I’m choosy in my reading–unless of course the book is free (as this one is, for Amazon Prime members through January).
The pretty flaming horse on the cover is Ireth, a powerful being from another plane that can be temporarily summoned into a human vessel. You can probably guess the requirements: good health, no piercings to mar one’s wholeness, a summoning tattoo in an extinct language, and…virginity. (Because it’s YA!)
Our human vessel is eighteen year old Sandis, the favorite slave of an underworld kingpin whose gun-toting grafters roam the city of Dresberg doing what they will and delivering their brand of extrajudicial justice. Because this whole occult business is an abomination to the powers that be, Sandis lives in a subterranean fortress, only venturing above to work as a lethal weapon while possessed. (Luckily, she doesn’t remember these episodes: her bound being turns targets into char and ash.) Her resignation changes when she witnesses a fellow high-level vessel die during an summoning experiment.
Out in the polluted, overcrowded city, freelance thief and martial artist Rone (twenty-five, with dark hair, dark eyes, rough stubble, mmmm) is minding his own business. He’s working to keep his sainted mother in comfort and eventually purchase very rare, very expensive letters of transit. He’s been successful in his efforts thus far due to a found magical artifact that grants him conditional invincibility. Naturally he bumps into Sandis right after she’s managed her escape from her handler. They meet cute in a tavern over mugs of apple cider, only to be rudely interrupted by grafters intent on bringing Sandis back. Rone tries to help the cute girl with his skills and his magic doodad. She is so impressed that she steals the doodad and makes a break for it. Hijinks ensue.
“You again,” the second gunman said, appraising Rone before his gaze darted back to Sandis. Why were they after her? What was so special about her?
“What’s your name?” the first gunman asked.
“I’ll give you a hint,” he said, trying to measure where the man behind him stood. “It rhymes with Muck Kerself.”
They didn’t laugh. Sandis looked at him with eyes as wide as a hungry puppy’s. She visibly trembled. She was terrified.
At its most basic, this book is a series of chase scenes. Chapters alternate between Sandis and Rone’s point of view. The main action takes place over a matter of days, giving Sandis and Rone plenty of time to feel “warmth” and shiver and spout curses like “Celestial!” and “God’s tower!” The world-building is serviceable. The religious conflict between the dominant Celesian sect (their leader is the “Angelic”) and the vanished but still powerful Noscon civilization (who made Rone’s artifact and possibly communed with the extraplanar beings) has the most potential. The main characters are likable enough, their relationship sweet enough. Their young bodies do things my body has never done: his “skeleton turned to ice,” her “skeleton seemed to disappear,” guilt feels like a “leaden ball with teeth.” Fun fact: the word “shoulder(s)” is used 117 times.
Recommended if you like your YA vaguely steampunk (plus magic, I think) and action-oriented. The age difference skeeved me out, though not much happens on that front. (But don’t worry, it’s a trilogy!)