4 out of 5 tortured stars
This was my 2nd read of this book. I like to marathon series whenever a new book comes out so I can refresh myself on the characters and the world. It held up really well on a 2nd reading.
In this world, there has been a plague. The Blood Fever always kills adults, but any children that survive are marked – something about them changes, either their hair or eyes go a weird color, or they have markings, discolorations of the skin, or scars. The main character, Adelina, lost her mother and one eye to the disease. Her face is also badly scarred on the same side with the missing eye. Marked children are called malfettos and are considered bad luck. Her disfigurement has cost her father much of his business as well as any hope of her finding a husband. Her younger sister, Violetta, despite surviving the disease unmarked and being really beautiful, is considered damaged goods.
Adelina’s life has really sucked. After the death of her mother, the girls were left with only her father to care for them. He heaps love and praise on Violetta, but is also course and abusive, blaming Adelina for everything that goes wrong. He tries to play the girls off one another; showering Violetta with presents and kindness while calling Adelina useless and worthless. You can’t have this kind of childhood and come out of it without emotional damage. He also tells Violetta, right in front of her, that Adelina is broken. He even devises a system of torture, trying to bring out whatever skills Adelina might be hiding. Because the blood fever does more than mark its survivors. Some develop supernatural powers. They are called Young Elites and are the most reviled of the malfettos.
It’s not until she flees her home that Adelina’s powers surface. Her father is going to sell her off to a rich man to finally be rid of her, but she overhears and sneaks off. She meets the mysterious group of Young Elites known as the Dagger Society. Little more than rumor, their identities are secret, and the Inquiasition Axis punish, arrest, and even execute other malfettos on just whispers of what the Young Elites can do. The leader, Enzo, is dark and mysterious with the ability to control fire. The darkness in his nature speaks to Adelina in a way that no one ever has before, but can she trust him? Adelina has a strangeness to her energy, and the other Daggers sense it. No one knows if they can trust her, and so she doesn’t trust them. Even Raffaelle, the beautiful and gentle boy who can sense and affect energy, the thing that gives Young Elites their powers, may not be on her side.
Some of that suspicion might be warranted. The head of the Inquisition, Teren, has found Adelina in hiding, and threatens to hurt her sister if she doesn’t give him information on the Daggers. And they do have plans. They want to take down the regime that is hunting down and killing the malfettos and put their own in place.
The world in this is pretty well done. It clearly has an Italian flair, around the middles ages. I think. The magic isn’t terribly consistent. I never did understand what the Spider’s talent was. He was big and fast and he could also see in the dark. But why was he called spider? A girl nicknamed Star Thief can talk to animals. That name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue or make much sense in line with her power. The powers themselves aren’t element based (which is a little overdone anyway) and some of the powers are just weird. Raffaele says that they are based on energy. I understand energy letting you control the wind or moving fast, but how does it let you talk to animals? I just felt they were random and unformed. I wanted some order to explain them. I mean, some are terrifying in their scope. Enzo can call fire and Michael can unmake things and then put them back together – basically, transporting things from one place to another. I don’t understand how Adelina’s illusions interact with things, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers about that. But why can Star Thief get animals to do what she wants, but not people?
I really enjoyed this. If you are into dark fantasy I suggest you give it a read. It is definitely not fluffy. There was some romance in this – I don’t know how it’s going to go in the following books, but it doesn’t seem like romance is going to be a huge deal here. My only other problem with the story is slightly spoilery – I won’t go into great detail but if you are very sensitive about spoilers, you might not want to read the paragraph after this. I’m going to talk about the nature of the Daggers and their relationship with Adelina.
Slight spoilery complain
I did not like the way Adelina was treated by the Daggers. They obviously don’t trust her, and then wonder why she’s not completely open with them. Well. You’ve given her no reason to be. The Daggers are self-serving, only rescuing malfettos who can help them (ie: Young Elites). They are also brutal and ruthless, and yet find Adelina unacceptable for being the same way. She knows they might kill her if she is of no use to them – so why would you put your faith in people like that when you’re in a tough spot? They don’t have the leadership to understand people – they only want to use them. Using people doesn’t encourage trust and teamwork. I would have enjoyed a more “cast of characters” feel to the story –but then it wouldn’t be as dark. I guess that’s the tradeoff.