Where do I even start with this book? I first heard of this book on BookTube. I became intrigued by it because of the gender aspects so when I went to the library, I thought I'd give it a go. Well, the gender aspects are about all I enjoyed from this book.
That's not true. I also enjoyed the writing. The writing is actually quite beautiful. It's very easy to envision the world, its inhabitants, the magic system, everything. I quite like what Hurley does with language and how she uses it to fit this unique world.
Another thing I liked about this book was how gender was portrayed, You have gender-fluid characters and non-binary characters and characters who were pansexual and all of that was fantastic! I also liked the talk of using the correct pronouns for whatever the person identifies themselves as and to no do so was seen as extremely offensive because, guess what, it IS offensive to do that to anyone. I adore that Hurley made that very clear within her writing.
Continuing with the gender themes, Hurley also reversed the roles between men and women within this society. It is a matriarchal society where the women are seen as superior to men. Now, I personally don't like matriarchies or patriarchies. I think all should be seen as equals regardless of gender. However, I realize Hurley did this as a commentary to our own society where women are seen as weak. I understand the commentary and I do appreciate what she has done here in her book.
However, I don't like seeing rape. At all. And the women do, in fact, rape the men. One character in particular, Zezili, is raping her husband constantly. She beats him, carves her initials into his skin to show ownership, and her husband, Anavha, is of the mentality that she does this because she loves him... something abuse victims tend to say of their abusers. And I get it. This happens a lot in our society. So I understand what and why Hurley decided to include this in her novel, but I'm not okay with any type of abuse. So reading that left me very angry, which is the point, I suppose.
Oh, but there's still more about this book that left me feeling rather empty. Let's talk about Lilia. She's one of the main characters in this book and she annoyed the hell out of me. She does stupid things for no reason. Basically, her reasoning is along the lines of "because I can." She is selfish and cruel to the point of callous. But the thing is there's no reason for it! She is not supposed to be a horrible character. She just is. And I can't say much more but because of her stupidity, she gets so many innocent characters, who are trying to help her out, killed. She gets them killed because of her selfishness. And what makes it worse, she shows no remorse! As long as she gets her way, she doesn't care who she screws over in the end. But we, as the reader, are supposed to sympathize with her? We're supposed to believe she's a good person? No. I don't think so.
The motivations of some of the characters make no sense to me. Going back to Zezili, she is someone that's ruthless. She kills anyone her Empress tells her to. But then she decides she wants to be a hero and save others... what? Where did that come from? Why are you being kind now? I don't get it. I felt like the development for a lot of the characters were not fleshed out enough, which is sad to say since this book is over 500 pages.
But one of my biggest problems this book has is not telling the reader anything. Like, I get it. As an author, you don't want the reader to know everything. But you also need to give the reader enough to go on so that the reader in intrigued enough to keep reading. After 250 pages, I saw so many forced moments the author put their for the "shock value" that I was disappointed. She inserted what she wanted so much without giving reason to it. Most of those moments left me feeling "Why? What was the point to that?" And that's what most of this book is. What was the point? And it's never fully explained. At all.
I could go on but I'll stop here. This book had so much potential. Hurley had a lot of great ideas but, ultimately, could not pull off in a cohesive manner. All of it felt too messy and all over the place. I love what she did with gender and sexuality and the world is such a cool concept! But everything else just fell flat for me.
If this book intrigues you, go ahead and give it a shot. You might like it more than I did. Just remember there's a lot of gratuitous violence, gore, and rape. Don't read it is any of those themes are harmful towards you. But if you're okay with those themes, then try it out. Hopefully, you like it even if I had a few problems with it.