Marilia – strong-willed, erudite and fallible. Cole has delivered a heroine so humbly human I found pleasure in reading fantasy again.
Marilia’s entire story is one of struggle, defiance and vulnerability. Not once is her trajectory predictable. She is not invincible. She is frustrating at times in her quarrels with Annuweth (her twin brother), brave in her love for Kanadiel and Camilline and empowered in her push to be who she desires to be in the face of the world’s beliefs and principles, in the face of Karthtag-Kal’s wishes.
Cole finds just the right pace – slow enough to feel the world he has created unfold around you, yet quick enough for Marilia to be catapulted into life’s challenges; catapulting the reader into each stage of our heroine’s life and the small and vast battles she must face.
The characterisation is phenomenal too. I could imagine the wind through Camilline’s hair or the way she would look on horseback, I could imagine Catarina’s grace or the Graver’s brutality outlined on his face. The anger and love raging between Marilia and Annuweth was also compelling to read. Cole captures humanity in words as raw as they are beautiful.
This story also goes beyond cliché tropes of good versus evil. Cole moves with the fantasy genre as it begins to explore the complexity of human nature. At times there is no saviour or victor. Sometimes even when victory is taken, it leaves a sour taste.
Nor does Cole attempt to force upon you the fact Marilia is female and more attracted to women than she is men. The novel is progressive because these things are fact, not gratuitous additions hoping to rein in a new audience. Cole writes with honesty and dynamism. Who Marilia is, who she loves and what she fights for could be said for anyone. Cole has created a character who many will champion, many will see as a role model, as a representation of themselves but most importantly Cole has written about a human being straining against societal norms, finding their place in the world, no matter who they are – and this is to be applauded.