After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.
Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.
Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.
Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.
Nothing gladdens my heart more than picking up an ardently anticipated new release with the stammering gaiety of stepping off the edge of a cliff in the tremulous faith that you’ll sprout wings halfway down, and for all your expectations to be met, the inexpressible sweetness of finding yourself hovering above the ground with rills of current flowing off the tips of your winged arms.
Crier’s War colored everything, like the afterglow of a dream, and for the space of a few hundred page-turns, there wasn’t room for anything else in my head.
“Fever and fervor”, said Junn. “There is very little difference, in the end.”
In a world ruled by Automa, humans still held out, even under the crushing avalanche of the airless and deadly perfection of their oppressors, but their freedom was but a ragged scrap of meat tossed to an adequately obedient hound and it’ll come a day when they’ll become an expense beyond their value.
Within Ayla, a human girl, was an ocean’s worth of grief and rage, and her need for revenge against the Automa who killed her family burned through her as though she were a candlewick. Following a most strange encounter with Crier, the kind daughter of the Automa king Hesod, Ayla is offered a job as Crier’s handmaiden. But where gladness should be, or gratitude for Crier’s kindness, or desperation to acknowledge the luminous thing that hung between them, there could be naught but brutal vacancy. Ayla could no more forget that Crier was an Automa—representing everything Ayla abhorred—than an aching tooth. She refuses to be played upon by Crier’s gentleness, to be convinced by her words to give something up. But she was like a mouse inching closer to a trap, and it would spring the moment she got closer, or moved to escape.
“Humanity is how you act, my lady,” said Jezen. “Now how you were Made.”
Crier’s War is ambitiously structured as a ping-ponging narrative, beautifully contained and as taut as piano wire. The result is a dynamic novel that remains solidly rooted in a propulsive, suspenseful plot that builds towards a series of impeccably-timed revelations as dazzling as the finale of a fireworks show.
It isn’t the most original setup for the first book of a fantasy series, but the author wraps it up in a package so absorbing I was drawn on like a compass arrow. The balance Varela strikes between introducing knowledge to the reader and moving at a brisk pace towards the next plot objective is very well executed, but the stakes feel higher because the author crafts a full-fledged fantasy realm worth getting lost in. The novel opens with an intricately laid-out timeline of the complex history between the Automa and the humans who created them, which is as much about power as it is about autonomy. The broad backdrop of political unrest is arresting, with numerous heartrending moments that made my heart zing and slam itself around like a bee inside a jar.
For me, however, the novel’s most remarkable, wonderful aspect is Crier and Ayla’s relationship, as wan and fragile as moth wings but still burning as fervently as a bonfire in the center of the story. The manner with which the author braids their storylines into a knot of fevered desires, covert betrayals, and tentative romance is effortlessly captivating. Two sides of the same coin, Crier and Ayla are like chemicals thrown together in an alembic and their moments together were a rapturous escape from the bleaker political machinations swirling around them. Ayla could no more turn away from her goal to rid humankind from the Automa’s yoke than a compass needle could point south, and Crier wanted nothing more than to break free from the false perfection she’s been preserved in—always and forever the sovereign’s meek, obedient daughter—and had borne her solitude stoically enough, without realizing quite how lonely she was until she met Ayla and hope begun guttering like an overspent candle in her (corruptly human) chest. The villains, with Crier’s conniving and all-too-powerful betrothed being a particularly compelling example, are also painted in broad strokes and I’m looking forward to what the author has in store for the sequel.
But not every aspect of the novel works as well as it should. The plot zips along so quickly, which is great, but it also creates the impression of a restless narrative that leads to over-simplifications and some characters being reduced to a single trait. The random flashbacks sometimes inhibit the flow, as does Ayla’s best friend, whose presence I often forgot about but which dominates some pivotal scenes that don’t land as convincingly as they should.
That said, everything I grumbled about above is nearly unnoticeable during the actual reading experience. The author is so good at telling her story that I wasn’t bothered enough by those small quibbles to feel thrown off the novel. And, ultimately, Crier’s War is a sturdy, solid debut that lays the groundwork for very interesting future developments.
This was a buddy-read with Jami @Jamishelves. Dude. I had so much fun!