Author: Nadine Brandes
Published By: Thomas Nelson Fiction
Expected Publication: 10th July (whoops!)
Thank you to Thomas Nelson Fiction and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, I was super excited with it because 17th century historical fantasy is not something that I come across very often and I love this period of history, so it was definitely something that I was really excited to read.
First off, the concept of the story is so darn cool. Like a retelling of the Gunpowder Plot in an England where everyone uses magical masks to control colours? Definitely one of the more inventive fantasy that I’ve read in a while-I read a lot of fantasy so sometimes it’s difficult to find books that feel new and fresh and original and this one definitely did.
Because the book takes place over two years, the plot is quite slow to start off with, it’s only toward the end of the first section “Grey” and the beginning of the second section “Black” that the pace really starts to pick up as the Gunpowder plot really starts to get underway. It does get better in terms of pace, but those first hundred pages or so were a little bit of a slog to get through as not much is really happening. However once the pace picks up, things get really exciting, especially in the last few sections when the story is getting to its climax.
My interest in the magic system was definitely what kept me reading in the first part of the book when the plot was a little slow-I thought it was so cool and creative. Basically everyone has a mask which they can use to manipulate different colours, the whole idea is that each person should only be able to control one colour but there are some people who want to be able to use all the colours through the use of White Light. The idea of using masks has always fascinated me so combining these with being able to manipulate objects through the use of different colours? Yup, I will never not be obsessed with this magic system.
I wasn’t overly attached to the narrator Thomas at first. He seemed a bit bland and I wasn’t entirely keen on some of the sexist views he espoused at the beginning of the book (he comments that the main female character Emma is better than other girls because she doesn’t show any cleavage *eyeroll*) but I LOVED his character development throughout the book. At first Thomas kind of just seems like he is floating along and not really making any choices of his own but as he grows and learns more throughout the book, he starts striking out on his own and becoming more independent and really thinking about what he wants and what is actually best for the country and by the end I just wanted to give the boy a hug. At the start of the book, I was like, yeah Thomas is okay, but he’s a bit bland and boring and by the end I was like LOOK AT MY BOY, HE’S BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH AND HE’S JUST TRYING HIS BEST AND I MUST PROTECT THE PRECIOUS (I only have two speeds for characters apparently, bland indifference or must protect at all costs). He has a bit of a hero complex but that’s understandable for a 17th century man and for the most part I did find it kind of endearing. It was great to see a YA novel with a male first person narrator, that’s much rarer that it really should be.
The main female character Emma, I just adored. I love historical women who want to go outside of the box society has set for them, and Emma just totally embodies that. She wants to strike out on her own and paint for a living and no one will hire her to be an apprentice even though she’s an amazing artist and skilled at using colour power (because sexism) but she doesn’t let the fact that no one is willing to give her a chance stop her from trying. She’s super powerful, and really brave and compassionate and I loved getting to see such a well rounded female character. She’s also black, because yes, black people did exist in 17th Century Britain and the author does explore the racism that she faces, but at the same time, Emma’s story isn’t totally about that.
I loved seeing the development of the relationship between Thomas and Emma, they have a really sweet relationship and Thomas learns and grows so much from Emma, at first he’s like MUST BE A MAN AND PROTECT and then he’s like, okay, this girl can stand up for herself. His relationship with Emma is also key in his decisions towards the end of the book. Emma also learns and grows from Thomas as well, as she sees what she really wants out of a relationship and learns that she does not have to stay with the boy who is blackmailing her. It was so nice to see a relationship in a YA book that is based on mutual respect, we need more of these!
If you know the history of the Gunpowder Plot, the story is relatively predictable (and of course, you will know how it ends before you get there) but Nadine’s magical twists and turns mean that the predictability of the historical part of the story never gets boring. I particularly loved the villain of the story, without wanting to give away too much, he was really great and I thought the Stone Plague was a great way of adapting the plague at the time to fit a magical story.
I loved how much the father/son relationship of Guy and Thomas was central to the story, as parent/child relationships are so rare in YA and it was great to see their relationship grow and develop through the story, especially since they had been estranged before the events of the story, so they are really just meeting each other for the first time.
The whole Keeper/Igniter war is very reminiscent of the Catholic/Protestant divisions in the 17th century, and I’m pretty sure that White Light is supposed to signify God, but it’s not whack you over the head with it religion, so if you’re not a big fan of books with religious themes, don’t worry, they are here, but they are relatively subtle and I thought it was quite a clever way to combine religion with the fantasy aspects of the book.
I liked the way that the real life plotters were incorporated into the book, aside from Catesby, I didn’t really know much about the other plotters so it was great to get to learn a bit more about the plotters that you don’t hear as much about through this book. The whole thing at Holbeche House, I had no idea that actually happened, I assumed they were all caught at the same time, so that was definitely interesting to find out about-I love it when I read historical books and they teach me something new!
I liked how White Light was kind of snarky and had a sense of humour-my favourite kind of character, even though White Light is more of a presence than a character, but you get my point!
There were a few gruesome bits, especially involving the plague, so if you are a bit squeamish, just be pre-warned that there are some gross bits in this book!
The ending was bittersweet, I’m glad that the author stuck to the history, because we all know how the Gunpowder Plot worked out, though it was heartbreaking to read about but also that there was a glimmer of hope for Thomas and Emma, because it would have kind of sucked if she had ended with the death of Guy Fawkes (it’s history guys, the end to the Gunpowder Plot is not a spoiler) and just left on that sad note, without offering any sort of hope for the future, so it was nice to have a not totally depressing ending!
Overall, this was a really great historical fantasy, such a unique and creative take on a well known historical event and it was definitely great to read a historical book about a time period that is not explored enough in my opinion. I am definitely looking forward to reading Nadine Brandes’ next book because its about the Romanovs and I LOVE the Romanovs!
My Rating: 4/5
BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-Emma is really the only named female character in this book because 17th century, of course we can’t have more than one woman……*eyerolls viciously*
My next review will be of Days of Blood and Starlight, the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.