Ariah’s magical training has been interrupted. Forced to rely on a mentor, Dirva, who is not who he claims to be, and a teacher who is foreign and powerful, Ariah is drawn into a culture wholly different from the elven one that raised him.
As his friendship with Dirva’s brother blossoms into a surprising romance, and he slowly learns how to control the dangerous magic in his blood, life finally appears to be coming together for Ariah—but love and security are cut short by a tyrannical military empire bent on expanding its borders.
War, betrayal, passion, and confusion follow Ariah as his perilous journey leads him beyond the walls of the Empire, and into unfamiliar territory within himself. Along the way, he’ll discover just how much he’s willing to give up to find his place in the world, and he’ll learn what it means to sacrifice himself for freedom—and for love.
Karen: Despite reading some reviews of this book, I didn’t really have a defined view of what it was going to be about when I suggested that we read it. I loved the look of the cover and the blurb was intriguing. Also I had read pretty much nothing but romance for ages, and I kind of needed a break.
So, I came to this book via a romance route, and I think if I read more fantasy generally my reactions and responses would have been a lot different, and I am very intrigued to see if Fra and Miki, who read outside romance a lot more than I do, has any klnd of the same reactions that I had.
Simply put Ariah is the story of Ariah’s life, over about 20 years so it’s quite epic in construction. When we first meet him he is 30, a child by elvish standards, a virgin and also unable to really control his magical gifts. He is taken as a pupil by Dirva, who is to train him in his gifts, but of course, things don’t go to plan.
Ariah is a shaper, not actually the gift he’s being trained in, shaping allows him to absorb the emotions and feeling of others. And it’s this gift that actually shapes him as he moves into adulthood.
Fra: Karen’s recommendation and that gorgeous cover totally got me into this novel; the fact that was fantasy had a lot to do with my interest also as was the blurb. I grow bored easily with romance – don’t get me wrong there are some great stories and writers in the genre, but my real book love is in fantasy and YA.
I love fantasy for the world building and the fact that almost inevitably it takes you on an epic journey along with a whole chorus of characters.
Ariah is most definitely in the high fantasy space and yet it isn’t necessarily a typical fantasy novel.
Stripped of the critical element of fantasy – the quest for the magical/historical/mystical object that coincides with the growth and self awareness of one or more characters – Ariah reads more like character driven novel than anything else.
Karen: If, like me, you’ve been a bit indoctrinated by the almost unwritten rules of romance in the early 21st century – must be fast paced, ideally less than 200 pages, if it ends on a cliffhanger the sequel must be out on 3 months. Initially you may find this book a challenge, because obviously Araiah has none of those things- although that’s not to say that the pacing is slow, because overall it isn’t. Ariah also challenged the one person for one person romantic ideal. Once I got over this, I immersed myself in this book. Although we discussed the book as we were reading it, I’m intrigued to hear what, if any, preconceptions you had ?
Fra: I was intrigued for the most part, and because the setting was fantasy like i guess I suspended disbelief pretty earlier on in the story.
I was cautious at the beginning of the story but overall I thought the exploration of polyamorous relationships really gave depth to both the story and Ariah’s development and journey of self discovery.
Karen: I think using a fantasy setting allowed Sanders to explore ideas of race and relationships in a very clever way. The elves judge each other by the colour of their skin , and often by where they live (like ‘we’ would do that shit) yet as Ariah gets to know the other elves, he realises that each culture brings richness to his life. Writing this it seems very ‘finger waggley’ but I did not find the book so at all. For me one of the strengths was that Ariah started off quite judgmental, and almost ruins some relationships with this. But the more he experiences the more open he becomes. Because of the length of the book this happens very organically.
The same with the sexuality and relationships, instinctively I wanted Ariah to find the ‘one’ , and in a way he did, he found himself via several relationships.
I found that this book challenged some preconceptions for me, but with a great deal of humanity and grace.
Fra: Spot on Karen! At the beginning of the story Ariah is still very young and very set in his preconceptions. His point of view is all inwards and based mostly on the stark differences he notes between himself and others and his ingrained respect for the societal norms of the environment he grew up in.
My favourite part of the book overall is the way Ariah pushes at his own limits – not always willingly – and comes out with a little more in depth understanding of himself and the world around him. This Sanders does incredibly well.
Ariah’s journey is one of the mind and self awareness rooted in specific places and supported, if you will, by the people he is with at any given time.
The truth of the matter is that for me at least Ariah was not one of the most lovable characters: he is is so set in his preconceptions, bent on denying change and differences while at the same time constantly setting himself apart as different from all other that I did take a while to warm up to him.
Although I must admit that this very crystallised starting point did make the lengthy journey to self discovery rather entertaining.
Like I was saying earlier on, the book lacks the classic epic quest which is typical of most fantasy novels; however the narrative does place Ariah in different locations with key people to correspond with major character developments.
Ariah’s solid beliefs are rooted in his home country and family life in Ardijan. The move to Rabhata kicks start a journey of self discovery that goes from denial of difference to the embracing of it via discovery same sex and multi gendered relationships. And final acceptance not only of the gift he has been repressing for a long time but also of his love for both Sorcha and Shayat and ultimately recognition that change and differences are a good thing.
The thing I thought this book did very well was conveying the idea that place, society and family do not have to make us the people we are – it is the people we choose to love, the society which we choose to abide to and the family we pick for ourselves that makes us the people we are.
Moreover the novel delivers a complex and delicate portrait of the main character development throughout a long period of time and by using a fantasy setting invites the reader to suspend disbelief and take this journey with Ariah.
Karen: I think Sanders overreached a bit and ended up throwing a whole lot of themes at the underlying story which did not necessarily got explored to their full conclusion.
Fra: I agree – my biggest gripe with this novel is mainly to do with the very apparent use of narrative devices to move the plot along and place Ariah in the next critical place/besides the next critical person. It worked the first time when they go to the City to be with Dirva’s dying father; it almost worked the second time when Ariah goes to Alamadour to further his training and reconnects with Sorcha; but – at least for me – starts losing strength when Dirva calls him back to Rabhata.
That said, this was a book I enjoyed. It pushed some of my boundaries and I appreciated the scope of the artist intent: I did eventually warmed up to the main character but I admit that Sorcha is one of the most memorable romantic interests I have read for a while. One that interestingly enough ends up on the epic journey Ariah never went on and is able to bring the family they have chosen for each other back together again.
I wanted to mention the outstanding cover for this book. It beautifully captures the story and that is such a rarity nowadays that I feel compelled to acknowledge how good it is. I enjoyed this book, it was intelligent and very different, even challenging in a way – I didn’t quite love it though as I am notoriously picky when it comes to very visible narrative devices.
Karen: We actually started this review some time ago, and for various reasons did not manage to get around to finishing it. In tidying it up , and reading the review again much of the book has stayed with me and while I too did not love it, I did enjoy it, the writing style and the desire to do something differently.