Emory might be a student at the prestigious Aldryn College for Lunar Magics, but her healing abilities have always been mediocre at best—until a treacherous night in the Dovermere sea caves leaves a group of her classmates dead and her as the only survivor. Now Emory is plagued by strange, impossible powers that no healer should possess.
Powers that would ruin her life if the wrong person were to discover them.
To gain control of these new abilities, Emory enlists the help of the school’s most reclusive student, Baz—a boy already well-versed in the deadly nature of darker magic, whose sister happened to be one of the drowned students and Emory’s best friend. Determined to find the truth behind the drownings and the cult-like secret society she’s convinced her classmates were involved in, Emory is faced with even more questions when the supposedly drowned students start washing ashore— alive —only for them each immediately to die horrible, magical deaths.
And Emory is not the only one seeking answers. When her new magic captures the society’s attention, she finds herself drawn into their world of privilege and power, all while wondering if the truth she’s searching for might lead her right back to Dovermere…to face the fate she was never meant to escape.
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry Books
I want to thank Simon and Schuster Children's Books/Margaret K. McElderry Books for reaching out to me for review. They provided me with a copy to give my honest opinion.
Dark academia. I think it's one of my new favorite genres. Anything that might even remotely give me that Harry Potter feel jumps right onto my TBR. So when I received an email from the publicist and was asked if I might want to review this (LONG) book, I, at first, hesitated. I'm weary of books that compare themselves to any authors I love, Particularly Leigh Bardugo. Her books fall right at the top of my ratings scale, so she's hard to beat. But let me tell you, I'm so glad I took the chance on this one. It checked off so many boxes:
- Dark fantasy/Academia
- Magical College - a break from the high school setting so often used in YA books
- Dual POV - I'm a big fan
- Estranged friends/Friends to more
- Secret society
- A well thought out magic system based on moon phases
- Myths that may or may not actually be myths
- Forbidden magic
- Well developed characters
- Amazing world building
- Plot twists
A little about the plot: Welcome to Aldryn, a magical college with students who have different types of magic according to the moon phase to which they are born. But you only have one magic, or do you? Emory comes back to school after a horrific night that left students dead and her with powers she cannot explain. As she begins to navigate the world with her new powers, she fall in with a cult-like secret society whose intentions for having her there may or may not be on the up and up. She's determined to figure out what happened that fateful night.
Let's start with the characters. This book is dual POV between Emory and Baz, estranged friends who are thrown together after the tragic loss of their friend/sister. Emory and Baz are both very relatable characters with their insecurities, feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. I enjoyed their imperfectness. It made connecting with them easy. Their need to fit in, to feel like they belong, to find their identities, and be seen are very strong themes throughout the book. The idea of relying on others to help build you up, or cut you down, is a theme throughout. And the dual POV allowed the reader to truly see the story from more than one side. And it also allowed for more than one story to be taking place at a time.
Then there are the secondary characters: Kieran, Lizvetta, Virgil, Kai, Jae, Romie, and more. All brining something unique to the story. Kieran with his interest in Emory, Virgil with his humor, Kai with his powers. And I could go on. The one thing I will say is that I didn't like Kieran from the very start. I didn't trust him and his level of manipulation was off the charts. But sometimes we are blinded by what we think is best for us versus what truly is.
I really enjoyed the fact that the romance was not the core of this book. The romance was there, there was a slow burn, but it didn't overtake the plot. I will say it did interfere with Emory being able to truly see things for what they were. And the "love triangle" is not surprising. It creates a great tension between the two main characters that is palpable throughout the book.
The Magic system Lacelle creates is complex, but easily understandable. And it's very unique. I've never read a book with magic based on the phases of the moon. And the consequences for being something "other" are horrifying. She does a fantastic job of world building. I liked how she continuously noted the different magics and what they did, allowing the reader to truly understand and be reminded of it all throughout the story. It was truly fascinating and made for interesting characters in the book.
Lacelle uses vibrant prose to bring her story to life. I think she is definitely the new Sarah J. Maas or Leigh Bardugo. And I do not say that lightly! I was happy to see she chose to include a map as it's always helpful to be able to see the world that's being built. And she also includes descriptions of each lunar house and the magics the people of those houses possess. Her pacing was spot on and I truly felt the pull of the story which left me wanting more every time I went to close the book.
Finally, I love how the plot centers on something that has always been thought myth: a story presented in a book from many of the character's childhoods. Yet, throughout the book, the characters find again and again things that relate to their world. And, in the end, we find out that author really was on to something.
My only complaint about this book would be I feel like perhaps a glossary of terms and concepts would have been beneficial. Without it, I did find myself flipping back to make sure I understood what was happening. I think it would have helped me understand the world better.
If you're looking for a more mature book that gives you Harry Potter feels from childhood and introduces a new prolific writer, this is your book. I will warn you, the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger and will leave you wanting to have book #2 yesterday. I can't wait to see where the story goes. And I'm excited to have been introduced to a new writer who shows great promise.