Lorena Adler specializes in keeping secrets and using half-truths to keep the world from knowing her true self: an individual possessing the ability to utilize elements of both aspects of the ancient gods [the Vile (destruction) and the Noble (creation)]. Only the Queen of Cynlira is also dually wrought, and it’s a dangerous legacy to share. Hiding as the undertaker of tiny Felhollow seems safe until extraordinary events bring the Crown Prince, one of the few Vile bound of Cynlira, to her doorstep, threatening Lore’s found family unless she agrees to help in his quest. But she quickly learns that she’s not the only one who has hidden the truth and that sometimes the best way to save the innocent is by destroying everything.
After reading Mask of Shadows and Belle Revolte, Linsey Miller’s works definitely fall on my must-read list. Her focus on providing LGBTQIA+ representation in ways that don’t feel tokenized or shoehorned, combined with intense dark fantasy plots peopled by fleshed-out individuals, both entertain and challenge me in the best ways; however, Lorena is her first protagonist that I identified with strongly on a personal level, because she is asexual. (It’s not specifically defined in those terms, but she loves cuddling and emotional connection but finds actual intercourse underwhelming.) I’m probably closer to the demisexual spectrum, but seeing a YA protagonist who clearly states that she enjoys touching and intimacy, but hates the expectations that frequently come with it, resonated.
What We Devour follows Lorena’s journey to protect her adoptive home by working with the dubiously ethical crown prince, but it’s also a darkly fascinating tale of self-discovery. She desperately wants the upper class to pay for using commoners as disposable, but the key to her revenge lies in obtaining power. Lorena’s entire life hinges on being unremarkable (No one asks too many questions about the undertaker in a small town.), and her attitude towards government leans toward socialism, or at least protecting the weak and underprivileged; however, as the novel progresses, Lorena’s political clout grows, which she must learn how to leverage for her anti-monarchist goals. Ultimately, she must decide how much of herself and her beliefs should be sacrificed for the greater good, a darker choice than many fantasy novels..
Linsey Miller’s magic system in Cynlira demands a price every time the caster has a request/prayer/spell fulfilled. Many of the Noblewrought and Vilewrought utilize complicated contracts and physical offerings to their aspect of the banished god or gods, but because Lorena is both self-taught and unbound (She has no restrictions on which types of spells she can fulfill with her wroughts.), her methods are less concrete. The intricacies of the magic gradually get explained as the novel progresses, but its dark requirements of one offering of equal value for every request (no offering a dead bug for saving someone’s life, etc.) fascinated me. While the results are mystical and having an actual cost for utilizing special abilities felt realistic, and I appreciated how the complicated system added weight to the characters’ choices.
This review sounds a lot like I’m talking about concepts and characters, etc. and not the plot, but What We Devour is one of those magnificently atmospheric and character-driven books with a plot that needs to be experienced. I recommend it for older and/or more mature YA readers, but anyone who can appreciate dark stories with fantasy elements and unique characters should check this out. Lorena is a protagonist you won’t forget after turning the last page.
5 Lost Memories out of 5
Creative Team: Linsey Miller (writer)
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
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