Adler’s life was supposed to change when he murdered his father. He was supposed to be free of the fear and the abuse. No longer would he be his father’s victim; he would be free. Instead, Adler finds himself trapped in an even smaller prison, still his father’s puppet, his father’s vessel. So Adler does what he does best and hides away. He locks the servants out of the house, ghosts his lover, and refuses his duty as the dragon of Eikonia.
Laine is an illegal child, hidden away by her parents with no school, no friends, and no life outside of her house with her parents. Unlike every other Eikonian, Laine has never been Drowned, never had her magic awakened, and so she is unable to know the truth from the lie. Every Eikonian who has gone through a Drowning is able to see and feel the emotions and intentions of another person simply by staring into their eyes. It’s a gift Laine doesn’t have. She has also been under a curse, which she hadn’t known about until the day her parents told her it was broken, the same day an evil man came to rip her away from her parents and trap her in a nightmare.
Skye is a reporter, but no longer a famous one. Due to having too strong an opinion — and not the right one — Skye has been demoted to small, insignificant stories. Until Adler, their country’s dragon, refuses to make magic. Magic is the currency that allows people to buy goods; it’s how they make food and clothes, clean messes, heal, and move from one place to another. Why has Adler forsaken his people? Skye knows there’s a story there, and is determined to tell it.
There’s a lot of plot in this book, some of it more successfully handled than others. The story spends much time in flashbacks, as it goes back in time to when Adler and Skye were children, teenagers, and young adults. These flashbacks are sprinkled in, sometimes to a purpose, sometimes not, to tell us about character-defining moments, but they often feel random. They don’t so much give context to the modern timeline as they show, again and again, just how miserable everyone is.
The world consists of dragons and television stations, motorbikes and magic, Legos and enchanted crystals — which leads to a small, personal gripe with the book; it’s a small choice made that just gets under my skin: How are Legos, a toy created in Denmark, present in a world where Denmark doesn’t exist? Likewise, Yorkshire Pudding in a world where England, and Yorkshire, have never existed? It feels like sloppy world building. Much as having electronics work in a world where magic does everything. Magic makes food and clothes, cleans messes, heals the injured, builds buildings, makes television work, and moves you from one place to another, which means you don’t need cars. There is a token effort to make this make sense, but it didn’t work for me.
Skye is not a girl. They have known that all their lives, but their parents refuse to accept it. They sent Skye to an aunt with instructions to break them until they were willing to be a girl again. Skye experienced starvation, beatings, emotional abuse, and being made to shovel a driveway by hand in a blizzard, which nearly killed them. Skye is an interesting character, but one that was never fleshed out, and one who’s plot just sort of trails along behind the others and never really ends. Skye, their brother, and all the half mentioned threads are just wiped away at the end of the book, seemingly because the book is done.
There’s an art to hurting a character in such a way that the audience feels outrage on their behalf; unfortunately, this book didn’t manage any of that for me. Adler is a broken creature. He was abandoned when he was a child by his mother who knowingly left him with his crazed, sadist of a father. He endured a life of constant beatings, emotional abuse, more beatings — this time by friends of his father who enjoyed watching, as well as joining in — and was looked down upon with the greatest of contempt by every single person in his life. He has been made to feel and believe himself to be lesser in every single way and … I hate to say this, but it didn’t inspire me to like him or to root for him. This is not to say Adler has to be a perfect victim for me to feel sympathy for him, but he does at least have to be a character. Instead, Adler feels like a placeholder where a character should be, going through the motions with no reactions, no thoughts, and no real personality. I can tell you all the suffering he endured, including being raped by his father for letting his lover fuck him, but I can’t tell you who he is as a person. He feels like a collection of events, moved as the plot dictates, and as there is no character, there is no character growth at the end and no real story arc. Just … an ending.
Mark, Adler’s first and only lover, lives under the shadow of his father. The fact that his son was sexually interested in Adler disgusted his father, which caused Mark to hide the relationship from him, obeying his father’s demands that he enter the guard, and — even though he was in love with Adler and knew Alder was in love with him — agreeing to marry a woman. None of which he told Adler until it accidentally slipped out when Adler was buying him a house. Fortunately, Mark’s fiance is willing to let him have Adler on the side, and Adler is so starved for love that he’s willing to accept the betrayal, the lying, and the crumbs of affection tossed his direction by the only person he’s known in his life who didn’t beat him, as well as being his first love and his only lover. I felt no chemistry between Mark and Adler. Mark was heralded as a savior, when all he did was show up and not hit Adler or try to kill him.
Laine blames Adler for her parents’ deaths, because he did nothing to stop them. But all the deaths she has perpetrated, both animal and human, are Adler’s fault because if it weren’t for Adler holding off on giving the world magic, Jeffry wouldn’t have made her do such horrible things. This isn’t helped by the fact that everyone else in this world, with maybe one or two exceptions, also blames Adler for everything. And Adler just agrees and asks for more. He’s not even blaming himself in a tragic, masochistic way; it just feels like he’s just blandly and passively taking it. It made for tiring, unpleasant reading of his chapters because I just wanted him to take some action.
The plots in this book include the possession of Adler by his father, the evil council forcing Adler to do their will, Laine and who she is, Skye and their brother and the drug he’s addicted to, a missing councilor, the lack of magic in the world because of Adler, a prophecy, and Adler not being able to control his dragon. In the end, several plot threads are dropped, and the ones that are given attention are sort of waved at to end with a big fight, but with no real resolution. It’s a mess. There is too little time spent building up the stakes, too much time wallowing in misery porn. The writing is stilted, but the author does a decent job of keeping Adler, Skye, and Laine consistent. I could easily tell who was who in a scene.
Laine is, I think, the strongest character in the book. She is an angry, hypocritical young woman filled with rage and purpose— though without taking responsibility. Where Adler has no flaw and no fire, Laine is flawed in a way that shapes her character, and driven by purpose rather than plot. Skye, too, stands out as a character with potential, but their story was truncated and finished off page.
The pacing, plotting, and lack of personality from the main character made it hard to stay invested. The romance was one-sided, and if it weren’t for the author telling me the two men were in love, I wouldn’t have guessed. It honestly felt like Mark was using Adler for his magic and wealth more than that he was in love, to be honest. The story is open-ended, with the prospect of another book dealing with Laine. However, this book is going to be a pass, from me.