A fantasy about a kingdom beset by monsters, a mysterious school, and a girl caught in between them.
If no one notices Marya Lupu, it is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.
The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.
For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.
Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.
First and foremost I really enjoyed the world that Anne Ursu created in this story and could see other stories set in it, the world building and setup were really wonderful (even if the society didn’t have the best standards or norms when it came to the place of females). I enjoyed the theme within this book where Marya isn’t will to accept what society expects of her and other females. It very much lends to breaking expected gender role and challenging societal norms. She’s not willing to just go along with things and is constantly questioning the expectations set upon her.
Ursu’s writing is beautiful and while the pace isn’t super fast, the language used and phrasing is a pleasure to read. There were a few sections that I felt were a tad slow, but the writing more than made up for that. The characters are fully fledged and have multiple layers to them, making them seem more real and easier to identify with.
This story is full of strong themes of feminism, knowledge is power and bucking societal norms, which was nice to experience in a fantasy setting. Though it is longer than most middle grades, it is a great story that I’m sure younger readers will devour.