Looking for something enjoyable and interesting to read, I found this offering languishing in my TBR pile…
Llew has a gift. Her body heals itself from any injury – but at a cost to anyone nearby. In a country fearful of magic, freeing yourself from the hangman’s noose by wielding forbidden power brings dangers of its own. After dying and coming back, Llew drops from the gallows into the hands of Jonas: the man carrying the knife with the power to kill her – permanently.
Llew has had a hard time of it. Abandoned by her drunken father and swindled out of her rightful inheritance by the city authorities, she finds herself on the streets dressed as a boy and thieving to stay alive – until she steals the knife of a well-dressed stranger. And everything changes… Often protagonists appear to be able to cope with difficult conditions unrealistically – but Llew is able to soak up a huge amount of physical punishment by pulling life energy from her surroundings to heal herself. I really liked this character. She is genuinely tough, both physically and emotionally, so that when she hits hard times she tends to get on with it. Having spent six years on the streets, she is used to fending for herself and I liked the fact she is flummoxed by wearing a dress and suddenly very unsure of herself when mixing with other girls of her own age.
I also loved the premise – the healing power she generates has to come from somewhere and given she is totally untrained, it comes from any living thing within her orbit. Often in fantasy books, those objecting to magical powers seem simply prejudiced about something different. But I felt the folks that went around exterminating anyone with Llew’s powers had a point – in the wrong circumstances, she is simply lethal. Jonas is one such individual – but when their paths cross unexpectedly, he finds himself very reluctant to carry out his mission. The romance is well handled so that it doesn’t become the main issue, but acts as an engine to drive the plot forward as the classic fantasy theme – how do we treat someone with good intentions who nevertheless has the potential to be destructive – plays out.
And when someone with such a powerful gift pops up, you can bet there will be someone else all too happy to track them down and use said destructive gifts for their own ends. Sure enough, there is a powerful magic-user who is on Llew’s trail with a dark agenda of his own regarding her powers. I liked the backstory regarding Jonas and Braph’s past and how their own genetic heritage plays out in the world Howell has depicted.
I’m conscious this sounds like a purely classic fantasy tale – but Howell takes those genre tropes and gives them a spin. Llew isn’t some helpless female unable to cope without a man looking after her – indeed, she becomes part of a guard detail, herself. And while I liked and sympathised with her, I winced at the trail of damage she leaves in her wake and found it only too understandable why most of her kind have been killed. This is a well written, interesting tale that has stayed with me since I’ve read it and I highly recommend this one for any fantasy fan who enjoys a well-told adventure with some interesting twists.