“We are not foretold.”
In the city of Eldra, people are ruled by ancient prophecies. For centuries, the high council has stayed in power by virtue of the prophecies of the elder seers. After the last infallible prophecy came to pass, growing unrest led to murders and an eventual rebellion that raged for more than a decade.
In the present day, Cassa, the orphaned daughter of rebels, is determined to fight back against the high council, which governs Eldra from behind the walls of the citadel. Her only allies are no-nonsense Alys, easygoing Evander, and perpetually underestimated Newt, and Cassa struggles to come to terms with the legacy of rebellion her dead parents have left her — and the fear that she may be inadequate to shoulder the burden. But by the time Cassa and her friends uncover the mystery of the final infallible prophecy, it may be too late to save the city — or themselves.
DISCLAIMER: I received an e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes in this review are subject to change before the final release.
EXPECTED OCTOBER 9, 2018
TW: implied abuse
It’s not a secret that I am absolutely enamored with books that challenge the idea of fate and characters who fight to make their own choices, so I was super, SUPER excited to get a chance to read Beneath the Citadel! It’s set in a word that where power is derived from prophecy, and the notion of fate dictates everything about how the city of Eldra moves forward in the world. It also includes magic, not just of the divination variety, but of the kind that alters memory, unmasks intent, and bonds blood to pure elements at a cost.
Plus, it opens with the main characters being sentenced to death, so you know it’s going to charge right ahead and get into the big dramatic details, and it’s probably not going to slow down. I’m happy to report, too, that “probably” became “definitely,” and the characters were constantly on their toes, racing against fate over the course of a single night to change their lives for good. Gotta keep that plot moving at all times, folks!
I was also enamored with the magic, especially the concept of rooks, who can give and take memories at the cost of remembering everything they take for the rest of their lives. The bloodbond showcased by Evander was also really neat because it wasn’t hereditary magic, but given magic, created through a painful process that isn’t guaranteed to work. It grants the bloodbonded individual control over a pure element, like copper or silver or glass, and even though its applications appear magical, its origins feel experimental or even scientific, which I really appreciated. It’s an odd blend, but a really cool one.
Another cool bit about this book? One character is bisexual! Another is gay! And a third is aromantic asexual and fat! Which is all so wonderful to see. These characters are who they are, and there are no angsty plot points that revolve around them suffering because they’re queer or fat. I will say, however, that I was really disappointed about how Alys, the aro/ace character, was all about logic and common sense and being sort of the buzzkill friend. I’m ace myself, and aro-spec (though that’s a fuzzy part of my identity that’s also linked with being biromantic and is therefore COMPLICATED even for me ugh), and I don’t think I’ve read about a single ace character who isn’t logic driven and aloof or disconnected, which gets tiring really damn fast. Just because someone is ace or aro or aro/ace doesn’t mean they’re going to root themselves in logic and be the one friend who doesn’t seem capable of loosening up. I ran into this in another book that I’ll be reviewing soon and going on at length about, and I really just wish characters on the aro and/or ace spectrums could be depicted with more liveliness and a broader range of personality types. We’re not all Type A, by the book people, and I really wish we had more representation that showed that.
My other problem with the book was the characters. Alys and Evander? I loved them (I do love a good sibling duo). Newt? I got attached because he was so shy and likable. Vesper? Caught between a rock and a hard place, and absolutely fascinating as a result. Cassa? Actually…a little boring. Single-minded, a terrible friend, and difficult to sympathize with even when she does make sacrifices. She was set up to be some kind of reckless hero (and we do need more reckless heroines, I love them!), but then all of her choices seemed to hurt the rest of the POV characters deeply, and I couldn’t help but be really frustrated and disconnected from her. The book starts out by suggesting Cassa and the others are a team, that Cassa is this leader they’ll follow to the ends of the earth, and by the end of it, I couldn’t understand why they would follow her if she kept putting them second all the time. It’s one thing for a character to be unlikable, which is totally fine. It’s another when we’re supposed to connect to a character and understand where their choices come from, but only really get to see that character let their friends down for selfish purposes up until a heroic reversal at the last second. The other characters were cool, but Cassa was really a letdown in the end.
Other than that, there were some loose ends (the Blacksmith? the rest of the world beyond Eldra? the consequences of one character being an unregistered rook?) that I wish had been explored more, but on the whole, I loved the concept and most of the characters. If there were to be another book set in the same world after the events of Beneath the Citadel, I think I would probably be happy to come back and watch how they unfold! There’s a ton of potential here that I’ve found myself attached to, as well as a sketchy lake monster I would be very interested in seeing more of (tbh, another loose end, but one that could be amazing to explore), and on the whole, I think I’m pretty satisfied.
If Beneath the Citadel seems like the read for you, make sure you preorder it, or ask your library to get a hold of it! It’s slated for publication on October 9 this year, and also? It has a GORGEOUS cover. Gotta get some cover love in there, right? Look at how beautiful that is.