Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colours. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.
Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.
But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveller from far away who whispers rumours that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.
“It’s a midnight lie, she said. A kind of lie told for someone else’s sake, a lie that sits between goodness and wrong, just as midnight is the moment between night and morning.”
Nirrim is a Half-Kith, the lowest rung on the ladder. Their jobs are to create things that Middlings sell to the High-Kith and Nirrims speciality is creating masterpieces of art with bread. As an orphan she was apprenticed to Raven, a Middling who took her in and created a safe space and life for her, one Nirrim believes is better than anything else out there. She gets by making herself seem as normal as possible, shying away from the militia and living an ordinary life, only Nirrim is anything but ordinary. When she gets arrested and meets an intriguing character in prison this person sees something special in her and takes Nirrim on a journey where she things not only about herself, but about her Island as a whole.
Nirrim was a truly intriguing character, she is normal, or so she keeps telling herself. Only she keeps imagining things that she hasn’t been told, and she has the unnatural ability to remember anything she has read or seen and copy without fault. She believes that she is destined to stay in the ward, the part of the Island designated to the Half-Kith. She has been used by everyone she ever loved, most of the time without even realising it and I loved seeing her growth as a character. She has an awful lot of information dumped on her, betrayed and lied to for her whole life seeing her realise there is more out there for her and coming into her full potential by the end was a sight to see.
“He kissed me and I let him. Sometimes it can feel so good to give someone what they want that it is the next best thing to getting what you want.”
Sid was a similarly amazing character. Born into nobility, and so completely unaware of the hardships of life that Nirrim has been put through, she has an almost humorous look on life. She seemingly never takes things seriously, but through her interactions with Nirrim we see the true Sid come out, a girl who wants something she has been told she absolutely cannot have and her realisation at then end was heartbreaking. There were a multitude of other characters, some you despise and some you love.
“If someone stole her voice, she would still find a way to flirt, even silently, with whomever was nearest.”
I haven’t read any of the authors other works so I am unsure how this would tie in, but you absolutely don’t need to have read them to fall in love with this story and the characters. The authors writing style is poignant and beautiful and I was completely swept away by the story she wanted to tell. This book made me angry, sad, wistful and a whole other host of emotions and I fell head over heels in love. She creates a world that wholly encompasses you as a reader, you get angry at the treatment of the Half-Kith and Middlings and feel an over whelming resentment of the High Kith and their prosperity.
“Goldsandaled dawn fell like a thief upon me I wondered what kind of night was so precious that when morning came it felt as it you had been robbed, as if what you wanted most had been cut from you like a bloody tithe. I had never had a night worth stealing.”
The relationships in this book were brilliantly written. From Nirrims love interests, one she desires but feels she does not deserve/ knows it would be dangerous to have, and the other someone she feels indebted too, someone she feels has a power over her, one that if she didn’t do as they pleased she could end up in a dire situation. It is a brilliant insight into cultures and countries where what you want and what is safe for you might be two completely different things. I lived for the romance in this book and when Nirrim decided the danger was worth it I whooped with joy.
“But I knew what it really was. I liked Sid too much. I liked the sight of her bare back. I had wanted to follow the water droplet with my fingertip. In my bed in the dark I touched the Elysium feather where it burned against my breast. I wondered if the feather had made me want Sid. I wondered if it could make her want me.”
Unfortunately the other main relationship in Nirrim’s life is one she sees as maternal, but anyone reading the book can see how completely the person has wound Nirrim around their finger and tightened and tightened until she can’t, and doesn’t want to see a way out. She is used for her skills, but her naivete make her see people in the best light, and even when she hears stories she only believes them when she see’s facts with her own eyes. She doesn’t realise quite how sheltered her life has been until she gets the chance to leave it, even if only for a small time.
“She lit no lamps along the way, so the home was nothing but heaps of shadows around us. The stairs were soundless beneath my feet. I had never walked up stairs that didnt creak. At the top of the landing, she opened a door to a little bedroom that smelled like her – like her dusky perfume, her skin, and brine. The balcony door was full of pink sky. Sid opened the door, and the scent of the sea rushed in. I followed her out onto the balcony. The sea spread before me. It rumpled darkly against the coast. The sun was drowning on water. I heard the muted calls of gulls. And nowhere could I see the wall. I had never seen the sea. I had never not seen the wall.”
I feel like im blabbering and that might be the case but this book was just so good! It was my first 5 star read of the year and I can see it making it onto my top books of the year already. I will definitely be picking up the authors other works, especially the ones set in the same world. Get this one added to your TBR’s because you don’t want to miss it.