The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.
Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all - the Crown Prince Aldrik - she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.
I’ve been dying to get my hands on this book for a while after getting a glowing recommendation from one of my fellow bloggers on Twitter, and then stumbling across a review copy offer on YA Bound. Sure the book blurb above ticks every box in the YA clichés handbook, but for me that just means it contains all my favourite elements. Magic, check. Fantasy, check. Romance, check.
I loved the idea of four types of sorcerers based on the four elements. There’s a bit of backstory scattered through about the history of the realm and the magic within it, but this is kept tantalisingly brief for exploration in later books. Unlike some novels, I didn’t feel short changed or that important info had been missed out. There was enough for me to grasp the world and keep my interest without giving the game away too early.
The fantasy almost takes a back seat in this book to the romance, and whether or not you buy in to the story will probably depend on how much you believe the budding romance between Vhalla and Aldrick. And this is where the book started to lose me. At first, I wasn’t sure, Aldrick seemed more of a caricature than a character, too exaggerated and OTT to be believable. There’s being a bit of a roguish bastard, and then there’s being an emotionally, and in one case physically, abusive asshole. Let's just say that consent isn't high on his list of priorities in early chapters. Rather than let Vhalla decide for herself what to do with her magic, he takes it upon himself to shove her off a roof and make the call for her. I didn’t quite get on board with him, he was a bit too smug for my liking and his penchant for writing notes referring to himself as “the phantom in the dark” made me smirk.
I just couldn't stop thinking of Emo Kylo Ren (by the way, if you haven’t checked out that Twitter account yet, go take a look. It’s hilarious!). But after a few chapters he was easier to warm up to. There’s the obligatory love triangle, with added angle (love square?), but it’s much of a muchness since it’s pretty clear who the central pairing is here. I do wish Vhalla’s childhood friend Saleem hadn’t been beefed up to love interest, it was kind of unnecessary and I much preferred reading their genuine platonic friendship - there really isn’t enough of that in YA! - but I loved that he was there to keep Vhalla’s feet on the ground.
And then there's the lead character Vhalla. She’s infuriating, like want to slap through the pages infuriating. I’m not expecting a library apprentice to be a balls to the wall action heroine right off the bat, but I don’t want to read her snivelling in a heap in the floor while the prince insults her, only to go crawling after him begging “my prince, my prince,” like he didn’t just treat her like shit. Barf! I at least want her to show a little self preservation. At one point she’s on trial, facing possible execution, and all she can worry about is that Aldrick might be mad at her because he won’t look at her. When she’s about to be tortured, all she thinks us how upsetting it will be for him to have to watch. Take it away Kristen Wiig!
Thankfully, this problem resolves itself and then some by the final act. If this Vhalla was the one I was reading about from the start, this book would be five stars all the way. The character development is brilliant, and I feel kind of mean for deducting a star because Vhalla starts off annoying, but sheltered doesn’t have to mean weak, just as strong doesn’t have to mean badass.
All in though, I really enjoyed Air Awakens, but I couldn't get away from the feeling that I've read this book before in various guises. It's well written, if not spectacularly orignial, and aside from my niggling character issues, it works perfectly as a teaser and set up for book two in the series; Fire Falling, which I’m hoping to get to sooner rather than later.