Date Read: January 13, 2018 – January 17, 2018
Date Released: January 30, 2018
Obligatory Statement: I received an e-arc of this from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
First Thoughts: This book is a lot to read about. There are some heavy topics but Shalia is a fantastic character who overcomes them with love and hope. And I know that sounds cheesy but trust me, this book is fantastic.
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.
My Spoiler Free Thoughts:
Wow. Just wow. How can such a pretty book be so dark? Not to steal Reign of the Fallen‘s thunder but Reign the Earth takes the cake for a pretty and dark book. (Side note: both of these books are fantastic and feminist and you need to read them!) The synopsis does not do this book justice, as it makes it seem like there is this cute little love triangle and Oh, no she has powers! what is she going to do?! When in reality, it is a book about loving yourself and your family, holding on to your beliefs even when you are told they are wrong, and most importantly never giving up hope.
I am also putting out there a trigger warning for verbal and physical abuse. And these are deep themes within the book and Gaughen writes them with grace but there were some points that it was hard to read. There is also rape in a marriage which I feel is an important topic to discuss in the era of #metoo because even though she kind of consented the first time it was not an enthusiastic yes but more of an “I am only doing this because I know that it is my duty” yes and the other times, her husband, Calix, never really asked for consent as he thought that he could take whatever he desired.
The main antagonist Calix, any of you who if you follow me on my bookstagram will instantly recognize him as the guy I wanted to be trampled by his horse, is one of the worst characters that I have ever read about. He took Umbridge’s spot as the second worst character and if you have ever heard me talk about Umbridge then you know that there are no words to describe how much I detest her. He is a cold dictator who needs to understand the difference between love and submission because he has no idea. Gaughen wrote him so well that, like Shalia, even though I knew that he was cruel I was still hoping for him to change and to be better. And then there are his misogynist, homophobic, sexist, racist views as to the world that in turn fuel his narcissist and abusive tendencies. For example, we have this lovely gem:
“What is the Erudium?” [Shalia] asked.
“A temple of learning,” [Calix] told me. “Where our young men are educated and our young women are groomed.”
“Groomed,” [Shalia] repeated.
“Yes,” [Calix] said. “Taught in the arts that will serve as wives and mothers. Sewing, how to fix their hair, that sort of thing. We’ve seen the dangers of overeducating women in other countries – we do make such mistakes in the Trifectate.” -pg. 152-153
To which I was like:
When you ignore half of the population, you are crippling your country, not making it better. And this was not just one isolated incident, Calix made a variety of comments about how women are lesser and only exist to serve their husbands and to have children. Calix learns that women are not delicate flowers when Shalia proposes that the women work in the grain mill because there are not enough men since they are serving Calix in the army. But that only slightly changes his opinion on women.
Now Shalia on the other hand- she is a fantastic character. In the beginning, I will admit, I questioned if she did, in fact, have a backbone but I continued reading I saw her transform into a queen. Gaughen did a great job with Shalia’s power; she can control the Earth which almost unseen in fiction. Now my favorite part is how Gaughen had Shalia use love, instead of the trope I must be angry to use my power, and I think that speaks about Shalia so well. From agreeing to an arranged marriage for peace to trying to change Calix, she did it all out of love. And that made her stronger, which is fantastic because we need more love in this world.
Gaughen manages to create characters I cannot help but either love or hate. This is what marks a great author. Yet, she manages to take it a step further to the point where even her secondary characters are notable and memorable. It is not just Shalia and Calix that make me care; no, there is also Kairos- Shaila’s brother, who is always kind and only wants her to do what is best for her. Or Galen, who is the exact opposite of his brother. He truly cares about Shalia and their people.
One of my complaints about the story was the beginning was confusing as there were a lot of names, like of her family and places, being thrown at me at once and I was getting very confused. It also was not capturing my attention the way that I hoped. I was thinking about DNF’ing but I managed to find my bearing and I am glad that I pushed through as this was an amazing read.
My Definitely Not Spoiler Free Thoughts:
STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!!!!
So this is basically all about Calix and how much of a bloody child dictator he is because I need to write out my anger. Oh and thank you to my best friend for listening to me talk about the horrid moments in this book and sorry for basically spoiling everything.
Before Shalia came into the picture, Calix was in love with an Elementae and when Calix saw her with another guy, he, in his ever possessive ways, thought that she was unfaithful to him and killed her. And then proceeded to kill an entire race of people because he could not handle his girlfriend talking to a guy. And then, he was too cowardly to say that he was the one who actually did it and blamed it on his father. I was livid when I was reading this. As we hear Kata’s memories of the night that she watched her parents and so many of her countrymen burn alive, this just compounded my ire at Calix.
So that was probably the worst thing that Calix did. He also gouged out a guard’s eyes because he saw Shalia unclothed in their bed after Calix allowed the guard to enter into their bedchamber, and then responded to Shalia,(after she asked why he would do such a thing),by saying men are animals who cannot control their sexual urges and the guard would never be able to look at Shalia again without wanting to have sex with her.
Oh yeah, and there was a roadside robbery, the details are not important but afterward, Calix says “So my wife is more important than my money. Is that what you are saying?” (pg. 77). And then afterward, he asks her if everything is okay and calls her “my love” (pg.78). And that is another thing that I hated. Calix always calls her “Wife” like she is just an heir-making, Calix-pleasing machine. The only times he shows her some affection is when after he abuses her and calls her “my love” or “my queen” to exploit her ability to love and so he can keep her under his thumb.
Shalia also becomes pregnant and of course, Calix is happy about this because she is, in his eyes, fulfilling her purpose. And then he goes on this little bit about how they are going to name the boy (because of course he sure that it is a boy), Zeno, and that he is going to have another little brother and a little sister and how he is going to treat them so well. Sounds adorable right? Like he actually has a heart? But then fast forward about 150 pages, something happens (I mean, I might as well save a few plot points for you) and Calix responds in his anger by hitting Shalia and causing her to have a miscarriage. I was reading this and I was screaming at Calix because he was all, “Ohh I am going to love this child and I want you to come to care for me.” and then he goes and does this and I am saying “You don’t want her to care for you, you want her to be there for your every beck and call. You want her to be subservient”!
Now that my little tirade is over, I would like to end this review on a happy note: I am going to talk about Shalia and Galen’s kiss in the cave and how due to her Earth magic and the ability to love, Shalia causes the cave to become covered in these gorgeous crystals and ugh, it was magical and I was totally fangirling.
And if you got this far, then I thank you because this was an intense book but it was also amazing and I hope that even after having read all of these spoilers that you still read the book and appreciate it.
Thank you again to the publisher for providing me a copy of this book to review.
(Cover Image and Synopsis from GoodReads)