This is kind of genre kryptonite for me: the moment I saw the description, I proceeded to fall down and read to death. It is extremely hard to classify, it is complex, it is full of a bunch of different trappings from a bunch of different genres, and in the hands of someone who didn't know what they were doing, things could have gone south very quickly.
Andrea K. Höst knew what she was doing.
I have a little bit of trouble saying precisely what age group I would recommend this to. It is certainly suitable for mature young adults, but I would hardly consider it a young adult book. It has children narrators, but I think most children would find the complexity a bit overwhelming. It also has dual viewpoints in that the other primary narrator is a full-grown woman, which lends an interesting perspective throughout as neither the children nor their aunt understand each other a bit, but we get to see both sides of things.
It's a mystery set in an alternate universe that bears a great resemblance to our own, had things gone very, very differently. It has Egyptian culture because Egypt is a world power because they have vampires. Vampires that are part court-manners-oriented and part ripping open skin and have their own mythology that is partly Egyptian and partly something else I have yet to clearly identify.
Also, there are steampunk-ish robots powered by some mixture of cool magic-y stones and science.
You see my confusion in describing this book in any really rational way?
But the thing is: it was great. It was really, really great. I loved the characters, I loved the alternating viewpoints, I loved the world that was built up and all of the guessing on what precisely was what, on what parts were drawn from a wide range of our own history and mythology and what parts were simply part of the mythology written for the book. Things are weaved together so beautifully I had trouble telling, which is honestly one of the best (and most difficult!) ways to manage mythology in a fantasy series.
I was impressed with how clever the characters were. Often intelligence and cleverness are informed traits in novel characters; I genuinely felt like these people were making good decisions and considering the ramifications as best they could with the information they had throughout. Even the children were clever, which is even harder to manage than clever adults.
The little hints of potential romance were sweet, but this is not a romance novel at all, and they were not the focus here. It added a certain flavor to the story and the world as well as expanding on the characters just a tad, but was never heavy-handed and (probably because of how clever the characters were) did not ever interfere in the real business of the novel.
The real business is solving the mystery and conspiracy that lead to the deaths of the relatives of the main characters, and it gets extremely twisted and complex the farther things go. I was not expecting the revelations towards the end, and I love getting caught up by surprise by something like that. It was a rather dark secret being kept, but I adore that sort of thing.
It is not an easy read. I don't mean that in a bad way at all, but because of everything that is going on, because of the terminology and mythology and character relationships built up, it is not something you can really read while doing something else. It requires some focus, and it is worth every bit of that focus. This is the only reason it took me so long to read: I wanted to give it the focus it deserved. Also, I didn't really want it to end.
I rarely give five stars to books; I'm exceedingly particular, but this book is absolutely worthy of them, and Andrea K. Höst has a new fan.
This book was provided to me for free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.