abilities and weapons, Maya is up against a formidable opponent. This shadowy villain, who goes by Dullahan, practices “the forbidden,” which entails imprisoning souls. Meanwhile, signs of a potential war include the missing shipments of the Veirlintus’ and the Galenvargs’ food supply (i.e., the blood of Duine prisoners). Maya tries to warn people of impending conflict and defend them whenever possible, soon realizing that Dullahan isn’t the greatest menace.
As this is an opening installment, Saur spends numerous pages worldbuilding. Much of the focus is on the Leigheasan, who are akin to witches. Maya’s friends Willum MacLeoid, a Galenvarg, and Jeremias Barraclough, a Veirlintu, provide insight into their respective sects. There are hints of the series’ larger narrative, namely that, unknown to many in Sori, additional realms and myriad other sects exist. Gaelic terms, Celtic mythology, and other, more esoteric ideas are folded into the mix. Fortunately, there’s a glossary, and the author supplies context when needed. Maya, meanwhile, is a superb protagonist. She often seems ambivalent: She’s protective of many people but also disturbingly unfazed when she kills. This duality is a consistent theme for the character, who must continually choose to deploy her powers for either good or bad. Descriptions are simple but effective; a few characters appear as mere “ghostly figure[s],” which, particularly in the case of Dullahan, can be unnerving. Saur engages readers with the anticipation of looming war as well as Maya’s burgeoning abilities, which she progressively discovers. As there’s considerably more to learn about Sori, its people, and the powerful teenager, fans of this novel will surely crave a sequel.
An impressive first installment with a remarkable, series-worthy hero.
(author’s note, glossary, author bio)
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 278
Publisher: Koehler Books
Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020