My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A beautiful, elegiac fantasy tale that is refreshingly small-scale and intimate, focusing on only a handful of main characters (with tiny entourages of supporting characters each). As all the reviews have mentioned, the writing is beautiful and lush but not so description-heavy (or high fantasy trope-heavy) as to put off readers not as familiar with the genre. In fact, the way the story is extremely grounded in our young heroine's POV should make it very accessible to all YA readers.
Speaking of whom, our heroine Timou is a wonderfully calm, drama-free and self-assured girl (and powerful, to boot!), humanized by her quiet insecurities about whether her undemonstrative father really loves her, and how to balance her calling as a mage (which, in this world, are very detached and zen individuals) with her burgeoning feelings for a pensive young man in her village.
I also loved our second protagonist, the Bastard Prince (aka Lord Neill) and his complicated relationship with his father, stepmother and half-brother, the missing crown prince. He's a bit out of the target age range for YA protags, but his struggles to find where/how he fits into his family (and kingdom, while we're at it) are very YA and emotionally resonant.
Very good read overall. Rachel Neumeier is a powerful writer, just warming up in this first book. Can't wait to read more from her. :)
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