Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross – ARC Review!

After centuries of sleep, the gods are warring again. But eighteen-year-old Iris Winnow just wants to hold her family together. Her mother is suffering from addiction and her brother is missing from the front lines. Her best bet is to win the columnist promotion at the Oath Gazette.

To combat her worries, Iris writes letters to her brother and slips them beneath her wardrobe door, where they vanish—into the hands of Roman Kitt, her cold and handsome rival at the paper. When he anonymously writes Iris back, the two of them forge a connection that will follow Iris all the way to the front lines of battle: for her brother, the fate of mankind, and love.

Having adored Ross’s Elements of Cadence series I went into this with super high expectations and, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I did miss and feel a lack of the world building we got with her adult series. The God’s have awoken and are now at war. Iris Winnow doesn’t care about war though, she just wants her family back together again, but with a brother lost in the front lines and a mother who has taken to drinking since he left, she has been left to pick up the pieces and try to keep them afloat, and the best way she can do that is by winning the columnist position at the Oath Gazette. To assuage her worries, Iris has taken to writing to her brother and slipping the letters under their wardrobe door, only for them to be gone the next time she looks. Come in Roman Kitt, Iris’s nemesis and the other person up for the position she craves, who is somehow the recipient of Iris letters. When he anonymously writes back, the two forge a connection that will take them miles away from the safety of Oath, to the front lines where the fate of their relationship, Iris’ brother and all mankind awaits them.

Iris and Roman are both brilliant characters. Iris, someone from the poor side of town, she has had to become the sole provider for her family after her brother left for war and her mother quit her job and started drinking. She desperately needs the position at the Oath Gazette, but knows that Roman’s nepotism is more likely to get him the job than any skill she possesses. She’s feisty, snarky, but also just so incredibly desperate to lead a life without pain and heartache, and she is no way near prepared for what she will see when she gets to the front lines. Roman comes from money, but while Iris’s family was warm and loving, Roman’s was cold and unforgiving, choosing his path in life for him without giving him any options. He’d have rather gone to university than joined the Gazette, but once he gets there and meets Iris his competitive streak arises and he can’t help but get distracted by her. Roman may come across as a little haughty, but deep down he simply wants someone to love him for him, not his family or his money.

Alongside these we meet a bunch of well built side characters, my favourite being Attie and Marisol, the two friends Iris and Roman make in their time at the front. But Ross chooses to put her focus on our main POV’s ensuring we spend as much time in their heads, with their thoughts, wants and dreams, as we do following their actions.

Ok, so the world building, We get some, enough to follow the story I would say, but I just desperately wanted more. Whether this was a conscious decision with this being classed as YA over adult I’m not sure, but I just felt that we got the barest amount of information possible to ensure we understood the war, but not enough to sate my appetite. How did the God’s first get here? How many were there? How did magic first get into the world? Was it readily available to all or only a select few? I have lots of questions, and I just wish that we could have spent more time delving into the history of the world and how it got to where it is today. That being said, the world building we did get was fabulous, Ross interjects little stories throughout that add to the history of the world, as well as giving us multiple options as to how the battle between the God’s originally started and why it stopped for so long.

The story is told in Ross’s typical lyrical and prosaic writing style, though slightly less flowery than her Cadence series, and the interjections of wit, as well as the drama and romance made for a story I struggled to put down. One thing I think Ross did really well was showing the terror of war. In Oath, miles away from the fighting, it’s easy for people to ignore the war, adamant that it would never reach them. But when Iris and Roman get to the front lines, they start to see the reality, the danger. The monsters that terrorise the towns day and night, the soldiers who have to live in trenches, never sure when the enemy will attack. There was a certain scene in the book that was so intense & emotional and I think captured that kind of warring incredibly well.

The romance was more rivals to lovers than enemies I would say. They never really dislike each other, rather keep each other at an arms length because they are vying for the same position. But it is wondrously slow burn, and I enjoyed the choice to have Iris not know she was writing to Rowan because it added an extra depth to the story as well as a little drama, and seeing her fall for Carver and Roman, not knowing they were both the same person was well done. Rowan falls first, obviously, and it’s clear from the beginning that he has feelings for her, which is why I mentioned it’s not a proper enemies to lovers arc, but despite that I still adored following their relationship, the verbal sparring, the realisation of feelings and the inevitable crashing together.

I think it’s safe to say I loved this book. I know I moaned a little about the world building, but I think YA tends to have less nowadays anyway, so it might be me being picky more than anything else. If you’re a fan of Ross’s writing I would highly recommend this and the absolute killer cliffhanger ending has ensured I will be picking the sequel us as soon as I can get my grabby hands on it.

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