Crier’s War is one of the best YA fantasies I’ve read in a long time, and it’s f/f to boot! I’m so excited to be bringing you my review as part of the blog tour today!
Book: Crier’s War by Nina Varela
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided free of charge in exchange for a blog tour post. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Mild self-harm in the form of bloodletting as part of a formal ritual. Some violence.
After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will. Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death… by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.
Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.
Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.
I absolutely loved this book: it has everything I look for in a YA fantasy. I say fantasy, because although the central conflict is between humans and mechanical people, rather than between humans and a magical race, the setting leans more towards the fantasy side of things, with an agricultural economy supporting an aristocracy that seems medieval in colour. Though the Automae are, to all intents and purposes, deliberately created androids, they act like people, with their own internal lives – like Data in Star Trek: TNG, the question of whether they are alive is not one that needs to be bothered with. More important is how their differences from humans change their actions and interactions. The Automae are the ruling class, having risen up against their human creators, and humans are subjugated, forced to work for the Automae and banned from large gatherings. The Automae are coldly efficient in suppressing humans, and very clever at finding ways to keep them fractured enough that a rebellion cannot get off the ground… and yet, something seems to be stirring.
We get two viewpoint characters, Ayla and Crier, and I loved them both – no chapter skimming here for me! Ayla is a human girl, while Crier is the Automae daughter of the local lord, and their lives become entangled after a chance meeting. Crier’s been taught to look down on humans, but secretly sympathises with them; Ayla hates the Automae for their cruel destruction of her family (and of humans in general). Sparks fly when Crier unexpectedly makes Ayla her handmaiden, and they become drawn to each other, as well as drawn into the burgeoning rebellion. Both Ayla and Crier are really well-drawn characters, and though they are extremely different in upbringing and outlook, they are both wholly believable, and you can see exactly how their experiences have shaped each of their actions. The viewpoints are well-differentiated – each girl genuinely sounds different on page, and I particularly enjoyed seeing their impressions of each other.
A lot of YA romance doesn’t do it for me any more, with characters often giving up their beliefs because they’re just so in looooove. But Crier’s War sidesteps this beautifully, showing us the complex emotions and loyalties that each girl has as she realises her attraction to the other. There’s no instalove or instalust – while I hesitate to call this slowburn, since we do get a kiss (and I was raised on fanfic where the pining went on for tens of thousands of words), it’s certainly 100 times more measured than I was expecting, and this really allows the characters themselves time to develop, which makes the relationship more rewarding and believable. It’s billed as enemies to lovers, but I think the enmity is mostly on Ayla’s side, as she hates the Automae, whereas Crier doesn’t have anything like the same animosity for humans, just a naivety about their situation. I also think it’s important to note that there are some very imbalanced power dynamics here, with Ayla’s position as Crier’s servant, as well as the larger subjugation of humans – I thought this began to be addressed well, and I think it will continue to be so as the girls’ relationship progresses in future books.
Also, a small hooray for visible minor characters in queer relationships on page – this is a world where orientation doesn’t seem to be an issue in any way! I liked that Ayla and Crier’s doubts about their attraction to each other stemmed from their perceived incompatibility, rather than because they were girls. There’s also hints that one or both of them might be bi (at least, they don’t seem to reject male characters because they’re male), which may be a factor of the built-in acceptance of any relationship, or might be personal… I look forward to seeing this explored further (and I’m tentatively tagging it “bisexuals!” for now)!
The worldbuilding is gorgeous, with masses of interesting tidbits thrown in expertly – things build up organically so you’re learning about the world as you go. I got the sense that there was a huge world to be uncovered, which is always a good sign for me, and I’m excited to know more about the history of the world as well as what’s going on with the rebellion. There are so many subplots going on, and I’m excited to see how Crier’s horrible fiancé (who I haven’t even mentioned!) and his anti-human movement tie into the other interesting things going on. I’m really trying to avoid spoilers, so there’s a whole lot I can’t say, but I was really impressed at the amount of things that are woven into the main plot… Things don’t exact wrap up neatly, but it’s a satisfying ending for now, and leaves me hopeful for the rest of the books. It’s a good book that balances depth and pace this well.
Basically, I loved this, and I can’t wait for book two! Five out of five cats!