Shall we begin with the warnings? If any of these (spoilerish) elements disturb or trouble you in any way, you should probably run back to reading The Princess Diaries or something equally scary: abortion, abuse, blood play, child abuse, cutting, death, dead babies, lying, murder, necromancy, paedophilia, physical abuse, psychological abuse, prostitution, rape, scars, slavery, zombies.
Now that all of the sane, self-preserving, healthy people have moved on, that just leaves the creepy mentally disturbed people like me.
This book was a slow read for me. There was something about the story and the writing that told me right away that I need to take my time and pay attention to the words. Maybe it was because the narrator reminded me of Fitz Farseer in Robin Hobb's trilogies The Farseer and The Tawny Man. Like Fitz, Nola is telling the story of her life from some point in the future and she starts from her childhood, if you can call it that.
It turns out that being poor in Sarsenay City can mean growing up with a mother who'd rather be pregnant with another mouth she can't feed than endure her monthly bleeding. It can mean that a girl will be sold to a brothel for few coppers and not because mother needs to feed her other babies. It can mean simply growing older only because the brothel is where a girl can earn money.
And all that without the burden or gift of Otherseeing.
"A seer's place is apart - and if you forget this you'll be flogged. It's not your flesh that matters, after all, and I won't fear you as the others will."
Who could have guessed that these words spoken to an eight year old would turn out to be just as true as they were false? But of course she doesn't get to stay in that innocent place with Bardrem and Yigranzi for too long.
Nola leaves the brothel when her friends, and other seers, die and she believes her life to be in danger. There's a serial killer loose in the city and she isn't safe as long as any of her customers could be the faceless murderer. So, when a stranger from the castle offers to protect and teach her, she leaves thinking of fancy dresses and gems and luxurious life of the castle. She gets those things, in time, along with a last glance to a young, beautiful and innocent girl.
The horrors she has to witness and do are unimaginable. Or were right up until the moment I read this book.
I'm not as strong a character as Nola was, because I would have walked of a balcony long before that ceased to be an option for her. She's not a weakling, but she isn't strong enough either - she gets out of breath for just walking down the corridor on few occasions. She doesn't really care when she hurts people's feelings, like telling her eager-to-please maid she isn't needed, but that's only understandable since hardly anyone cared about hurting Nola's feelings. She wasn't taught to think for herself and because her mind has been twisted by a morally corrupt man, she can't see a way out.
And just as there wasn't an escape for Nola, there was none for me. I couldn't stop reading even when I knew I was making those micro-expressions of disgust non-stop. I had to keep going even when I was tired or yearning for something fluffier - yes, I ran for fluffy fanfiction in the middle of this book - and I had to see how it all ended.
Caitlin Sweet doesn't disappoint. The ending she chose, although we could have a serious discussion about the method of delivery, was the only one possible for such a story.
*I received an Advanced Readers Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.*