Citadel of the Sky (Thrones of the Firstborn #1)
Dreamfarmer Press, 2015
Many generations after a brave hero saved the kingdom of Ceria from evil and darkness, his royal descendants continue to protect the land from magical threats, using the hereditary magic powers of the Blood. Unfortunately, the Blood also carries madness, so each member of the royal family is matched during childhood with a regent handler. Most members of the Blood, including Princess Tiana, welcome the help and the lack of pressure to concern themselves with things like politics, but tensions and power struggles tend to bubble to the surface whenever a new Blight strikes, pushing the Blood and the rest of Ceria’s governing bodies together to confront it. The arrival of a sky fiend, disguised as a sword and magically bonded to Tiana, is just one herald of such an impending era.
The evil plot, rooted in the legacy of heroes past, is fairly divorced from the main characters’ lives and difficult to follow. It's only too easy to skim through the mythos-heavy sections, and then end up hopelessly lost when it all finally becomes important (not that I'm pleading guilty to that, or anything).
Tzavelas obviously didn’t want to tell the same tired, generic fantasy story over again, which is a major part of the book’s appeal. The time of Ceria’s legendary hero is over, and the reliability and importance of that legend is constantly in question. It’s an interesting concept, but given that the family history does become so central to the finale, the dull, distant aura of irrelevance it has through the rest of the story does the book a disservice as a whole.
There are many stories about people chosen for great things who “just want to be normal,” but this trope rings much truer with Tiana than with most. She's eager to help people whenever she can, and realistically glad to have the power she does to make that possible. Instead of vague angst about what a burden that power is and how much she envies people with dull, magic-free lives, we get to see exactly the life she wants — as a royal art patron hanging out backstage at her favorite theater and dancing with handsome noblemen at court functions — and exactly how her power’s side effects impinge upon it, by making it difficult to do things like tie her own shoes and hold conversations without trailing off to talk to people who aren’t really there.
She’s a wonderfully simple character in the best way, excited about the magical shiny things her world is full of, but that the other characters are too preoccupied to see. There’s a particular party scene, involving fortune-like cookies that contain dares instead of fortunes, in which every other character is manipulating the festivities to play some personal or political angle, and Tiana’s opinions on this come out as a frustrated, “Why does everybody cheat at the cookie game?”
Tiana’s illegitimate cousin and effective co-heroine, Kiar, is interesting as well in her opposite way. She wants to be powerful and special, so much so that she once nearly died stealing a dose of magic dust that gave her the ability to access the code of the universe. Yet she continues to underperform as a magic user and hold back from asserting herself as a member of the royal family, maybe for the same reason she took such extreme measures in the first place. She wants to belong somewhere, and there’s a very relatable conflict there between wanting to be noticed and fearing being noticed in the wrong way.
Also intriguing is the political situation of Ceria, with its figurehead royalty and semi-official appointed leadership, but only a few minor characters within Citadel of the Sky seem to be aware of just how intriguing it is, so allusions to it are subtle. Possibly later installments well delve deeper. There certainly seems to be plenty of room for it.
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