For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
A Song of Wraiths and Ruins is an impressive, rich and stunning instalment in a new fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore. I’ve read multiple times that it was pitched as “what if Aladdin and Jasmine tried to kill each other” and to be honest, that’s all I needed to know to add this to my TBR immediately. I also love any fantasy / Y/A that’s not western / European centric so I’m always down for a refreshing own voices addition to this genre and ASOWAR totally delivers on this front.
This was such a unique reading experience for me, in that it was my first audiobook and previously I just couldn’t get into audiobooks but this one was so well done. The voice actors for both Karina (Jordan Cobb) and Malik ( A.J. Beckles) were so good and really embodied their characters and brought them to life. I especially found that listening to the audiobook really brought some of the scenes to life more vividly, especially the descriptions of the palace compound – Qasar Alahari as well as the food scenes, I was seriously so hungry after those!
The world building in this novel was so well done and so well executed. I loved that we were given an insight into this world and that so much of it felt relevant and reminiscent of our own world, with it’s own complex history and social hierarchy, cultures, foods and dress. I liked the idea of the different alignments and how the different alignments had their own traditions and ways, but they all come together for Solstasia. I also really enjoyed how so much of this world is inspired by West Africa and other parts of Africa, with references to certain clothing items, architectural design such as Zellige tiles and much more. It just enriched the story so much and I think many readers will delight in these details.
I liked both the main characters; Karina and Malik respectively and it was so much fun to read as they meet and experience a connection neither of them expected. This is also more dramatic as they both have plans to kill the other, for their own reasons. I’m always a fan of opposites attracting, and Karina and Malik couldn’t be more different, both in their social status – one being a princess and the other a refugee – and life experiences, but it was sweet seeing them find things in common and be able to connect despite the divide between them. Obviously things become more complicated when they actually get to know each other more and keep getting into close encounters. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll stop here but I totally believed in the romance here, there was plenty of tension and burgeoning understanding and it was also nice that they had their own separate stories and motivations, which rounded out their characters and the story really well.
I also appreciated how much emphasis was placed on the familial relationships in the story. From Karina’s strained relationship with her mother, the sultana aka The Kestrel famed for her prowess in battle and commanding air, to Malik’s relationship with his sisters, Layla and Nadia. I liked how that these relationships were depicted, and how complex they were, from showing how the loss of Karina’s father and sister, created a distance between Karina and her mother to how Malik’s anxiety and willingness to do the right thing puts him at odds with his sister, Layla at times. There is no doubt they all love each other unconditionally but it was interesting to see the ins and outs of this.
I also didn’t expect but was so touched by the exploration of grief and trauma within this book. It just showed how grief isn’t linear and how the different characters approached their experiences differently and the very real effects. I also thought there was something to be said about how this pain can shape a person. For Malik his life experiences have made him so empathetic, maybe to a fault at times but it was awesome to see a character who despite having every reason to be hardened and closed off in a world which has pushed him down, stay soft and compassionate. For Karina, her experiences and the trauma of losing her family results in her bearing away from connections, sometimes speaking first and thinking later, but it was nice to see the development of her character and how she slowly opens up and re-evaluates what she thought to be true.
I also really liked the competition element within the book, with the Solstasia festival being a series of trials where the champions from different alignments must use all their skills, from fighting to wit, in order to be named the victor and bring in a new era. This particular festival though has even more significance, with political machinations and intrigue going on behind the scenes, from the scheming council of Ziran, to Karina and Malik desperately trying to achieve their goals as well as ancient forces plotting. I thought all this together made for a really intriguing story and resulted in so many twists and turns. I predicted a few of them but others took me by surprise – there were so many betrayals, heated exchanges and layers to it all.
Overall, I honestly can’t wait to read the next book in this duology and see where Karina and Malik’s stories go from here. It ends on such a climactic note so it’s even more exciting to think about what may come next. I think so many readers will find joy and also catharsis from this book, as not only does it have so many references to West African folklore and culture, it also delves into grief, family, prejudice, oppression and so much more.
Until next time,
How to help with the Black Lives Matter movement:
This is a really helpful site which is updated frequently and has the links to donate, sign petitions, mental health resources for BIPOC, educational resources and resources for protesters. Please check it out and see how you can help.