Sunday, January 27, 2019

Book review: Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway

Book Summary
He was raised in revolution. She was raised in a palace. Can their love stop a war? Code Name Verity meets The Winner's Curse in 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.

Flo's Review
I entered a Twitter contest just to win this book, and I was lucky enough to actually win! I was intrigued by the premise of Dark of the West as soon as I heard about it. This was a book about war, much in the vein of the Ember series by Sabaa Tahir. The horrible General in this book has the same 'Human life? Eh' vibe as the Commandant. He's also terrible, and also unfortunately related to the the kind, compassionate, hot leading male in the story. Athan (said male) not only has a strained relationship with his father due to their different world views  but also has interesting and complicated relationships with his siblings, which were interesting and painful to read. This family. Oy!

But you know who was an awesome character? Cyar! If we could all have friends like Cyar! The bond between Cyar and Athan is evident in their easy banter, in how they talk about each other, in what they would do to protect each other, in what they have already done and continue to do for each other. I honestly feel like I ship the bromance between Athan and Cyar over the romance of Athan and Ali. 

Speaking of the romance, Dark of the West to me was very much like a fantasy war story, in which one element is the romance. I felt like the marketing of the book elevated the romance aspect so that I was expecting it to play more heavily in the narrative. And maybe this was why I didn't feel as connected to or affected by the romance as I'd hoped. I definitely felt Athan's struggle as he worked through what he was feeling and how that affected what he was asked to do. Maybe it was Ali's side that was lacking for me? Ali as a character was okay, but she was definitely outshined by Athan, her mother, and some of the other characters in the story.

The pacing was excellent. I found myself doing the, "Just one more chapter," thing several times as I read. Having the map in the finished copy will definitely help the reader to keep all the locations in the story straight.

Joanna Hathaway loves flying in airplanes (per her bio), and that love and expertise comes through strong as she describes Athan's time in the air. There is one particular letter in the book that was so, so beautiful. Finally, the end of the book comes with a twist that I wasn't expecting, but then when I thought back about it, made perfect sense. So well done.

Dark of the West was full of elements that make a great story: stellar pacing, shocking action, slow-burning romance, questionable character loyalties, and a surprising ending. It publishes February 5th, 2019 from Tor Teen.

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