Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Nice one, Sarah Holland. A fantasy novel aimed at younger teenagers with enough deadly intent, magic, and romance to suit both girls and boys. The story is open-ended, allowing for at least one more volume. Minnesota born and bred, Sara Holland grew up in a small town where reading was a regular practice. In Minnesota when howling winds and deep snow arrive to tell everyone to stay indoors because it’s winter there’s not much one can do but read. Sara is a graduate of Wesleyan University, who worked at several low key jobs before heading to New York to seek a career in publishing. This is her debut novel.
We meet Jules Ember, the heroine of this story, when she is on her way to try to explain why she and her father cannot meet the heavy taxes that the evil queen levies on her people. Everless is the estate that is owned by the Gerling family, the sons Liam and Roan former childhood friends of Jules. The Gerling family collect blood-iron, coins forged from blood, each equating to increments of time that can be added to a life span. Jules is desperate to find work at Everless so that she can pay their back taxes and save her father from being drained of his blood. With a royal wedding looming, there is a lot of work to be done and, therefore, work to be had on the estate.
Lord Roan Gerling, Jules’ childhood friend, is attractive enough still to send her heart racing. But he is about to marry the queen’s ward, the beautiful Ina Gold. Then there is Roan’s brother Liam, who may not be the bully he appears to be, and a whole host of servants and nobles and soldiers whose numbers should confuse us but who somehow retain their individual identities throughout. Hidden among all these people lurks the Sorceress and her mortal enemy the Alchemist.
Jules’ father does all in his power to stop his daughter from going to Everless. He warns her to stay clear of the queen. When Jules swears that she will obey, but then immediately turns around and breaks her promise, my reading paused. This is a book for young people, yet we have a key character breaking a promise and nobody voices disapproval. I felt that was not the right message.
Jules sets out to find a connection between the Gerlings and her family and the story grows in excitement. Along with the story the characters grow too. Often a young writer will place her characters in situations where their role is cramped. They are locked in with no chance to develop. This does not happen with Sara Holland. She is an inventive, creative writer who can dream up fantasy with little apparent effort but with a devastating result.
Sara Holland will continue to produce sales, assisted by the graphic artist who designed the book cover. The design shows less rather than more, – the usual tendency is to lash out and place on the cover all sorts of flashy fantasy with text busily hogging what space there is left to be cribbed. Everless is much more restrained, the only blemish in the art work being the garish font chosen for the title of the book.
Good story. Beware – this could become addictive.
By Sara Holland