Recommended Age: 16+
Genres: Fantasy Drama
Tags: Diversity, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Magic, Music, Racism, Romance, Sirens, War, Werewolves
- Mature language: Some swearing, along with oppresive, violent, and abusive language. Racist, sexist, and discriminatory language is used.
- Mature violence: Multiple physical attacks and descriptions of death and war, along with acts of cruelty.
- Moderate sexuality: Brief kissing and examples of sexism, abuse, and oppresion.
“People see what they expect to see,” he says sharply. “Through a filter of their own hatred and prejudice.”
Elloren Gardner has never thought much about her grandmother’s famous power, the power that earned her the title “Black Witch”. But now that she’s leaving her small town and joining her brothers at university, Elloren is about to get a crash course in the true effects of her grandmother’s influence. Elloren didn’t inherit her magic, only her famous face that’s been carved into statues and captured in paintings. A face that brings back the worst memories for those who dared fight back against the Gardnerians, especially the Icarals.
As Elloren learns about other cultures and history, and her own prejudices against them, she must face the reality that her people are not perfect and perhaps there’s more to learn. This beautifully crafted fantasy explores how different cultures can help connect people instead of tearing them apart, along with the discrimination we can all find in ourselves.
“Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing. But the alternative…is to live your life based on injustice and lies.”
This series is such a magnificent surprise. I shied away from it at first because I was tired of witch books that focus on the mindless hate of religious zealots. But this book is so deeply layered and honest in showing all the many prejudices that people and society learn. In this world of witches and elves and Icarals and warriors, there is no one perfect culture/race. Everyone has their own flaws and misconceptions. One race may have all the power now but they were the punching bag for everyone else just decades before. The balance of power between the different cultures is fluid and ever changing.
Elloren has never left her peaceful home before but now she’s at a university with her brothers. All she wants is to learn how to become an apothecary but the fact that she looks exactly like her Black Witch grandmother, responsible for the death and destruction of so many non Gardnerians, makes her life difficult. Elloren has never really had any challenges before. She’s had a golden childhood free of prejudice, but now she’s thrown head first into a situation so vastly different from what she’s used to. She is young and immature, and struggles to learn how to control her own inclinations towards discrimination. She has to let go of what she’s been taught so that she can learn the truth for herself, which is ultimately a love letter to the importance of education.
The world building is phenomenal and so detailed. The distinct cultures show how everyone has their own strengths, along with their own weaknesses. Elloren manages to gather an unlikely group of friends, with help from her brothers, and it makes it easier to get a sense of everyone’s different perceptions. Sometimes characters are surprised to find how much they agree on, despite their opposite upbringing. Sometimes characters are convinced they are right, even if their knowledge doesn’t line up with new information.
One of my favorite revelations is when Diana, one of the werewolves who is constantly bragging about her culture, realizes that maybe her own people have just as many prejudices as others. Diana loves being a Lupine and it’s her solution to every problem. As her new friends discover the flaws in their upbringing and society, she tells them to join her people and it will solve all their problems. But then she tries to invite Elloren to meet her family and discovers they are not as welcome to her new friend. It’s so well written and such a clear example of how we are all the unreliable narrator of our own life.
This fast paced fantasy series is absolutely addicting, and shows the importance of education, friendship, and teamwork. I managed to read it through serious political unrest, despite the fact that this is not a relaxing read. It targets our misconceptions of racism, sexism, and the deep-rooted prejudice society holds for anything or anyone different. It addresses serious issues in a breath-taking world of mystical creatures who struggle with their humanity, just like us.
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