Series: Even the Darkest Stars #1
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 5th 2017
Genres: young adult, fantasy
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Set in a fictional Himalayan kingdom, this is the story of a girl enlisted by a legendary explorer to help him climb the kingdom’s deadliest mountain – only to discover that his true mission may threaten her whole world.
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 every 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 cimbing 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.
For those that need the warning, there are several animal deaths in this book. They happen fast but are fairly descriptive. I’m still a bit traumatized.
Some things you will find in Even the Darkest Stars: witches, creepy forests, animal familiars, shamanism, ghosts, avalanches, yaks, talismans, fire demons, and astronomy.
I was going to give this book 5 stars until almost the very end. There was something that happened that I found emotionally manipulative and unnecessary to the plot. I don’t think it made the ending have more of an impact, and so it was not needed. What happened really bothered me, and it affected my overall enjoyment of the book.
Aside from that though, wow, this book was fabulous. Well researched, amazing world-building, and you can clearly see that the author cares about the culture she wrote about. I didn’t read the blurb before I started this book, and I guessed it was set in a fictional Himalayan village before I was told that was the case, so well done on the the author’s part in really giving it that realistic flavor. Also, there are NOT a lot of books out there that use Himalayan settings, culture, and mythology as the base for a fantasy novel, and I have read exactly ZERO young adult books that are set in Himalayan countries. I definitely want more after reading this.
The protagonist is a bad-ass, but she’s also definitely flawed and is well attuned to her own weaknesses and strengths. There is definitely romance in this book, but I wouldn’t say it’s the focal point at all. I thought for a while there was going to be a love triangle and I was on board with it because both guys (Tem and River) were completely different, but that didn’t end up happening the way I thought it would at all.
Big ups for writing about mountain climbing in a really accessible way that almost anyone could understand. The author captured the excitement and danger at the same time, and I can tell she modeled Raksha (the big mountain they have to climb) after Everest. A few years ago I read a really long and detailed article about what climbing Everest is like, and I’m wondering if she read the same article because a lot of stuff in that article showed up in this book.
Anyway, I really, really loved this book and it’s developed cast of lovable and eccentric characters. I’m a bit pissed over the ending, but I’m fully invested and will DEFINITELY be reading the second book. For the record, I didn’t hate the entire ending, just the one part. The way it closed out and left new and exciting threads for the next book was absolutely fantastic, especially since I thought I knew the protagonist well enough to not do what she did, but it entirely caught me by surprise.
It’s tough to talk about this without spoilers, so I guess you’re just gonna have to read it!