When I picked this up, I was in the mood for some really classic-feeling YA, the sort of thing that would take me back to its early 2010s heyday, and it turns out that Crown of Oblivion was exactly that!
Book: Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh
Read before: No
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Harper360. All opinions my own.
There are two main types of dystopian YA: “girl falls in love with boy who rejects the authoritarian regime”, and “girl enters life-or-death contest to improve her status in the authoritarian regime”. They can be combined, or subverted, but whichever catalyst for the plot is used, it ends up with the girl realising that simply surviving isn’t enough, but that she must start (and possibly lead on) dismantling the government that has been oppressing people for too long. I mean no shade in pointing out these building-blocks, just a comment that for a while, this was pretty much all there was to find in the most popular YA, and we haven’t had any for a while! Crown of Oblivion falls into the second category, so we have a dramatic contest for our heroine to survive, and I really enjoyed returning to that older dystopian vibe.
The protagonist, Astrid, is a member of the magicless underclass, little better than a slave, and the whipping-girl for Princess Renya – a companion, but one who is punished physically for the princess’s transgressions. Her brother used to do the same role for Renya’s brother, the prince, but escaped four years ago and is now an outlaw. When Astrid hears about the Race of Oblivion – a survival contest where the winner’s entire family is granted full entry to the upper class – she seizes the chance to save her brother and remove herself from her awful role. The Race itself is extremely dangerous, with most contestants dying, and Astrid will lose her entire memory in order to compete, so it’s going to be a constant battle to stay live, let alone win.
Okay, yes, it’s cheesy. But it’s so fast-paced and action-filled that you end up mentally shrugging and letting yourself be dragged along for the ride – and that ride is immensely fun. Astrid is pretty much always one step away from death, and the added mystery of her own identity (which we know, but she doesn’t) creates some fun puzzles. There’s a smidgen of romance, a large dash of rebellion, and a really impressive consistency of pace. This is a fast, fast read – and as far as I know, it’s a standalone, so you don’t feel cheated at the last moment.
The world-building is a little muddled, with some fantasy elements and some sci-fi, but no really clear picture of how they mesh together or why. This isn’t so distracting that it takes away from the drive of the plot, but it did leave me wondering the first couple of times that technology was mentioned that didn’t seem to fit with the fantastical side of the setting. I think I just wasn’t expecting a world with princesses and magic powers to also have motorbikes and guns! There are definitely parts that feel very generic, and also a fair amount of hand-wavy places where, as one Goodreads reviewer puts it, ‘And Then This Happens’, but honestly, I wasn’t looking for amazing world-building from this, just a rollicking action story, and that’s exactly what it provides.
Super original? No. Super deep? No. But super fun? Definitely. Four out of five cats.