Air Awakens, by Elise Kova, is a fantasy drama, as opposed to the usual fantasy adventure, and the first novel of a series by the same name. The series promises a bit more “adventure” than this first installment has, along with greater heights of drama, but I can’t really say anything for certain until I eventually read it all. Which, yes, I intend to read it all, in due time.
The story follows Vhalla Yarl, a young library apprentice who has been taught, like most of her people, to hate and fear the elemental magic of the world, as well as its practitioners, the sorcerers. Then the subtle hand of fate touches her, and she learns that she, herself, is a sorcerer, albeit one “awakening” to her power a bit later than most, as she’s already coming up on her eighteenth birthday. Even more, her affinity for air is quite rare, it having been wiped out among her people nearly a century and a half ago, due, in no small part, to the aggression of the Solaris Empire, which wields abundant fire magic. (hmm, I wonder, did Kova watch Avatar: The Last Airbender?) This, combined with the circumstances surrounding her awakening, drop her directly into the heart of world events and intrigue among powers she is ill-equipped to even understand, let alone combat. The fates of many may well hinge on her simple choice: to pursue the ways of sorcery, or forsake her magic and remain in her comfort zone. Fortunately for her, she remains in the eye of the storm just long enough to find her feet, but when the storm hits, it hits hard, without warning or mercy.
If there was one thing I liked about this book, it was the characters. They were just so believable and felt real. Part of that, in complete honesty, was their flaws. There were several times while I was reading when I wanted to grab one character or another and shake some sense into them.
As the story follows Vhalla, she’s the one I wanted to do that to most often. She was just so meek and timid, always getting swept up into what other people thought and said and wanted. As a man who appreciates and admires strength, I kept wanting her to stand up for herself, display a bit more spine. Which worked out well, because for all that Vhalla got carried into what others wanted so easily, she did, occasionally, display surprisingly firm resolve. She grew in that direction, which I really liked.
I also wanted to throttle the attitude out of Aldrick more than once. It was pretty obvious that Kova was setting him and Vhalla up as an item, and I’m not sure what irritated me more about that: the fact that he was a scheming, bull-headed, manipulative jerk or the fact that he was still the best option for her. His brother Baldair was too casual in his relationships and his joviality often felt forced and fake. And Vhalla’s friend Sareem was a domineering representative of Vhalla’s weakness and conformity. Aldrick certainly wanted to exploit her power, but she wasn’t a thing or a prize to him. He wanted her as she was, and as all she could become, because she brought light into his lonely life.
And I wanted to bash everyone in the novel on the head the instant we saw these “refugees” coming from the land they were invading and destroying, with fireworks, aka explosives, in hand, and everyone was so stupid, vain, and brainwashed enough to actually believe that these people whose homes they were destroying were sincerely there to honor them. I saw what was coming a mile away.
What I did not see was the final stupidity on the part of the local powers that be. That goes into spoilers, but I will say it did serve the story, at least, and set things up for the series to continue. I look forward to when they rue the day they ever thought they could judge Vhalla Yarl as if she were lesser and they were superior. She’s finally grown into something stronger and more certain, but there’s also a certain frailty to her still, and what lies behind her is nothing compared to what lies before her. I’m interested to see just who and what she becomes, in the end.
Especially as there are some intriguing mysteries about her. Why were those with her abilities wiped out once? Why does she have the power of air now? Who was her mother, to be some lowborn woman that somehow knew how to read?
All in all, I found Air Awakens to be a good read despite it’s flaws. It’s a bit slow at times, I want to smack the characters every so often, and the final coupling of Vhalla and Aldrick feels a bit YA, but somehow I still like it. The characters were realistic, neither entirely good or bad or smart or stupid. The mysteries are subtle, the language is entrancing, and who doesn’t like a good rags-to-riches story? Of course, it’s not over yet. If anything, it’s barely begun, and Vhalla has a long way to go.
Oh yes, I will be reading the rest of the books in this series: Fire Falling, Earth’s End, Water’s Wrath, and Crystal Crowned.
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.