Last week, I devoured The Wish Granter by CJ Redwine after a recommendation from my friend Ruth. I loved it to death. Sebastian was a Rachel catnip hero and the dark Rumpelstiltskin world was immensely readable. First off, because I will make you buy this book--- Though the book is the third in the Ravenspire series: they are standalone novels set in a similar world. okay?
Let's dig in, kittens!
Fear out, Courage in.
I craved more, so immediately downloaded The Traitor Prince which blew me away in the best way possible. I am not hyperbolic in saying it is one of the best books I have ever read; because I am not just carrying the hangover of emotion and well-crafted world. I am stating that as someone who loves to watch technique, who catches and revels in nuance, who stops and notices the slow, unfurling threads of allegorical substance, who is alighted by the pursuit of a hero's journey resplendent with heartbreaking themes of sacrifice and grace.
Javan Najafai is the true prince of Akram. He has lived at the prestigious Milisatria Academy for Nobility for ten years, excelling at everything and becoming well rounded enough that he will eventually be able to step into the crown.
He is kind and studious, forsaking the revelry and hobbies of his friends for prayer and reflection and to become the kind of king that his father, the King, will be proud of. He is a devoted servant of his god, Yl' Haliq and relies on his wisdom and guidance as he prepares himself for the arduous and magnanimous task of eventual ascension to the throne.
Since his mother's dying wish that he earn the most honours of any prince educated at the academy, Javan has centered his sights on granting her this honour: furthered by his desire for his father's pride and respect when he graduates at the head of his class and presents the coveted red sash that marks his accomplishment. The guidance from his headmaster and the support of his friend Kallen have seen him to the days leading up to final examinations and graduation.
Now he had to pick up his beliefs, one by one, and examine them the flaws that surely ran through them.
Elsewhere, Rahim, who bears a striking resemblance to Javan and has a threadbare connection to the throne, works with a plot to supplant Prince Javan on the throne after his return to Akram. The true king slowly poisoned, Rahim's estranged father--and the king's closest relative---has wielded his unlikely power to mold the kingdom into place of bleak poverty and despair. While the nobility gets richer, they do so on the backs of the outcasts and impoverished and any clemency the true King might have shown to their plight is squandered under his tyranny.
What follows is a plot that weaves a tapestry reminiscent of The Prince and the Pauper, The Count of Monte Cristo and the book's lesser known eponymous fairy tale.
A swath of grace ( one of many --often undeserved and unexpected) finds Javan escaping the death plot set against him though at tragic cost. Sparing his life, someone who recognizes him for who he says he is, throws him into Maqbara Prison: where if he can survive and win a gruesome gladiator-like champion, he will be granted an audience with the king and a boon of his choosing.
In order to fight for his rightful claim to the throne, Javan will risk his life daily while his faith dwindles and enemies surround, using the skill set he learned at Milistaria not to lead, rather to survive.
The world of the prison --where 80 percent of the novel takes place-- is unbelievably painted in grim and creaky palette. The warden is a fearsome enemy, food is scarce and blood is shed. And yet, Redwine consistently offers smatters of light and hope. One of Javan's allies is Tarek, an old prisoner with a heart of gold and stable countenance who will put readers in mind of Abbe Faria in The Count of Monte Cristo. Tarek's role in the story affected me deeply. Another--and far more reticent connection--- is Sajda. Enslaved at a young age by the warden, she is kept in cuffs and forced to keep the prisoners and the ever-changing range of magical beasts for the circus arena combat in check.
The prisoners --many arrested and confined for minimal disturbance--and often unjustly--- spend their days cleaning the arena that will lead to many of their deaths as well as training (however inexperienced) for the next games day.
Spectators attend lavishly bloodthirsty productions where terrible beasts are thrown in with prisoners--some armed-- some not. Points are assigned for the killing of each creature and the top competitor will be granted the king's ear. It is not, Javan soon realizes, that different than ascending the ranks of the academy as his mother wished.
Javan is a true hero. His heart is splendid. His humility is inspiring. His journey is heartbreaking. Readers of this blog know that I keep one foot in the Inspirational Fiction world and I can safely say the faith message in this story--- integral to Javan's journey--- and written in a subtle, almost-allegorical way, is 80 times more potent than many of the books I have read intentionally published for faith readers in the past year. And yet it is in his doubt and tragedy and moments of hopelessness that he becomes a beacon to lean on. He is not perfect. He takes a wrong step. But at heart---at his core--- is everything that the story needs him to be. He is at times a martyr but only to lead to his destiny.
This book ripped my heart to shreds. I was anxious about finishing it. Anxious to be leaving the way it alighted my world and spirit. And even though I carefully rationed it over the past few days, lingering over its poetically sensory experience, I am so glad that I was finally able to encounter the punch-to-your-stomach poignancy of its climax. This book instills in me the strength to believe, to hope, to endure. Javan is a hero whose faith in god and his eventual restoration for the sake of his people puts him with the greats. He is timeless. He is the hero we return to. He is reminiscent of Dantes, yes, but also of Homer. And, for those of us approaching Easter, his entreaty of Yl' Haliq to intercept his grim fate will put readers in mind of the Greatest Hero of All.
I was profoundly moved by this story. I was broken and sobbing by the end. I was touched so deeply by Javan's goodness, by Tarek's selflessness, by Sajdan's vulnerability. Indeed, I can count a few reading moments previously that have left me so wrung: Jessica Dotta's Price of Privilege trilogy, for one. Stephanie Landsem's The Thief as another. Sometimes I just cried because the storytelling was so perfect and the language so beautiful, its consonance tripping of my tongue as I read phrases aloud, the languorous legato of several lines in their perfect magic order...
But lest you think this is all about presenting a theological tenet or speaking to the balance of visceral darkness and staggering light of humanity, it is so much more than that. This book is a beautifully told story of survival and each competition---ascending in importance --kept my heart in my throat and my pulse pounding. This, readers, is exceptionally written adventure fiction. Javan's strategy to make loose connections with prisoners who would see him dead and to balance his immediate penchant for mercy and assistance in a gruesome ring while cognizant of the greater significance of his survival and restoration, is why we read books. There is a classic sensibility to this piece.
To add, it is a beautifully woven love story between two lonely souls who find each other in the midst of squalor. Sajdan realizes that Javan is who he says he is because of his actions. It goes beyond his noble manner of speech and the way he commands himself, his erect shoulders and his unending knowledge of all of the kingdoms in their world. Javan is princely to his core. A true prince who puts the lives of his people before his own.
Initially, he enlists her help by promising her his knowledge. She is determined to one day shake off her shackles and step into freedom. She wants to learn about the stars--- the galaxy that she climbs to amidst crates and crackles high into the rafters of Maqbara, like an architect plotting to build a steeple that will pierce close to heaven.
Being her friend was like taking a ride on a half wild stallion with nothing but your wits and your courage between you and a long, dangerous fall.
But as for one of the greatest books I have ever read, it comes in the execution of the plot and the pieces falling into perfect place. In the subtle moments where the quest shifts from Javan's survival to his recognition that he must win for the goodness of humanity, that there is a far greater weight. It comes in his recognition that Yl' Haliq has presented him with a path of suffering for a greater purpose than all of his prayers for restoration and redemption could ever have imagined.
Yl' Haliq was with him, whether Javan could feel him or not. The sacred texts were clear.
It comes in the way that Redwine understands the keen sensibility of the reader--- in the meted metrics of intensity--- in her shifting of perspective during arena sequences. Indeed, I nearly gasped at the brilliance of her shifting the point of view to that of the villain (there is more than one villain in this piece, all brilliantly realized and dimensional).
It is in her perusal of nightmares--living and imagined--- in the power that Sajda hides and then wields with abandon when the life of another is on the line.
And in the stillness of his mind, an idea formed, crystallizing before he realized what was happening. He clenched his folded hands as hope, soft and fragile, unfurled in his chest and took root. He was right where he was supposed to be He was meant to hurt the way his epople hurt. To see the truth of Akram from their eyes. Their grief was his to bear. Their injustices his to make right He was destined to lose what he'd thought was his so that he could gain something even more important---wisdom.
It is in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment when slight narrative intrusion turns our minds: no longer is she referring to Javan by his name but slowly, achingly, she begins to speak to the Prince of Akram. It is when his world crumbles around him, that the authorial voice restores his rightful place.
It is in the heart and humanity and hope whose resonance spans far beyond a made-up sphere set years and years ago and surged with magic.
Authors use tropes and tales to tell their truth. Redwine inhabits a fairytale like atmosphere to speak to weave a treatise of faith and doubt and unbelievable sacrifice. This book will strengthen you.
And, at the end of the day, it is just a damned joy to read.
"I kept praying for deliverance. For escape. I was so consumed with the wrong done to me that I failed to stop and listen. To learn. But I've been listening, Sajda. And I know that I was always meant to be in Maqbara. I was meant to understand the corruption my uncle brought to Akram, the pain it causes my people and the horrors that take place here in the name of sport.... And I was destined to meet you. I wouldn't take back a second my own pain if it meant that you and I would be strangers. But my pain isn't the most important thing to me. Yours is. I would do anything to take backk the heartbreak you feel. Even if it meant I'd never get to be your friend in the first place."
Like, guys, for the love of cookies. It is the most lusciously romantic, heart stopping, action packed ,gruesome, alive and wonderful and wisdom-filled and faith-surged piece of fiction in the freakin' land. This author is a genius, her pen is inspired and every word will rumble in your chest and every theme will light your eyes like a bulb and can we please just make her write more in this ilk forever? and ever?