Feb 7, 2018

The tale of the daughter of the dessert || Reign the Earth by A.C.Gaughen

Title : Reign the Earth
Author : A.C.Gaughen
Publisher : Bloomsbury
Release Date : January 30th 2018
Synopsis : 
Shalia is a proud daughter of the desert, but after years of devastating war with the adjoining kingdom, her people are desperate for peace. Willing to trade her freedom to ensure the safety of her family, Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands.

But she soon learns that her husband, Calix, is motivated only by his desire to exterminate the Elementae—mystical people who can control earth, wind, air, and fire. Even more unsettling are Shalia’s feelings for her husband’s brother, which unleash a power over the earth she never knew she possessed—a power that could get her killed. As rumors of a rebellion against Calix spread, Shalia must choose between the last chance for peace and her own future as an Elementae.

This intense, richly drawn high-fantasy by the author of Scarlet will hold readers spellbound.

There's mild spoilers ahead in this review. None of them reveal any plot, however, I had to mention them as they might be triggers for some readers.

Let me come straight to the point. This book is not for everyone. It sounds like a typical high fantasy, with tones of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but it's anything but. The book is dark, has heavy themes, and for God's sake should've come with some hefty trigger warnings. My copy was an ARC, so maybe they added it later, but if not, here is a plea to the publishers and the author - please add some.

Shalia is a daughter of the desert who is married off to the opposite kingdom as the wife of King Calix in exchange of peace between the countries. At first everything seems well, she is sure that she can even come to love her new husband, but as time passes, she discovers hidden powers - the power that her husband detests, and could even kill her. Amidst a rebellion, her tumultuous marriage and her forbidden feelings for her brother in law, Shalia tries to emerge through the trials and confusion, and Reign the Earth is the story of her incredible journey.

I was a huge fan of Gaughen's Scarlet, so I was really looking forward to this book. I also have a huge soft spot for queens, so I was excited to meet Shalia. As the story opened, I was intrigued. The world of the desert, the forbidden magic of the Elementae, the mystery that surrounded Calix and his kingdom - I really liked the way it developed, until we hit the heavy concepts, and I was just thrown off, for a lack of a better word.

Don't get me wrong, I like my books dark. And I am not a person who shies away from heavy themes. But the thing about Reign the Earth was that they came without a warning. Shalia's marriage is abusive. And Gaughen doesn't shy away from making the point extremely clear. Calix strikes Shalia once. But for the entirety of their marriage, he emotionally abuses her, and to put it simply, it was disturbing. He was controlling, manipulative and gradually clipped Shalia's wings, and it was so emotionally tough to read. Some of the physical relations didn't have consent on Shalia's part, and I literally shivered when I read some scenes. 

Shalia is an amazing heroine. She has an incredible character arc, and the gradual journey from which she goes from a sheltered daughter to a strong queen who have gone through a lot is tragically beautiful. Your heart breaks for her, and as she emerges as a fierce woman in the end of the book, you can't help but cheer for her. There's this beautiful scene where she tells her brother that she's tired of the men in her life making choices for her, and I was just smiling wholeheartedly at that point. 

Unfortunately I didn't feel anything for the romance. Though Calix isn't the love interest - thank God for that - his brother didn't spark any feelings in me. Galen is brave, yes, and there's a point in the book where he really proves to be a hero, yet I wanted him to stand up and do something. To speak up, and to do the right thing. I couldn't appreciate the things he did at the end, because I was still bothered about all the things he didn't do, and could've done.

A character worth mentioning is Shalia's brother Kairos. He was so charming and cunningly clever, it's impossible not to love him. There were some secondary characters who I wish got more development, but I am looking forward to see their stories in the sequels.

Overall, Reign the Earth is a beautiful feminist story, a book that's so important and relevant right now. I would recommend it to everyone, unless of course, you wouldn't be comfortable reading a book with such heavy themes. Let me put them all very clearly - the book has emotional, verbal and physical abuse, marital rape, pregnancy, possibility of miscarriage, torture and brutal violence. Also, Bloomsbury, fix those warnings, and we're good to go.

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