3 / 5 stars
Read in January 2020
Book #1 in the Crier’s War duology
My 2020 reading journey started out slowly, and this book was a fun read since it wasn’t something I’d typically pick up first in a lineup of books.
This book gave me major I, Robot x Red Queen vibes with a F/F romance: In the dystopian future of a fantasy world, beautiful and strong human-like beings called Automae, once created by humans, have now risen to rule over mankind. Humans are second-class citizens, kept in poverty and servitude in constant fear of their lives.
Human Ayla saw her parents murdered in an Automae raid as a child and has vowed to take her vengeance by killing the king’s daughter, Lady Crier. Lady Crier, meanwhile, struggles with her recent engagement to a powerful politician and tries keep her aptitude for human emotions hidden, emotions which Automae are not supposed to have. When Ayla gains a position in the palace as Crier’s handmaiden, it seems that her dreams of revenge may soon become a reality. However, she isn’t prepared for the feelings and discoveries her new post will bring and how they will change her.
This book also had a wide cast of characters, with some shining off the page and others fading into the background. Curious, sweet Crier was my favorite; I loved being in her head and accompanying her on her emotional journey of self-discovery. However, I would actually argue that the charismatic and manipulative Scyre Kinok, Crier’s fiancé, was the strongest character in the book, making an exceptional villain with his conniving ways and subtle threats. Lastly, I really enjoyed side characters such as Queen Junn (who I’m hoping plays a much bigger part in book 2) and even Crier’s friend from court, Rosi. They played a role in the story while being unique and memorable characters.
On the other hand, some characters were not as developed as I would have liked, including Ayla’s adopted family, Rowan and Benjy. They weren’t in the story enough, and when they were they mostly plotted against the Automae. I simply didn’t feel attached to them. Also, (spoiler!) Benjy really didn’t need to have romantic feelings for Ayla. It kind of ruined their relationship for me (end spoiler).
This dystopian sci-fi fantasy felt fresh, taking elements and tropes from other books I’ve enjoyed and successfully combining them. Nina Varela is an overall good writer, with the romance between Crier and Ayla being her strongest point. There were multiple scenes where sparks flew between the characters and I could feel the tension in the air, giving me major heart eyes. In understanding and coming to care for one another, Ayla’s and Crier’s views of the world changed, making for a successful the enemies-to-lovers trope.
Varela’s bio at the back of the book mentions she’s a screenwriter, and you can definitely tell from her writing style; so many scenes, especially in tense moments, were jumpy from paragraph to paragraph, a bit too abrupt for me, and would have been more successful as quick-cutting shots in a film. Additionally, her use of flashbacks would have worked much better in a film; although these scenes added magic to the story and gave us background info, they mostly broke up the action at times I wanted to stay in the present with Ayla and Crier. I also don’t think the timeline at the front of the book or the excerpts from past Automae/human journals throughout the book were necessary; I read them, but they were not crucial for my understanding of the world.
I’m planning to read the second book, as this book did not end as I predicted and I’m curious to see what our heroines (and villain) do next. As I mentioned, I’m also hoping for the return of some of my favorite side characters, especially Queen Junn! Overall I would recommend this book and would love to see your recommendations on more LGBTQ+ YA fantasies and sci-fis in the comments!