The Waking Land, Fantasy by Callie Bates
Series: I’ve heard of a trilogy, but don’t have any links as of yet.
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley, but it honestly took me days longer than I expected to finish reading. Partly due to getting flu (I don’t recommend this for other women who are also 35 weeks pregnant) and partly because it’s so epic. This is a perfect vacation read! The kind where you take three books but end up reading this one twice and forgetting you brought the other two.
There’s a lot going on, although the beginning balances things fairly well. Elanna has a good life, living at the Ereni court with the courtesy title of “lady” while getting to study botany. But she is unable to escape the harsher facts: she is a political hostage of fourteen years, her parents have made no effort to free her, she has earth magic which the emperor of Paladis has outlawed, and while the king of Eren loves her, his daughter is nothing but malicious.
When people from her home country of Caeris finally come for her, Elanna is understandably sceptical and not terribly inclined to be grateful. Their timing comes when she’s at her lowest–an accused traitor mourning the loss of everything–and she knows that she’s only wanted because of her magic. She is one of the three pillars meant to rule a united country: the steward of the land.
There are a lot of characters to juggle. In my opinion, there are too many named characters who aspire to significance. It seems like this happened due to two things: trying to give everyone a romantic interest/match, and stuffing too much into what is apparently the first book in a trilogy. As much as I liked Alistar, when he shows up, he looks a lot like another love interest, there was already a bit of a love triangle, and so then there has to be another character either introduced to be his love interest, or smoothed to fit the role as well as whatever she was already doing.
It’s not a major issue, though. The important things get covered, Elanna gets a character arc, and the story gets to touch on and give a satisfying end point to a few different themes. It made me super happy to see her meeting with her mother for the first time in fourteen years. I expected one thing when she met either/both of her parents and I was overjoyed to be wrong.
There is only kind of a love triangle, thanks to the fact that Elanna is comparatively self-aware when it comes to what she wants for herself romantically. She has a long-standing betrothal to a prince, but actual (mutual) attraction to someone else. It resolves in this book, and it’s done nicely.
I have to admit, I didn’t always like Elanna. She did some irrational things, particularly in the beginning–and although the narrative made it look like there would be consequences and she was also aware of that, one of the consequences was their timetable being forced dramatically forward and I didn’t feel like that actually happened. I thought her culture shock and loyalty to the “Bad Guys” were both sympathetic and realistically portrayed. However, she had a tendency to waffle, whether it was over big emotions, decisions, or something as simple as a sentence about her own ability to shoot.
I grip the pistol in the sleeve of my greatcoat, though it’s almost too bulky to fit alongside my arm. It occurs to me that I’m as likely to shoot off my hand as shoot an assailant, though I’m a decent markswoman under ordinary circumstances–which would be hunting pheasants at the king’s country estate.
Still! She learns to embrace what’s important and really gets into the role she initially feared. It’s awesome to see her standing tall as a major figure of government.
In all, this is a good start to a series, with an impressive world, a huge cast, interesting magic and truly gorgeous descriptions of both that magic and the land. I’d recommend it to any Fantasy reader for the steward of the land stuff alone.
Note to those who screen sexual content: there is a sex scene later in the book. There’s no explicit language, just sensuality and a lot of allusion. I’d call it a step closer to explicit from detailed make-out scenes.