Author: Nina Varela
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Genre: YA fantasy, sci-fi, LGBTQ+
My rating: 5/5 stars
A while ago, the folks at Epic Reads sent me a little package of goodies as a thank-you for promoting an event of theirs (check out that haul here). One of the books included in that was a copy of Crier’s War. I didn’t know a ton going into it, except that it was a queer YA fantasy–which, honestly, is enough to catch my attention in and of itself. I can definitely say, though, that I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.
For once, I feel like the publisher’s blurb actually does the book justice, so here it is:
After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.
Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.
Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.
Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.
Where do I even begin? This novel is a gem, a multifaceted narrative with two compelling young women at its beating heart. It is a story about politics, prejudice, and humanity. It is a gorgeous queer love story. It is a vividly imagined hybrid of sci-fi and fantasy. And it is told in lovely, sparkling prose–not overwrought, but highly evocative.
Some people ask if this is a fast-paced book, saying that the beginning feels slow. It took me a while to figure out how to describe the pacing, because this isn’t an action-packed thriller with chases and fight scenes everywhere, but neither is it a slow, meandering bit of fluff. It isn’t a linear plot, like a quest or a game, but it isn’t a widespread tale either, as it is very closely wrapped up in the stories of just two major players. No, this is a book that excels in its use of an undercurrent of urgency to turn simple conversations, escapes, council meetings, and schemes into perfectly taut moments, plucked in time to an ever-increasing pulse of revolution. It is a plot that does not overshadow the growth of the characters, but rather is fed by their choices and develops them in turn. And yes, of course there are some wild twists along the way–some pleasantly predictable, others delightfully (or terribly) unexpected.
Crier and Ayla are both wonderful protagonists. Neither is perfect, but their flaws make them all the more realistic. Crier, having grown up as the child of a ruler, is naive, sheltered, and idealistic, but all her time spent reading books on history and politics and folklore makes her intelligent and strategic as well. Ayla, still torn up inside from the trauma of her family’s death years ago, is prone to impulsivity and fueled more by rage than anything else, but she is also fierce, relentless, and firm in her convictions. The two are opposites in so many ways–Crier is all smooth surfaces and a life devoid of so many experiences, while Ayla is full of jagged edges and weighted down by her past–but their contrasts bring out new bright spots in each other in a way that is wholly satisfying. And watching both grow as individuals while also growing in their alliance/friendship/love with each other is a joy to read, even as it slowly crushes your heart to dust with its promises of inevitable betrayal.
Now, the part I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: this book is advertised as having a slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers romance. Now, those are phrases that are commonly passed around, and they’re very popular as tropes, but they are often poorly executed. I am pleased to say that Nina Varela DELIVERED on all fronts with this romance. Crier and Ayla’s first meeting is charged with an undercurrent of subtle tension that crackles and grows with each subsequent chapter. It isn’t insta-love; it begins with some mutual attraction, and some serious curiosity on Crier’s part, but it takes its time in developing those inklings of feelings into something undeniable, through small gestures and stolen moments and persistent, sometimes-unwanted thoughts.
I think my biggest complaint, if any, is that the title misled me a little. This isn’t a novel about any type of war except for internal, personal struggle. It isn’t until the very last chapter that all-out, national-scale war is brought up; this is all setup for what I am sure will be an electrifying sequel (because WOW that ending had a lot in it). That doesn’t dampen my enjoyment if it, and hopefully it won’t yours either, but just as none of the sisters in Three Dark Crowns actually start killing each other in that first book, the war mentioned in Crier’s War will not begin until its sequel.
And until that sequel gets here, I will be anxiously lying in wait, because I need more of these characters and this world in my life.
Trigger/content warnings: the author actually has a list of them, by chapter, on her website. Please take a look at them here.
Thank you to Epic Reads (HarperTeen) for sending me an ARC of this book! This has not affected my review in any way.