This is a really interesting read. Miller writes with great force and intensity that swept me up when reading the sample, so that I’d clicked on the Buy button without even thinking about – no matter that I’m stacked up with books, both actual and virtual, that will probably keep me occupied for MONTHS, if not years…
How far would you go to be free—to make your own choices without being subjected to punishment for doing what you felt was right? Could you kill for it? After being abandoned by her father as a child, Aster spent ten years of her life as a servant for the leader’s House in the broken city of New Bethel. She’d known, even as a child, that the cities of her world were corrupt places with human monsters—assassins—running rampant between their high walls. Thinking everything will remain the same as it always has there, Aster is startled to discover that one day . . . the cycle breaks. As a young new leader takes a strange and—at times—horrifying interest in her, will she be capable of discovering the reasons behind his actions and orders?
Miller manages to convey the sense of constant danger and fear very effectively – Aster’s desire to stay hidden, warring with her thirst for knowledge, is palpable and had me onside within a handful pages. This is a brutal world – Aster’s fear and Aggie’s terror on her behalf make that only too clear, however Miller juxtaposes the brutality by having her characters talk as if they are in a 19th century drawing room… It took me a while to get my head around it – but it does work. Aster has been eavesdropping on her employers for the last ten years – small wonder that she talks like them and is able to argue and tease out her own emotions with subtleness and sophistication unusual in a domestic drudge.
When the latest in a steady line of Leaders takes over, her existence starts to change in startling ways. For starters, she is prised out of the shadows where she prefers to lurk, and put in the way of a particular reave… This is courtship with a different twist – because it really is courtship. Unlike so many modern books, this is conducted at a very sedate pace that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jane Austin novel. I enjoyed this – it made a sort of sense within the world, given her understandable fears and the manner in which she had been press-ganged into domestic slavery.
The plot twists also worked. And since I’ve stopped reading the book, Aster has stayed with me in the way that really strong, well written characters do. However for me, there is a gap in the worldbuilding. Aster has been trapped within the walls of a house for ten years, working unremittingly to keep it spotless with a team of other servants. Although she occasionally refers to ‘them’, other than Agatha, her protector and carer, we never see her amongst the community of other servants. There are plenty of interactions with the guards – but I wanted to see her alongside her fellow workers. A couple of short scenes would have told the reader so much more about her status and how she was regarded – especially when her fortunes began to change.
However, that really is my only niggle and if you want dystopia adventure with a different voice – this is a very promising start to a series by a strong, talented writer.