Governments didn’t have to listen to the people until the people made it hurt not to listen.
Noam Álvaro, a sixteen year old son of undocumented immigrants, wakes up in a hospital bed as a sole survivor of a deadly outbreak of magic. Now, equipped with powers, he finds himself being raised from the status of a refugee into the ranks of the elite of Carolinia. His rare ability catches the eye of the most powerful man in the country – Lehrer Calix – who offers him tutelage, which looks like a perfect way to finally be able to make change. But nothing comes without a price.
Even though the writing is pretty simple and straightforward, I found myself enjoying it a lot. It’s very easy to read, and even those action-filled moments aren’t confusing to follow. The magic system is very science-y, but I also understood it pretty quickly.
But because so much of the magic system is “science” based and because it is so well explained, it was very easy to spot the parts that were very conveniently explained… not as well. For example, I still don’t know how does the antitechnopathy technology works. It plays a pretty big role in the story, making the plot more complicated where it needs to be, but it kind of feels like the easiest option for the author, instead of an actual obstacle in Noam’s storyline.
Something that actually surprised me is that there is a fair amount of curse words in this book, even though it is a young adult novel. I don’t mind that at all, in fact I think that if makes the story feel much more real and human (I mean, have you ever met a teenager who doesn’t curse? Especially in very, VERY stressful situations?), but I know that there are people who wouldn’t like this kind of language in a novel dedicated towards younger audiences.
Noam is a 16 years old, Jewish, bisexual, half-Colombian boy. He’s a good and sweet person, but he’s very shortsighted and his naivety sometimes makes him feel like an anti-hero. On one hand I wanted to shake him sometimes, because how could he not feel that he was being so terribly manipulated, but on the other… how could he act any different? His weaknesses and his passions were being used against him by people so much more powerful and knowledgeable than him. And he’s just a 16-year-old.
My favourite character to observe was definitely Lehrer Calix. I knew that there was something off about him, but I couldn’t figure out what it was and it was driving me absolutely INSANE. It took me embarrassingly long to finally get it, even though all of the hints were right there. He’s such an interesting character. He’s terrifingly smart and his powers give him an incredible advantage over everyone else.
And then there’s Dara. He’s Lehrer’s ward and Noam’s love interest. And he’s everything a good love interest should be – mysterious, a little rude and very, very beautiful. Their romance is a slow-burning one, but it honestly wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Still, he’s much more than just a prop for Noam, he’s a very well-crafted and interesting character, with an awful, awful past.
I usually don’t reach for books with m/m romance because of a simple reason – I am a woman and I just can’t put myself in that story and it makes me feel a little disconnected. I prefer reading m/f and f/f books and that’s just how it works for me. But somehow I was really engaged in the romance between Noam and Dara. Maybe because the author crafted them with such care that I just couldn’t help myself.
While this is definitely a character-driven novel, the plot is still there. It’s definitely a slower-paced book, that doesn’t really pick up until the very end, but I didn’t mind that at all. There is enough to occupy your mind (the whole mystery with figuring out what powers do Lehrer and Dara have was VERY engaging) that you don’t really mind the lack of action.
The magic system in this book is very interesting. It’s based on the powers we all know and love, but it gives it an interesting twist. You need to have the understanding of the thing you are trying to control, before you are able to use your power. So if you have the ability to heal, you won’t be able to do that until you study the workings of a body. I found this to be insanely fascinating. Because of that, Noam spends a big part of this book learning and I enjoyed that. I tend to really like stories that portray growing into and learning about your powers instead of just simply… having them. It makes everything feel a bit more real and a bit more possible.
During the course of the book there is a returning topic of undocumented immigrants. It’s a very important part of this book and it’s very easy to draw comparisons to our current situation. The book offers a view that is truly heartbreaking, but is true and very important. This novel definitely doesn’t shy away from hard topics and I respect it for that.
This is the kind of YA book that I love. It’s a YA book that is real. It talks about things that are not easy to talk about and it doesn’t pretend that teenagers don’t curse, drink, smoke and have sex. It portrays them as people. So the young adults that read it can see themselves as people, too. It’s a very important book and I am truly grateful that it came my way and that I had the opportunity to read it.
Content warnings: parent’s death, pedophilia
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review