Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Audiobook Review: Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen

Title: Reign the Earth (The Elementae #1)
Author: A.C. Gaughen
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 438
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Shalia is a proud daughter of the desert, but after years of devastating war with the adjoining kingdom, her people are desperate for peace. Willing to trade her freedom to ensure the safety of her family, Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands.

But she soon learns that her husband, Calix, is motivated only by his desire to exterminate the Elementae—mystical people who can control earth, wind, air, and fire. Even more unsettling are Shalia’s feelings for her husband’s brother, which unleash a power over the earth she never knew she possessed—a power that could get her killed. As rumors of a rebellion against Calix spread, Shalia must choose between the last chance for peace and her own future as an Elementae.

This intense, richly drawn high-fantasy by the author of Scarlet will hold readers spellbound.

Reign the Earth is a book I'd seen a bit of controversy over. It hadn't been on my radar before that, but when I read the synopsis and saw the gorgeous cover, I knew I had to read it! Lucky for me, I found it as an audiobook through my library. Even in my excitement, I was a bit nervous to read it, just based on some of the claims I'd seen about it in reviews, so I'll try to address some of them as I go.

Shalia is a daughter of the desert who is willing to marry Calix, king of the kingdom her people have been at war with for years, in order to secure peace. Although she is optimistic, she quickly learns that Calix is power-hungry and completely obsessed with completely exterminating the Elementae, a people that has been all but wiped out already.

I love Shalia! She is a strong protagonist who does everything she can in a very complicated situation to improve the lives of others. Shalia is not your typical YA heroine though. She doesn't learn super badass fighting skills and destroy the every bad guy she comes across. Shalia is strong in ways that probably would be more realistic in a real world situation in which a girl is married off to an insane monarch. I loved that this book gave us a strong female who showed strength in ways I wasn't used to seeing in YA fantasy.

Calix is definitely a complicated character. He is easy to hate, but there were also brief moments when I understood his actions. Then there's Galen, the brother of Calix, yet another character that I love. He's kind and strong and accepting and I really hope to see more of him in book two! I also loved Kairos, Shalia's brother. The characters are all so well-written and I loved getting to know them all better, with the exception of Calix, who I hope dies a slow, fiery death. :)

But let me dive into the story and the controversial nature of this book. There were several things I saw in reviews that I'd like to briefly mention and discuss, so I'm switching to a bit of a different format. Beware of mild spoilers ahead!
  1. This is more adult than YA - I see where this is coming from. There were certainly some adult situations, but it did still feel like YA. The characters were teenagers and the romance and fantasy all felt YA aside from some of the heavier situations. 
  2. This book is just too heavy/not happy enough - While there are certainly some heavy topics in this book (arranged marriage, pregnancy, abuse, miscarriage), I don't think that makes it too heavy, but it's certainly heavier than your average YA fantasy. To be honest, I don't think there's anything wrong with exploring some difficult topics in YA and I think they were handled well. Not everything in fiction needs to be sunshine and rainbows. That being said, knowing what to expect going in probably contributed to my enjoyment. Had I not known that this book would be more difficult than my average read, I don't know that I would've liked it as much. 
  3. This book includes non-consensual sex - Okay, so... I just didn't see it that way. There's a difference between non-consent and non-enjoyment and that's just the truth. There was never an instance of forced sex in this book. There was an instance of sex as part of an arranged marriage that was not enjoyable, but was consented to multiple times. 
All of that being said, don't get me wrong! There is certainly mental/physical abuse in Reign the Earth and those topics, while hard to read, are handled well by the author. If you read to escape reality and don't enjoy reading about dark or difficult topics, definitely skip this book because it is not the one for you! But if you're able to go through a difficult, emotional journey with a strong character, you will probably enjoy this, even though it might be hard to read at times.

The magic and the world of Reign the Earth were really well written, although I would have liked to know more about the Elementae and where their power came from. Perhaps there will be more about them in future installments. My main complaint with this book is that it was just so long. Although everything contributed to the story, there were just times when it dragged and it did take me a bit longer than normal to read. 

Overall, I really enjoyed Reign the Earth! I really connected with the characters and I'm eager to know the rest of Shalia's story. The romance wasn't a huge part of the book, but I love the direction it's going and can't wait to read more! I did find it to lag at times and I'm hoping that future books will be a bit quicker now that this chunk of backstory is out of the way. If you enjoy fantasy and don't mind books that explore difficult, real-world topics, this is probably a book you'll love!