ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’ll admit, it has a lot of YA tropes and the story is similar to many out there (princess from warring kingdom falls in love with prince/king from said warring kingdom, while in disguise as a servant), but Nemesis just does it better.
This book feels like The Wrath & the Dawn, And I Darken, and A Promise of Fire, but it just feels so much better. I was completely hooked from page one and just continued to fall more and more in love while reading.
Like those stories above, we have a very strong female protagonist that, despite all her effort, falls for a newly crowned king who, despite all the horrible rumors, is a pretty nice guy.
Sepora is a wonderful main character, who leaves her home kingdom behind because she knows the value of human life and doesn’t want to give her father, the King of Seubel, a means to start war. Sepora is a forger who can produce a very highly sought-after element, Spectorium. Four of the five kingdoms use this element and her father is very rich from trading it, all while lying about its origins. Forgers are a secret and not many humans know about their existence, so Sepora’s father tells the rest of the world that he has a mine that produces this staple element in their world. Sadly, he becomes more power hungry and wishes to rule not only his, but the rest of the kingdoms as well, therefore Sepora fakes her own death and flees in hopes to hide in Theoria, a kingdom that has a very fragile treaty with her home kingdom.
The five very different kingdoms of this world:
1.) Serubel – lies in the mountains, and provides very good shelter and defense.
2.) Theoria – desert land with very advanced science and architecture.
3.) Hemut – covered in ice and knows how to survive, has an evil vibe.
4.) Wachuk – very peaceful land that lives off the bare necessities.
5.) Pelusia – ocean land that provides fish trade and is located far north.
While embarking on her new life to Theoria, Sepora ends up crossing paths with the Falcon
Prince King, Tarik. They develop a very deep, and more importantly believable, bond that I couldn’t help but root for through the entirety of this book.
This story also gets twisted up with a new race of merfolk-like people that are called Parani. Parani are finned with webbed hands, but still have human-like features. They guard a very important element in their waters, Nefarite, which is crucial for Theoria’s survival.
A plague is also sweeping through Theoria, that could wipe out the kingdom in a little over two years and no one knows its origins. It is not contagious, but very, very deadly and progresses very, very quickly. A younger healer discovers the benefits from Spectorium, which is no longer being traded by Sepora’s father now that he believes her to be dead, so Sepora is faced with a dilemma to help and risk her identify or stay hidden and safe from her tyrant father.
Okay, now to address the elephant in the room: I know this cover looks like blackface. I wish authors had more control over their own covers, but the reality is that they do not. I wasn’t offended by this cover, but I do think it’s very off-putting. The (supposed to be) silver face paint the cover model is wearing does get explained in the book. Hopefully, most readers have learned to not judge a book by its cover by now, and I hope people do not write this book off because of this poor choice of cover that this author has no control over. Not all authors can be as lucky as Leigh Bardugo.
Like I said, this book has a lot of plot points that are very similar to a lot of the books that are coming out right now. These concepts may not be new, but they are executed better than the rest. All the problems I had with the other similar books are not in this book:
-There is no insta-love, or girl caving on her goal, because the male is attractive. These two really develop their relationship throughout this book, and it’s refreshing.
-This book may hint at a love-triangle, but there is never one present in this first installment.
-Everything feels very consensual, there is no grey area/rape culture going on.
-Tarik is genuinely a good guy; he doesn’t use harems or expect Sepora to be okay with “old ways” of his people. Instead, he changes his world for her, because he knows her worth.
-Sepora always puts herself first and never loses sight of her goal to be a good person and save lives.
-This book has body positive representation!