Okay, so. If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t really expecting much from this book. Not only has it received a lot of mixed reviews over the last few years, but mountain climbing just really isn’t my thing, and I wasn’t sure how it would make for a good read. Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for YA fantasy, and decided to give it a go despite my misgivings. And y’know what? I loved it.
Even The Darkest Stars (Even The Darkest Stars #1) by Heather Fawcett
Pub. 2017 | Young Adult | Fantasy
Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the wintry, mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. She knows she could be the best in the world, if only someone would give her a chance.
But everything changes when the mysterious and eccentric River Shara, the greatest explorer ever known, arrives in her village and demands to hire Kamzin – not her older sister, Lusha, as everyone had expected – for his next expedition. This is Kamzin’s chance to prove herself – even though River’s mission to retrieve a rare talisman for the emperor means climbing Raksha, the tallest and deadliest mountain in the Aryas. Then, Lusha sets off on her own mission to Raksha with a rival explorer, and Kamzin must decide what’s most important to her: protecting her sister from the countless perils of the climb or beating her to the summit.
The challenges of climbing Raksha are unlike anything Kamzin expected – or prepared for – with avalanches, ice chasms, ghosts, and other dangers at every turn. And as dark secrets are revealed, Kamzin must unravel the truth about their mission and her companions – while surviving the deadliest climb she has ever faced.
If you’re not a fan of journey plots, you may struggle with this book. Not a lot really happens outside of the characters climbing a big-ass mountain – at least until the ending, and man were those last 50 pages or so real good – but there’s something about Heather Fawcett’s writing that prevented it from ever being boring or slow. The characters, the atmosphere, the romance… I just really enjoyed all the development in this book.
Kamzin has spent her life feeling like a disappointment to her father, the elder of their village. She’s a very flawed character, but she’s also a very likeable one. She’s desperate to carve a name for herself as an explorer, but it isn’t until her sister (who I just want to strangle, by the way) goes back on her word to help lead the Royal Explorer’s next expedition that Kamzin finally gets a chance to prove herself. And boy did she prove herself. She may be stubborn and reckless, but she’s also a very complex character and I’m excited to see how much she grows in the conclusion of this duology.
So something that has really started bugging me about YA lately is the romance. I don’t know if I’m just getting more sceptical with age, but the romance just hasn’t felt right in a lot of the YA books I’ve read lately, and I was honestly worried this would be another eye-roller. Yet again, I was pleasantly surprised (that really was a common occurrence throughout this book), and I genuinely enjoyed Kamzin and River’s relationship. Their chemistry was excellent right from the start, and things progressed at such a natural pace that I was actually getting a little impatient for that first kiss. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about River because spoilers, but if you’re a fan of the flirty,
cocky confident love interests (read: Herondale boys), I think you’ll adore River just as much as I do. All I can really say is that he’s an incredibly complicated character and one of the main reasons why I need to get my hands on the sequel ASAP.
However. As much as I loved Kamzin and River, I have to say that the secondary characters in this book were… less than impressive. First, there’s Lusha, Kamzin’s older, gorgeous, perfect sister – with the attitude of sour milk. And then there’s Tem, the childhood best friend who is completely in love with Kamzin. Yeah, he’s that character. Admittedly, he was a little more useful than some of his kin (I’m looking at you, Mal Oretsev), but his pining really pissed me off. There were also several other secondary characters along on the journey, but not a single one of them really added anything to the story if I’m being honest. I hate to say it, but I just think Heather Fawcett should have spent a little more time creating unique side characters that aren’t simply there for the sake of it.
But that’s where my complaints screech to a halt. Despite not a lot really happening in this story, the atmosphere and suspense is truly where this book shines. I have no frame of reference, this being my first book about mountain climbing, but I feel like the author really managed to capture the terrifying – yet breathtaking – experience of the climb. Throw in a beautifully written atmosphere and some dangerous fantasy elements, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Speaking of dangerous fantasy elements, I am so intrigued by the witches in this story. All the signs are pointing towards them being a major part of the second book, and I just can’t wait. I’m curious, and I need to know more about these powerful creatures… especially after what happened at the end of this book! C’mon, if you know, you know.
Overall, this is a fun YA fantasy and a strong start to this duology. I can’t wait to see more of Kamzin, River, and (hopefully) the witches in the sequel, as well as more beautifully written settings. If you’re a fan of polar fantasy and/or mountain climbing, I’d definitely recommend you give this a go!