I am always on the quest for more fantasy YA, especially immersive fantasy YA. With A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, I built up so much anticipation for a well written and exciting story. I am here to report that I was very much pleased with this book.
The story follows young Malik as he leaves his home with his two sisters to travel to the flourishing city of Ziran for the Solstasia festival. But just when it looks like things might turn around for the siblings, Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, is abducted by a spirit. Malik enters a deal with the spirit in order to save Nadia’s life—kill the Crown Princess of Iran, Karina, and Nadia will be set free.
Meanwhile, Princess Karina suffers a tragic loss when her mother is mysteriously assassinated. She must step up to the role of Sultana to run the Solstasia competition. Karina grieves deeply for the loss of her mother and decides she is going to resurrect her using ancient magic. To do this, she needs the beating heat of a king. In a shocking move, Karina offers her hand in marriage to the winner of the Solstasia competition.
Malik, trying to get close to the Princess, rigs his way into the competition. Tension and attraction builds between Malik and Karina as they grapple with their difficult tasks and the feelings budding between them.
First off, the world-building in A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is so deeply immersive. Sometimes, when reading Fantasy YA, the worlds begin to blend together and I think oh, I’ve been here before. I never thought that with this world. The lore is so rich, and the universe feels so distinct. The author imbues West African folklore and culture into the story, which does so much to enrich the great world building foundation she has set up.
There are some classic YA tropes at play here, and I say that in the ‘this is fun and I love it‘ sort of way. Maybe I’m just a sucker for those classic YA fantasy notes, but I really kind of adored the fun trope-y moments. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin leans into those concepts that YA audiences love. There’s a competition with a set of “trials”, the gentle boy and tough girl, rags to riches, and magical oaths. But all the while, the story itself feels feels fresh.
The author takes a lot of tropes and puts her own twist on them. An impossible problem is set up right from the beginning: one or both of the narrators needs to die in order for either of them to succeed. This creates this drawn out and inescapable tension that makes the story a page turner. We can’t lose Malik or Karina!
I think Malik and Karina are the sort of characters you just naturally find yourself rooting for. Not because they’re perfect, but because you can get mad at them and pull for them all at once. They make mistakes. They have errors in judgement. Karina especially comes from a place of entitlement as a princess who has never had much real responsibility before. Yet quickly she is forced to step up and navigate complicated political challenges all while processing her grief. This helps her blossom with such determination and as the reader I was holding my breath the entire time for the outcome.
Some of the “reveals” felt predictable to me, and perhaps they were a bit over set-up. But even so, this didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story.
Overall, a fun, stunning, and exciting debut for Roseanne A. Brown! I look forward to the sequel and reading much more work from her in the future.