- The Good: Fresh plot with voice magic, parallel universes, undead armies, with a hint of Slavic folklore
- The Bad: Chosen One deconstruction not so deconstructed
- The Literary: Epistolary chapter breaks with government correspondence
Fifteen years ago, a secret government organization brought together five ordinary teenagers—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—in the hopes that one of them would fulfill a prophecy to defeat a powerful enemy bent on destroying the world through magic. After many years, all five Chosen Ones working together finally defeated the The Dark One.
Ten years later, the world is celebrating the Dark One’s destruction, and in all that time, Sloane has had the hardest time adjusting. What do you do when you destiny in life is already fulfilled? Sloane doesn’t make it easy on herself either. Sure she’s got PTSD, but she’s also angry and rude and refuses confide in her friends the secrets she’s held onto for all these years.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary celebration, Albie commits suicide, devastating Sloane. When the remaining Chosen Ones gather for the funeral, something completely unexpected happens, and they discover the Dark One never died, there are places where he still reigns, and they discover that his ultimate goal was much bigger than anyone expected.
Three whole paragraphs just to set up this story, and that’s one of the things I really enjoy about it. The world is big and complex and feels full, and there is a lot going on. So let’s get started with the heart of this story. What happens after the Chosen Ones defeat evil? It’s a fantastic question and set up for a novel that’s ripe with possibility.
I really like how all the Chosen Ones handle trauma and the loss of purpose differently. Matt, their charismatic leader, is still fighting the good fight, always booking speaking events and campaigning for charitable organizations. Esther has taken to social media, curating her public face and lifestyle on Instagram, while taking care of her mother, who is slowly dying of cancer. Even after sacrificing so much to end of the suffering caused by the Dark One, Esther’s fight with death isn’t over. Albie soothes his pain with drugs before committing suicide. I forget about Ines, which says something, because she’s conveniently not present for most of the book.
But the story is really about Sloane, who follows Matt around, giving the stink eye to the paparazzi and punching people who think the Dark One was the savior in the face. She has panic attacks in the middle of the night and refuses to go to therapy. I think a full exploration of her trauma ten years later would have been fantastic, and I want more of it. Instead, Sloane’s emotional issues center around her harboring secrets, and they’re standard Chosen One fare. She killed a bunch of people when she was first harnessing a magical object, and when she was being tortured by the Dark One, she didn’t do the honorable thing and sacrifice herself to save her friend, so she’s not worthy of good things in her life. I had very high hopes for the deconstruction of the Chosen One’s role in a post-dystopia, with more emotional meat, and the story only partially delivers.
The turn of the plot at Albie’s funeral really sets the gears of the story into action, while at the same time opening the world, so the plot feels really fresh and exciting. Matt, Esther, and Sloane are thrown into a new world and culture, and told they can’t go home until they defeat the Dark One, again. They learn magic they can actually harness within themselves, having only been able to roughly use magic through objects previously. Sloane’s not that good at magic, and she begins to question the motives of their new teachers, unraveling an entirely new conspiracy. The third act pulls together multiple plot threads, ramps up the action, and reveals the truth about the Dark One.
This is a big story, with lots of satisfying twisty turns. I like that the magic is specific, even if it feels a little tame. I like that the prophecies are vague, even if the characters treat them like truth. I like Sloane’s failed romance with Matt. I like that I start to root for the undead army, even though there are so many more possibilities for an undead army in the climactic showdown. And I like that the saving-the-world ending doesn’t put the world back to the way it was, and now everyone, not just the Chosen Ones, have to find their way in an entirely new post-Dark One world, even if the ending still feels a little too neat.
Recommended for fans to YA transitioning into adult fantasy! Thanks to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for a free copy in exchange for an honest review!