Where once there was unity, vastly different worlds now exist. Over each, the spirit of an omnipotent and immortal ancestor abides.
Long ago, following a cataclysm called the Rupture, the world was shattered into many floating celestial islands, known now as arks. Ophelia lives on Anima, where inhabitants can read the pasts of objects. What’s more, she is also a “mirror-traveler,” possessing an ability that has been passed down to her through generations.
Her idyllic existence on Anima is disrupted when she is promised in marriage to Thorn, an influential member of a distant clan. Still only a girl, Ophelia must leave her family and follow her fiancé to Citaceleste, the capital of a cold and icy ark called Pole. But there, her future husband seems indifferent to her and she slowly realizes that her presence on Pole is part of a much bigger plot and has far-reaching ramifications not only for her but for her entire world.
Sometimes, there comes along a book that completely enchants its reader, draws them under until they can hardly resurface. This was one of those. It’s a book with an old soul, one that feels like it’s been there forever, like I read it in my pre-teens between Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Inkworld, and Dark Reflections. It made me feel nostalgic, enthralled me with an alluring world full of beautiful illusions covering a rotten core, with an awkward protagonist set against almost insurmountable odds, and a maybe-eventually-ship that’ll keep me glued to the pages until the very end.
Nevertheless, I had a bit of a rough start. The world is quite something to wrap one’s head around: after earth broke apart, all there’s left are arks, floating islands of land that are more or less ruled by mysterious family spirits. Ophelia grew up on a well-temperate one where everyone’s equal and like a ginormous family and they all have object related gifts. It felt very socialistic. Her fiancé Thorn comes from an icy ark – where most of the story takes place – with floating cities where time and space is warped and society is very aristocratic, ruled by social classes depending on peoples’ mind powers. It’s beautiful on the outside, but horrible on the inside, where literal and figurative backstabbing is the order of the day.
Discovering all these features together with Ophelia is a treat! There are so many ideas I loved – the different powers, the way space could be altered, elevators that reach incredible places, sandglasses with certain powers … But it’s also a sombre world and there aren’t enough illusions to gloss over that fact. When I say ‘old soul’, I also mean it in the way society is depicted – patriarchal, sexist, abusive. A world in which women don’t have much agency and are valued by their ability to further the family lines. And yet, I didn’t mind that much in the context of this book. I’m aware, but it still works for me without throwing me off too badly.
Though poor Ophelia really had to suffer a lot over the course of this book. She’s tossed around, mentally and physically hurt, and used and betrayed time and time again. And yet, she never gives up. Step by step, she figures out what’s being plotted around her and starts to grow a backbone becoming more and more self-assured. While it took me a little to warm up to her, by the end, I was fiercely rooting for her. She started out incredibly awkward – very clumsy due to a mirror accident, quite shy, tomboyish, and naive – but by the end, she has found her path forward. I’m really excited to see what she’ll grow into in the books to come. Almost every other character, however, is some degree of bad. Some are vicious, some abusive, some scheming, some toying, … you name it, they’ve got it! Like I said, it’s a dark world, but I enjoyed this setup. It keeps the reader – just like Ophelia – on their toes. Who can be trusted? Anyone at all? That makes for quite the intriguing character constellations!
What’s really had me glued to the pages, though – my favourite thing about this book – is the non-existent romance – yet?! So the central aspect of the plot is Ophelia’s betrothal to Thorn (and her trying to survive until her wedding in a more than hostile environment). The dark truth: Ophelia’s being married off by her family because she’s refused one suitor too many and before she can bring more shame onto her family, the higher ups just throw her at the next best man coming along: Thorn. Ophelia resigns, but after meeting her fiancé, she’s certain it will be a marriage in name only. She doesn’t love him, doesn’t want to sleep with him, doesn’t want to have his children. Period. And Thorn doesn’t seem to care either about this marriage. He is disinterested in Ophelia at best and cold and neglectful at worst. He’s buried in his work and hardly around after he’s thrown her to the wolves. So from the moment they were introduced to each other, I was smitten with the idea that maybe, eventually, they might be falling in love. I mean, there are four books, plenty of time to get there! After all, one of my favourite tropes is arranged marriage/enemies to lovers, preferably with the slowest burn imaginable. And that had me pretty much anticipating each and every scene between these two and lapping up every tiny detail, waiting, hoping. And there might be something … maybe … eventually … or not. I’ll be fine either way (though I really wouldn’t mind if they were to fall in love, just saying).
So if you’re looking for a fantastical read and don’t mind it to be more on the dark side of things, I can’t recommend this enough!