The Wicked Deep meets House of Salt and Sorrows in this new standalone YA fantasy set in a snow-cloaked kingdom where witches are burned, and two enchantresses secretly compete for the heart of a prince, only to discover that they might be falling for each other.
It’s Karnawał season in the snow-cloaked Kingdom of Lechija, and from now until midnight when the church bells ring an end to Devil’s Tuesday time will be marked with wintry balls and glittery disguises, cavalcades of nightly torch-lit “kuligi” sleigh-parties.
Unbeknownst to the oblivious merrymakers, two monsters join the fun, descending upon the royal city of Warszów in the guise of two innocent girls. Newfound friends and polar opposites, Zosia and Marynka seem destined to have a friendship that’s stronger even than magic. But that’s put to the test when they realize they both have their sights set on Lechija’s pure-hearted prince. A pure heart contains immeasurable power and Marynka plans to bring the prince’s back to her grandmother in order to prove herself. While Zosia is determined to take his heart and its power for her own.
When neither will sacrifice their ambitions for the other, the festivities spiral into a wild contest with both girls vying to keep the hapless prince out of the other’s wicked grasp. But this isn’t some remote forest village, where a hint of stray magic might go unnoticed, Warszów is the icy capital of a kingdom that enjoys watching monsters burn, and if Zosia and Marynka’s innocent disguises continue to slip, their escalating rivalry might cost them not just the love they might have for each other, but both their lives.
The comp titles and cover drew me to this novel. The snow-cloaked kingdom set in Poland also seemed perfect for this time of year.
The description gave me the impression Zosia and Marynka were in some sort of competition for the prince’s heart. Somehow I missed they were literally competing for his heart to take back to their jaga (witch) grandmothers (who are sisters) to eat. The purer the heart, the greater the power it contains. Now that was something I could get on board with.
With a slow start, it took me a while to get into this novel. Pacing soon picked up, and well-written action scenes moved the plot along. Having competed in numerous quests to attain the hearts of princes in the past, Marynka has a losing record against Zosia. Marynka is determined to prove herself to her grandmother and gain her approval. Zosia is tired of being a servant and wants to keep the power for herself and escape the bonds of servitude. Clearly these girls are morally gray characters. Between the two of them, they’ve killed plenty of princes and have no regrets. Normally I’m a fan of this type of character, but I didn’t really care for either of them. Looking at other reviews, I’m in the minority on this, but I liked the relationship dynamic between Prince Jozek and Prince Kajetan better – that’s just a personal preference. Beatka, Marynka’s friend who serves another jaga grandmother (and sister to the other two), also appealed to me more. Marynka is impulsive, which causes her to think before she acts, and Beatka is often the voice of reason, as well as a mediator when Marynka and Zosia argue. The poor girl is long suffering.
The author’s note mentions some of the events are loosely based on late 18th century Polish history. I really enjoyed how Polish culture, including food, clothing, and traditions are woven into the background. Setting most of the plot during Karnawal season lends an atmosphere of festivity and mystery that adds to the story.
This novel will appeal to fans of morally gray, ambitious characters and the enemies to lovers trope, especially readers who enjoy the fantasy genre.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.