A very impressive novel for first time published author Emily Noon.
Aurora is shifter whose life has been devoted to hunting down the men who killed her tiger-shifter father when she was a child. When she sneaks into a mine to steal a precious ore to fund her quest, she is drawn deeper into the facility where there is a clandestine cutter facility. Cutters are humans (and shifter allies) who capture and then vivisect shifters in order to sell parts of their bodies for less than savory purposes. Aurora rescues the surviving shifters and she and Evie, an avian shifter, escape but Evie’s wing is damaged and Aurora agrees to take her back to the home city – with a few stops along the way.
This is firmly in the fantasy genre – the author calls it dark fantasy, but I think its closer to high fantasy with some dark elements. The world building was done remarkably well and had a satisfying level of logic and wonder. An oddity was the way that Ms Noon linked the world to ours – a portal that is never really explained in detail, but gives enough to let me let her get away with references to jeans or sashimi. If I didn’t enjoy the book so much, I may not have been as ready to suspend my disbelief or questioned it more. It gave the book a boost of originality by blending the elements – but the world and characters are firmly rooted in the fantasy realm that is populated with shifters and monsters and magic trump science and technology.
At its heart, this is a romance – a long slow burn romance between Aurora and Evie as they escape the dreaded cutters and make their way back (with a few detours) to Evie’s home. The book focuses on that build up from strangers to lovers to partners in detail. There are some great action scenes – the escape from the mine and some of the battles, but the bulk of the story is the travel and getting to know you plotline with more than a bit of angst thrown in with a pretty horrible backstory for Aurora. As much as I liked the characters, a bit more action and adventure in the middle would have helped keep the pace up. At times it made me think of online fiction I’ve read – sometimes a bit rambly and Aurora’s character and backstory sometimes got a bit too much; but, on the whole it’s an engaging story and characters.
Be prepared to set aside a week or so to read the novel – it’s a long one – but once you start you’ll be hooked.
Note that this book won the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.
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