Rating: 3 out of 5.

This is an ok YA Fantasy about a young girl who is out of options and undertakes a journey to seek justice for her family.

Shae lives on a sheep farm with her mother. Her younger brother died from a mysterious disease called “the blot”, which is allegedly caused by illegally reading or writing contraband, or speaking a forbidden word. Shae’s father dies shortly thereafter, and ever since, her mother doesn’t speak a word. Shunned by most of her community, Shae eeks out a meager existence with her mother, until one day Shae returns to her home to find her mother murdered. When noone in town will help her, Shae flees to seek aid from a group of justice seekers called The Bards. The Bards use a form of magic called the Telling to keep the country safe.

The rest of the story is a jumble of Shae being trained to use her magic as a Bard. This book is a worn out formulaic telling of a misunderstood young girl with a special gift that is found/seeks out a powerful group to train her/prevent her from being trained/kill her/welcome her/etc. We’ve all read this kind of story before, and this is not one of the great ones. The characters are all one-note and I didn’t connect with any of them.

There is almost no worldbuilding. Apparently the small communities are ruled by the Bards, but we don’t know what led to this or why. We have no idea when writing and reading were outlawed or why. We know nothing about “the blot” or how someone contracts it or whether anyone can be cured of it. We don’t know anything about the “magic” the Bards use, how it works or why some people can use the magic and others can’t. We aren’t told how the Bards were formed or why, and we are not told anything about their leader and how he came into power. There is a quest for an all-powerful book, but we aren’t told much about what information it contains, how it can change the world and why someone would seek it.

I mean, sure, you leave some things up in the air to maintain mystery, but not THIS much! It’s hard to get invested in a community or characters when you don’t know anything of their background or their motivations. Half way through the book things became so convoluted and muddied that I didn’t understand what the heck was going on or why the characters did what they did. I lost total interest, but figured I should finish the book to be fair. It did not improve.

Sadly, I have no interest in reading any further books in this series. It just didn’t resonate with me, but I’m sure other people will enjoy it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books/St. Martin’s Press for the free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.