Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Grey doesn’t look dangerous. A tiny, blonde, wisp of a girl shouldn’t know how to poison a wizard and make it look like an accident. Or take out ten necromancers with a single sword and a bag of salt. Or kill a man using only her thumb. But things are not always as they appear. Elizabeth is one of the best witch hunters in Anglia and a member of the king’s elite guard, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and bringing those who practice it to justice. And in Anglia, the price of justice is high: death by burning.
When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she’s arrested and thrown in prison. The king declares her a traitor and her life is all but forfeit. With just hours before she’s to die at the stake, Elizabeth gets a visitor – Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in Anglia. He offers her a deal: he will free her from prison and save her from execution if she will track down the wizard who laid a deadly curse on him.
As Elizabeth uncovers the horrifying facts about Nicholas’s curse and the unwitting role she played in its creation, she is forced to redefine the differences between right and wrong, friends and enemies, love and hate… and life and death.
The first book in an incredible new series set in a fantastical medieval world.
Worldbuilding: The Medieval Anglia setting was good, I got the feel of the Inquisition, the noble/regular people divide, the fear, the unfairness of it all. That being said, the worldbuilding itself didn’t strike me as too focused upon when it came to magic – why it had been banned, what was the reasoning (you’ll find even in terribly misguided rules there’s always a logic, even if faulted upon reconsideration). There were Reformists, seeking to make the use of magic legal, and Persecutors who outlawed it and punished those that did practice it. The world was ripe with tension, that’s without a doubt.
Characters: I found the MC, Elizabeth, quite lovely. With a tough past, a quite nasty present and an uncertain future, I think she did the best she could. True, she was somewhat dependent upon Caleb, but it was understandable. She’d posed questions and never really felt happy with what answers she’d been given, but somehow suspended belief on those issues while it was convenient to – that strikes me as authentic human behavior, even if not one I might like. She’s 16, so she has some of that trying to make her loved ones happy thing going, people pleaser thing to a point; I do feel the need to point out that in Medieval times, you were quite grown up at 16. They didn’t have our present day infatuation with the not-quite-adult but not-a-child-anymore nuance. So there are things Elizabeth does, has done, that would be part of an adult life (helloooo, Malcolm, if you catch my drift) and which would have been a natural part of life back then. Some might find that particular aspect bothers them, but it’s only referenced anyway, so not an actual part of the story – just saying.
I didn’t personally respond to Elizabeth much, I tend to go for the rebels, the snarky, the unrepentant nutjobs, lol, and she was a bit too… I don’t know. Just not spicy enough for my personal liking, I guess. But she was a good MC, I think. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Other characters were interesting and likable, but I didn’t fall for them either. There was a lot of potential with Fifer, I loved her spirit – in fact, she was my favorite character in the novel. Not saying the others weren’t up to snuff or anything, I just didn’t respond to them myself.
I would have liked the antagonist, Blackwell, to have been a stronger presence.
Plot: The good vs evil arc was fun, but not terribly exciting. Let me explain: plenty of talk of magic, for instance, but kind of few instances when it was actually happening. Enough plot twists, but a somewhat slow pace of events (with plenty of MC character development, that is true, and I applaud it!) It might be a bit too slow for some readers who like more thrills from their reads, though. The teen romance stories were kind of fun, and I would have loved to see more of Fifer & Schuyler (the two of them were totally my favs), and the Elizabeth & John thing was…sweet. I don’t personally respond to sweet much, unfortunately. But if you do, you’ll enjoy them a lot!
Writing: First person, present tense narrative from Elizabeth’s POV. Personal preference thing, I found the tone of the narrative a bit too dry – too little humor for my liking. As I’ve said, I love snark, humor, comic relief to some of that tension happening. But it is in line with what one might expect out of a Historical ie Medieval-like Fantasy read. Not too dry, mind you. Just not fun enough for me to love it all the way.
Curb Appeal: Cool cover, hooking blurb – awesome pitch, maybe not impulsive buy material for me, but definitely a good combo for the genre and age group.
All in all, this was a good YA read and a really promising debut. Sturdy, interesting MC character development, nice worldbuilding, entertaining story, likable characters (and some you might actually love xD). I recommend it if you’re into the Historical/Medieval Fantasy feel, YA of course, and particularly those witch hunts/Inquisition settings.