My Final Fantasy of 2020: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (a review)
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 466 pages
Refugee Malik must kill Princess Karina in order to free his sister from an evil spirit who has captured her. Meanwhile, Princess Karina must find a way to resurrect her mother after she is assassinated and weed out the culprit responsible.
There are quite a few characters in this novel, but I'm going to focus this section on the two protagonists: Karina and Malik (who goes by Adil for a majority of the story). Karina is the princess of the city-state Ziran while Malik is a refugee from a place known as Eshra who is posing as a champion in a massive, festive competition. The two develop a romance that wasn't entirely insta-love but its close cousin. They had enough scenes together to make it seem believable they could develop feelings for each other, but they still could have benefited from more.
Karina is a character who has lost much and found herself thrust into a position of power she never wanted. She is consumed by grief but trying to manage the best she can. I can see her irking some readers as she can be grating. However, it's obvious she has Ziran's well being in mind with everything she does which is a major redeeming quality. She reads as a character who has a lot of potential and I can't wait to see how she continues to develop.
Malik is the character I related to the most as he suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. I myself have been diagnosed with both an anxiety and a panic disorder. Being able to read a character with my mental health illnesses in my favorite genre was so special and meaningful for me. His struggles came across as being written by someone who is either familiar with or who has done thorough research on said mental illnesses. It warms my heart to think of others such as myself getting to read a character they can relate to who is also so kindhearted.
The novel is told from the alternating third person perspectives of Karina and Malik. I typically prefer first over third person, but I think third person worked just as well for this story. Coming from someone who, as mentioned above, is a sufferer of anxiety and panic attacks and also someone who has experienced intense grief, Brown was able to capture and convey these in a way that was a gut punch in that it was so convincing.
Outside of the romance being a little rushed the novel has good pacing. There is a lot of world building to be established but it was never jammed in. Rather, it was sprinkled in quite naturally. The start takes time to establish characters and their backstories before moving into the meat of the story. The ending is the perfect balance of not feeling rushed and nicely wrapping up certain plot points while also having a cliffhanger that makes the reader eager for the next installment in the series.
WORLD BUILDING A majority of the novel takes place in the city-state of Ziran, though the novel includes characters of various backgrounds. History and lore revolving around Ziran and their relationships with outside cultures is a large part of the novel. Therefore, even though the characters hardly leave the city the world never feels restrictive.
Other aspects of the world include magic and magical creatures known as grim folk. The way the magical aspects of the world work are that every character who possesses it has a specific kind/ability such as Malik being able to conjure illusions. Since there was already a good amount going on with the world I think it was wise of Brown to keep the magic system simpler.
The world of this novel is inspired by West African mythology. As someone who finds learning about other cultures' mythology interesting I ate up this world. There are lots of different parts to it but they all melded together and never felt overwhelming.
While just a couple of weeks ago I declared Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko to be my favorite YA fantasy of the year, this one has come in at the last moment (it's the last YA fantasy that isn't a reread I'm reading this year) and snatched the crown. If you've already read this book, however, and you're looking for another West African inspired fantasy I definitely recommend checking out Raybearer as it is exceptional.
This novel is well written and has so much representation from having black main characters, and main characters experiencing grief and having anxiety and panic attacks. The romance in the novel actually reminded me quite a bit of the romance from a French inspired YA fantasy known as Bone Crier's Moon by Kathryn Purdie. That being said, outside of the romance they're very different stories.
FINAL RATING: 5 ⭐️