RISE OF THE SPARROWSA novel by Sarina Langer
A homeless girl with magic is hunted away from her home to train as the leader of a group dedicated to killing the king, who despises all magic.
-- First reading (ebook)
I quite enjoyed the sequences that took place in Blackrock, when Rachael was homeless and decides to adopt Cephy. There was a grittiness that made the character real. I also thought the struggle of trying to avoid hope, but wanting it desperately, was well portrayed. Unfortunately, after she's swept from that place into the unknown, the book held much less interest to me. It was still well written, but I had a lot of trouble with all the self-doubt that she lays on herself, for pages on end. I get that she's in over her head, but the author feels the need to hammer it home at every moment. The leader of the Sparrows is overeager which somehow makes him stupid, spilling out his goals for Rachael the moment they meet -giving her even more doubts. Her inner thoughts, where she turns things around in her head and makes a decision, were too easy for me. Then follows a lot of uncertainty, which was kept moderately interesting, as she doesn't get trained in how to use her magical gift, but is still expected to lead them, even though she's never led anybody in her life. She didn't even have to be a seer to fulfill her destiny; what purpose does her ability have to the story? For the climax, I was really hoping for some twist that showed a misreading of prophecy, but it wasn't to be. The blind faith in prophecy without even trying to educate Rachael in anything until the very last minute, made the story hard to swallow for me.Spoiler review:
The first couple of chapters were very interesting, with what seems to be great character development. I liked Rachael and her struggles, trying to avoid people, hurting those who try to hurt her, and allowing a crack of hope into her life when a little girl tries to befriend her with bread in the alleys. They become a team, but Cephy can't hold back going to her family. For Rachael, it's easier, as her family is dead (or not, as we find out in the last page of the book). Shunned by everybody, they actively hunt the pair after Cephy burns her family in their home when attacked by her father. The White Guard is called, because magical people are caged and brought to a prison cell where they are tortured.
As a team, they escape Blackrock, but are hopelessly out of their element outside the city walls, another realistic portrayal. Hunted by the much more competent Videl, captain of the guard, they are almost captured, except that Cephy has a gift -the one that got her kicked out of her home in the first place. She can summon fire through her fingertips. The author did a good job of walking the line between magic and X-Men. Even when Rachael and Cephy meet the rest of the Sparrows, there's no mention of other abilities, beyond Ailis's healing. Rachael can see into the future, randomly noting people's deaths in her dreams. She can't control the ability, and it doesn't factor into the story at all, except to make her the object of prophecy.
Cephy burns Videl's soldiers to death, after which they escape to a house, and are met by an evil witch, though she appears nice enough to the girls. Aeron knows that Rachael is the Sparrow of prophecy, but she also knows that Cephy is destined to betray Rachael, and hopefully kill her. Cale, leader of the Sparrows, takes the girls out of Aeron's hands when she'd revealed as insincere in her desires to welcome them into her home. It's a strange dynamic between Cale and Aeron, as she bides her time, knowing prophecy will send Cephy back to her.
When Cale and Arlo get the girls to his home near the king's city, the opposite to Aeron's teachings occurs. They try to teach Rachael how to use her gift (unsuccessfully), and completely ignore Cephy, which guarantees that she'll run away, seeking help from Aeron, who hurt her, but still showed her how to use magic.
I was confused by Cale's age, as I thought he was really old, but then he starts falling in love with Rachael, who's only a teen. He positively gushes over Rachael when they meet, telling her point blank that she's supposed to kill the king -though when they state the prophecy, it says no such thing. She doesn't grow into the role, and it makes no sense to put her in that position, no matter what prophecy says. Nobody questions how Rachael's gift can help them win, only that she'll do it. Cale is stupid -hasn't he planned for this? What did he expect a young woman to say when she's just escaped a life of poverty and hardship.
The hardest part of the book for me was all the crushing doubt in Rachael's mind. It's understandable that she has doubts, but too much of the introspection was given over to it. If she only received some direction, in any way, some of those doubts would have disappeared. I think this also points to an incomprehensible lack of planning on Cale's part.
So while Cephy runs back to Aeron, who turns the girl against her friend, Rachael fails at every attempt to spark her gift. It only occurs to her much later that Aeron had given her something to dampen the dreams. And when she finally gives up on the dreams, she dreams of Cephy attacking her. She convinces Cale to teach her swordplay, which finally starts to give her a little confidence.
Strangely, they go shopping at a market inside the city. I thought Cale was known, from his rescues of other Sparrows, but I guess that's not the case. King Aeric isn't all that swift, either, as he's never had the escapees followed to the abandoned building? He's now made a deal with Aeron to get rid of the Sparrows so his non-magical people can feel that they are safe. But when Aeron keeps getting more and more violent, he regrets the deal. Aeron puts a spell on the magical people of the realm, so they commit suicide over the course of weeks. Then, when the king is at the edge of a breakdown, she reveals the location of the Sparrow hideout and Cale's residence.
Ailis is caught in Aeron's spell and tries to kill herself, and while Rachael and Arlo restrain her, somebody comes later and releases her, so she meets a tragic end. It's a good and surprising scene amid a few of the more stupid things people are doing at that moment.
Meanwhile, events have come to a head, as Cale goes into the city, as do Rachael and Arlo. I was very surprised to see Arlo killed by Videl of all people. I was under the assumption that Arlo was also hundreds of years old, and so had some extraordinary skill. But no, he succumbed to a stupid hit in a duel. Meanwhile, Cephy, turned against Rachael, faces off against her friend, intending her burn her, but with no real reason to it. Arlo kills her before his duel, giving Rachael conflicting feelings, because she was reaching Cephy with words. I guess it's the first sign that Rachael can be a leader.
She makes her way to the king's palace, where she lets herself in and challenges him. He has no intention of winning that fight, paradoxically. None of the people in this society have compassionate strength. I liked his story of how things spiraled out of control while he tried to keep his people safe, culminating in his deal with the devil. Succumbing to Rachael's barely-trained sword, he dies, fulfilling prophecy. He left a note that she should be should succeed him.
Meanwhile, Aeron is killed by another member of the Mist-women, but she dies content, transferring the spirit of the evil dark god from her soul to her killer's. And in the epilog, we find out that Rachael's father is actually the king of a nearby kingdom. The king has sired more magic-users than non-magicals, and had most of them killed -except Rachael, whom he sent away for some reason. By way of a merchant, he's given her a talisman that will give him an advantage over her.
I can't say that I liked more than a handful of passages in this book, but I didn't dislike more than a handful, either. Most of the book did nothing for me, though I was less enamoured of Cale and the other characters who behave strangely or stupidly in so many of the scenes. I wasn't interested enough, unfortunately, to stay with the series.
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