Tuesday Reviews Day: Reign of the Fallen, Sarah Glenn Marsh

A delicate golden mask in the shape of a skull with ornate bird and bone details, wearing an elaborate jeweled silver crown, pictured on the cover of Sarah Glenn Marsh's novel.

The cover art for Marsh’s novel is every bit as dark and delightful as the novel itself.

I’ve had this book on my Goodreads TBR since I read about it on Twitter, so opening my January PageHabit box to find it peering out at me was better than Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to read it, and I tore through it in just a matter of days.

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For the people of Karthia, magic is as everyday and ordinary as blue skies and songbirds. The people worship a five-faced goddess who has bestowed five magical gifts upon the people. Blue-eyed Karthians like Odessa are necromancers, able to cross into the Deadlands and bring the souls of the recently departed back to life, but also to prevent the raised dead from becoming zombie-like monstrosities called Shades. But like all mages, their magic comes at a cost: necromancers cannot be raised from the Deadlands.

As Odessa and her partner Evander prepare to cross into the Deadlands to raise Karthia’s eternal king yet again, they are greeted with a grisly scene: one of their tutors, crawling out of the Deadlands gate in a bloody mess. His death sends shockwaves through the kingdom, the harbinger of something going terribly awry. And when Shades begin leaving the Deadlands, attacking villagers in broad daylight, Odessa and her fellow necromancers are forced to take the kingdom’s safety in their own hands.

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So. Reign of the Fallen‘s first few chapters were a little slow, and admittedly there were a few points where at first I thought I might be reading a book meant for the younger side of the YA spectrum. Oh, but then. This book comes to life like a wildfire, ramping up the action and the violence and the tension like a rollercoaster ride, and I was completely hooked.

The book is told from the perspective of Odessa, an openly bisexual, non-white young woman, in an apparently interracial relationship. Her adopted brother is in a homosexual relationship, and these relationships are not treated as abnormal or unacceptable. The book handles issues of PTSD, drug addiction, grief and loss, and even classism. It seems that as much as the book tries to address, it should really collapse under its own weight, yet the main storyline shines even through the messaging of the novel.

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How I found it: Page Habit YA Box #08
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT+, bildungsroman
Content warnings: Violence (graphic), sex (mild), drug abuse, PTSD
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes
Is it a standalone? No; at least one more appears to be in the works, according to Goodreads
So what worked? Worldbuilding, character development, representation,
What didn’t work? Overall, Marsh made some excellent narrative choices here. While there might be some things I wish were different for selfish reasons, I don’t think there’s anything that would have worked as well or better by being changed.

Overall: Sarah Glenn Marsh’s novel seamlessly blends an action-packed, intense whirlwind of a plotline with culturally relevant sociopolitical issues to make a story that sucks you in; Karthia may be a faraway, magical place, but it feels like you’ve tumbled through the pages, following along behind Odessa, Evander, Jax, and Simeon as they struggle to process their personal grief while also fulfilling their duty to their country. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to younger YA or middle-grade readers, I do think that readers in the mid- to higher-level YA demographic and older will enjoy this novel and take away something really meaningful. I loved the diverse representation in the novel’s cast of characters, and I think the story contains critical messaging for anyone, especially young readers, who are struggling with loss, grief, sense of worth, or even addiction. This book contains multitudes, and does so beautifully.

 

A sequel appears to be in the works for Reign of the Fallen. Have you read Marsh’s novel yet? Are you excited about the sequel, or did you like the open-endedness of RotF?

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