Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in Otera, a deeply patriarchal ancient kingdom, where a woman’s worth is tied to her purity, and she must bleed to prove it. But when Deka bleeds gold – the colour of impurity, of a demon – she faces a consequence worse than death. She is saved by a mysterious woman who tells Deka of her true nature: she is an Alaki, a near-immortal with exceptional gifts. The stranger offers her a choice: fight for the Emperor, with others just like her, or be destroyed…
If anyone has read my ‘Most Anticipated Reads for 2021’ then you know how excited I was for this book. I preordered it as a gift for my birthday and was ready to read it as soon as it arrived.
When I first heard about this book, I pictured the dramatics of ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi and the Dora Milaje from Black Panther. It sounded phenomenal. The front cover is incredibly beautiful and only added to the allure. I couldn’t wait to read this novel.
I just want to put out that not only is there some serious trigger warnings for this book: graphic violence, rape etc. (Please feel free to contact me if you would like to know more.) Also, just because I may not like the book doesn’t mean it won’t be for you. As I always say, please try it if you feel like the synopsis would be something you’d enjoy!
For me personally, I was extremely disappointed once I finished reading this.
The dialogue felt flat. There were conversations that just didn’t feel believable and I guess that’s the whole point of fantasy right? The plot felt really rushed in places. We jumped from one thing to the next and it just wasn’t tying together for me. The romance was also completely unnecessary and was probably the worst bit for me. They went from strangers that were attracted to each other to ‘in love’ by the next chapter. I’m guessing alot of the romance happened without us knowing but it just made the relationship between the two characters feel forced in some places. I think I flat out laughed when they called each other ‘sweethearts’ or ‘lovers’ because I just didn’t see how we got there so quickly. It just didn’t work for me at all.
However, I have to pay tribute to the fact I wanted to keep reading. A book that can keep me engaged for long periods of time deserves praise. The concept was extremely well thought out. The themes of sisterhood and feminism were really prominent and very well written. By drawing importance on a woman’s purity, Forna conveys how women have been degraded and forced to be subservient to men due to patriarchy. Throughout history, many different cultures have placed an uncomfortable amount of attention on a woman’s virginity. By tying it to purity, it has manifested into today’s society with the way women are degraded if they’re comfortable in expressing their sexuality. It’s an attempt at silencing that has worked for years prior but as we move into more modern times, it’s slowly losing the influence and attention it once had. I will say that it was extremely uncomfortable reading about how much emphasis is placed on a woman’s purity. But then, Forna clearly does it to show unnatural it is for men to be obsessed with a woman’s purity – and what actually confirms that a woman is pure?
“Every girl knows it by heart. We recite it whenever we enter a temple – a constant reminder that women were created to be helpmeets to men, subservient to their desires and commands.”
I liked how the Alaki were framed as defying these patriarchal standards. I think my favourite parts of the book were Deka and Britta’s friendship. It was really nice to see how much they relied on one another and were the true definition of sisterhood. I think their relationship was written extremely well. Unlike the romance, we saw their friendship develop throughout the pages of this book.
Once I finished the book, I was a little bit confused as to why it was going to be a trilogy. There wasn’t a cliffhanger and I really did think that perhaps it could have been a standalone novel. However, Namina Forna has said that she hates cliffhangers and confirmed that it is a trilogy. I’m curious as to what will happen in the next book because I felt everything actually came together at the end.
“No matter my origins, there is worth in what I am.”
Forna’s world-building is excellent. The description of certain places were phenomenal and it was really easy to create Otera in my mind. As world-building is probably one of the hardest parts of creating a fantasy novel, I have to salute her.
All in all, the execution just wasn’t it for me. I had such high hopes and maybe that’s my own fault. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll read the next book. However, whilst I didn’t enjoy the book, I do think it will make an exceptional film if done right! So I’m incredibly excited to see how that plays out!
“Are we girls or are we demons? Are we going to die or are we going to survive?”