I need to open with something that influenced my opinion on this book quite considerably: I’m really bad with names. I have read books, absolutely loved them and then had to look up the names of the main characters a day later. Sometimes I read something, take a break, come back and go “Wait? Who’s that guy?” - especially when the book has a lot of characters and/or they have names that are very foreign to me. And Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties has a lot of fantasy names.
Because this book goes full fantasy, so to speak. It’s not a world that is reminiscent of a certain time and place and has added some magic. It takes place in a completely different world. Misti isn’t even human - or an elf or any other known fantasy race. She’s a vagari - a humanoid race with the ability to form telepathic connections to animals. They are further divided based on what kind of animal they have an especially strong bond with. Only, those aren’t animals we know. Misti comes from a vulnix bloodline. A sort of flying fox-creature. Because of that, her eyesight is much better than that of other people. Dylori comes from a neades bloodline – huge desert creatures that are big enough for three or four people to ride on – and gets above-average strength and little horns out of it. Vagari all choose a companion animal from their own bloodline with which they have an especially strong bond. Of course, their companion gets a name. And vagari aren’t the only race that inhabits that world; there are three more that all have different abilities (unrelated to any animals).
I found much of that a pretty cool idea but that’s a lot of names. So, I spent a lot of time trying to remember if something was a character’s name, an animal’s name, a type of animal, one of the races or something else and what exactly that meant for the story at that point. It took more than a third of the book until I was familiar enough with this world to be able to read without constant wait what was that? -moments. A couple of times I was tempted to just quit because that level of confusion was in no way enjoyable, only exhausting.
I didn't quit for two reasons: Misti and Dylori were really lovely and so was their romance. It does mostly stay in the background – the book is definitely more a fantasy that happens to feature a romance than a fantasy romance – but I enjoyed it since it does feature one of my favourite tropes: mutual pining. Both clearly already have feelings for each other but need some outside help to see that they are reciprocated.
The second reason for not quitting was also fairly simple: I expected a pay-off. I expected that a plot in such an extraordinary world would also be extraordinary. But it really isn’t. Misti is stuck with a pendant with scary powers and so they all travel to one town in the hope that they can help her there. They can’t and send her to another place. They travel there and have to fight some evil creatures on their way. They arrive at the next place Your pendant expert is in another castle. Rinse. Repeat. All of that could just as easily have taken place in a far less confusing world.
I have read great fantasy that bases its world on a familiar time and place and then changes it enough to make it unique - but not so much that I wished it came with an encyclopedia I could consult while reading. And in most of those, plot and world were linked in a way that made it impossible to imagine the plot working anywhere else. This plot of Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties…well it could just as easily have been set in any generic medieval fantasy and that feels like a waste of all that worldbuilding.
Would I have been less harsh on this book, if I had an easier time remembering names? Probably. But I would still question who the target audience for this book is. Romance readers who are more casual fantasy readers would probably feel a bit overwhelmed by so many new concepts and terms - even if they have an easier time remembering them - while frequent fantasy readers will feel somewhat underwhelmed by a plot that really isn’t that outstanding.
CW: violence, death, graphic fight-scenes
Eva received a copy of this book from the author for review.