Hello Humans! Today I’m reviewing Dark of the West an upcoming YA fantasy novel that comes out at the start of February. I read this during my Christmas reading period (I always get a lot of reading done at the end of the year) and it was one of the best of the review copies I read during that time. If you’re expecting your average, run-of-the-mill fantasy romance then you’re in for something a little bit surprising…
He was raised in revolution. She was raised in a palace. Can their love stop a war? Code Name Verity meets The Winner’s Cursein Joanna Hathaway’s Dark of the West, a breathtaking YA fantasy debut.
Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.
Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.
From the cover alone, I thought this was going to be a much more ‘epic fantasy-esque’ setting, all swords and fireplaces and such. I was not expecting there to be planes (I didn’t read the blurb before I started it, I’m not too much of a plonker I promise). I think that pleasant surprise had a part to play in my enjoyment of this story, I haven’t read many (in fact, off the top of my head I can’t think of any) fantasy books that feature an air force – at least one that is planes and not dragons. That’s part of why this book felt so new and fresh to me, where otherwise it might have been a fairly plain story, that juxtaposition of fantasy tropes with modern ideas and more modern technologies makes for interesting reading.
I thought, for this review, I’d tackle these two characters separately, and then talk about them together at the end since the book does feel quite divided in two by the two perspectives.
Aurelia. I wasn’t quite sure where I landed with Aurelia. In some aspects she was a great character, I liked her awareness of what was happening with her, by which I mean her role as a pawn in wider political games. At times she felt like a character who was aware of her own situation and who knew she had no choice but to be taken advantage of in the political machinations of her family. But there are times where she felt contrastingly very immature. Her romance with Athan comes on very quickly, not exactly insta-love but somewhere adjacent to that, at least where her own feelings come in. I couldn’t quite mesh the mature awareness with the sudden flush of young love. Neither of them unbelievable characteristics, being young and in love does make you quite swoony and irritating (I can say that, I was young and swoony and irritating not too long ago) but I couldn’t make the two sides of her character make sense together. I’m making it sound like I disliked her a lot more than I actually did, I thought that her half of the story was well done and I did find her interesting to read. I think she’s a character who will probably grow on me more in the next book in the series, now that some of the lies and treachery of book one have been exposed and I’m not there shouting the literary equivalent of ‘he’s behind you!” every few pages.
Athan I did like, which wouldn’t have been something I might have anticipated. I thought his struggles with his family and the way he deals with family loyalty versus his own moral compass was a very human story, and it certainly resonated with me. It helps that he gets to fly (in a plane) and I am a sucker for descriptions of flight and the love of flight. Athan is, in this book at least, a little more aware of what’s going on in the wider world than Aurelia and, as I say, that made me like his narrative a little more, but I’ll be interested to see what happens with and to this young pilot prince in the next book in the series.
This is a sweet romance. It isn’t a fantasy in terms of magic, more in terms of being a totally made-up setting, not based on any kind of real-world setting (as far as I am aware). So don’t go in expecting magic wands and potion making because you’ll be a little disappointed. Do expect a very sweet romance that is fast-paced but still believable, buckets upon buckets of political intrigue and some murder along the way. I had a great time reading this book, I like Joanna Hathaway’s writing style and I’m definitely interested in reading more about these characters.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Dark of the West publishes on February 5th, so there is still time to preorder now!
Is this book on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below!