Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Jeffe Kennedy - The Mark of the Tala

Queen Of The Unknown
The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, heir to the kingdom. The youngest, the sweet beauty with her Prince Charming. No one says much about the middle princess, Andromeda. Andi, the other one.
Andi doesn't mind being invisible. She enjoys the company of her horse more than court, and she has a way of blending into the shadows. Until the day she meets a strange man riding, who keeps company with wolves and ravens, who rules a land of shapeshifters and demons. A country she'd thought was no more than legend--until he claims her as its queen.
In a moment everything changes: Her father, the wise king, becomes a warlord, suspicious and strategic. Whispers call her dead mother a traitor and a witch. Andi doesn't know if her own instincts can be trusted, as visions appear to her and her body begins to rebel.
For Andi, the time to learn her true nature has come. . .

Comment: I had heard good things about this book (and author) when I decided to add it to my TBR but as always, only after some time did I get the chance to finally start it.

In this fantasy story we meet Andromeda, known by all as Andi, the middle sister of three and daughter of the king of the Twelve Kingdoms. Andi loves her horse and being outside instead of doing court things like her younger sister Amelia, or ruling matters like her older sister Ursula. However, she knows things change when someone comes to marry Ursula and falls for Amelia instead and from this on, it is as if their lives can't go back to what they used to be. Very soon after, while considering all the politics going on, which she wants to avoid, she is caught by a strange man on the fiorest, and he acts in a way that frightens Andi but also challenges her and he tells her they will be together soon. After escaping, Andi's life isn't the same, and problems, suspicion and tales she never heard before seem to come to everyone's minds... the Tala, a group considered as being demons, claims Andi will be their queen. But will Andi be able to see this as anything but a nightmare? Can Andi escape her fate? Are the Tala as bad as everyone believes?

This is the first book by this author I try. I had no expectations, although I imagined this would be a romantic fantasy, based on the opinions which made me curious enough to want to try for myself. After checking the GR page, however, I started to be a bit apprehensive because some readers labeled this an adult story, others labeled young adult and I confess this type of story isn't generally appealing to me anymore.

The beginning started of as simple as I imagined, where the author starts describing the world by how characters behaved and then the story starts with the upcoming nuptials of Andis's sister, just not the one meant to marry first. I thought the story would set mostly on politics and how Andi's father would deal with the surprise of the wrong sister marrying first. I say "wrong" in the sense he planned for a strategic wedding, which still happened, but not with his heir; the youngest sister and the prospect groom fell in  love instead.

Then Andi meets a strange man, someone so different from what she was used to, who tells her things she can't truly believe at first, although some clues are hard to ignore. From this moment on, we get the feeling someone has to give, whether Andi on something she never knew about, like her late mother's origins and the possibility she is more alike her than she has ever imagined, or her father on a stalemate which he refuses to acknowledge.

Therefore, I would divide this story into two parts: before and after Andi recognizes she might be the queen of the Tala, as the strange man she meets reveals her to be. The Tala are a race of people who can change shapes, who are rumored to have powers and are often seen as demons or the enemy. However, this means everything Andi has believed in her life might not be as simple or black and white when she sees herself part of this weird race. She also learns her mother used to be someone well respected among the Tala and that makes her father's radical reaction even worse, didn't he know about her?

I think I can understand why the dichotomy between adult and young adult labels.... the story itself is written for adult audiences and features what one might think of adult themes, but the writing and the situations Andi faces, especially in the first part of the story have a definitive immature tone. It's actually complicated to describe but until half way, meaning until Andi makes her decision, the story was quite irritating to be honest, all the indecisions and the amount of chapters it took for basic things to happen or be introduced.. it was rather juvenile. I include the writing in this because in an attempt to convey these issues, the way things are told were also too repetitive.

As soon as Andi makes a decision, the story turned into something more interesting but I'll have to confess even that was, at times, challenging because Andi is so often in the dark... I suppose the idea was to delay the key point of the story but also to allow Andi to get used to her new life. I can accept this but it was also a little frustrating to have Andi deal with issues or be told this and that and often the information was incomplete or just alluded to something... why couldn't things be shared in a believable way, how many interruptions can one face before the truth comes out? It was a bit annoying it's true (thus juvenile as well....).

I liked Andi enough but she was a bit indecisive and I struggled to keep the interest in her lack of action. Were she to have a different personality or the story told in third person, perhaps this would be an idea to see the evolution of, but as it is, her "voice" wasn't always very appealing. The other characters were also quite forgetful, all a little too inserted into the roles they play and I didn't feel any were that special that I would want to get to know them better.

I think the idea of this story isn't new but I think the author could have done something stronger with the elements used. Even following the usual clichés, I think this could have been better structured.... half the book to allow things to truly advance and when they do the world building was so slow... I admit I would have preferred the focus to be on Andi's life and how she adapted to her new circumstances instead of possible wars and things I felt were very pointless.

I don't feel eager to read the other sisters' stories (plus the comments on their behavior and personalities in their books don't really inspire me) but, again, it can be a pity because several details could have worked for a much more engaging story than what I feel the final result actually happens to be.
Grade: 6/10

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