Review: Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway
Published by Tor Teen on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
He was raised in revolution. She was raised in a palace. Can their love stop a war? Code Name Verity meets The Winner's Curse in Joanna Hathaway's Dark of the West, a breathtaking YA fantasy debut.
Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.
Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.
Dark of the West is the story of revolution, war, and of course, of forbidden love. It’s told through alternating perspectives from Athan, who grew up in constant war and is the third son of a ruthless and powerful general who is leading a revolution. Aurelia grew up somewhat sheltered as a princess of smaller kingdom that has not experienced war firsthand at home.
I really enjoyed both perspectives. Athan is a pilot who is getting ready to go through testing to determine his placement after his training ends. He is the clear favorite of his mother who hates the constant war and wants Athan to find a way out of it, a way to stay safe and not waste his life. This makes her the opposite of his father who lives and breathes war and strategy and expects the same of his sons. If Athan had his way, he would follow his mother’s preferred path for him. He is extremely intelligent and a very skilled pilot, his father’s ideal combination, so Athan’s strategy is to hide as much of that from his father as possible. But his father is determined to use Athan however he can, and will use whatever tactics necessary to get Athan to cooperate.
When Athan is tasked with spying on Aurelia and her brother, the crown prince who is expected to take the throne within the next year, he was reluctant and just didn’t expect to be able to please his father. What he did not expect was the instant connection he felt with the princess. The two become quite giddy for each other (there may be a bit of insta-love here). But its sweet and for Athan, he really needs something other than war and pressure (from his father) in his life. Aurelia (Ali) provides that, and the two have quite a bit in common. For Ali, she needs someone to really see her and listen to her and believe in her, not just see her as a vacant princess whose sole value is being married off to whoever has the best strategic value. Athan instantly truly sees her and can help her be the person she can be instead of being a shadow of person who can’t actively contribute.
Before you get to this next section, which may be bordering on a rant, I want to emphasize that overall, I really did enjoy this and I do want to read the next one, so don’t read the next two paragraphs and leave with only the negatives.
What hasn’t sit all that well with me is the decision to have the prologue set so far ahead of the entire book. I found myself thinking about details I learned from it through out the book and was looking forward to “catching up” to it just so I would stop thinking about the things I knew were coming versus enjoying the story as it comes. I have gone back and forth if the prologue was a good decision or not because it certainly heightened my curiosity, however I also felt like it was akin to reading spoilers in an online forum, which I absolutely hate. Then I remember the reason I hate spoilers is because I want to experience the story as the author wants to tell it, so I should go with this, because the author chose to reveal these details. But I still found myself wishing I didn’t know and a bit perplexed at what the goal of revealing it early was.
Honestly, I am leaning towards it being a cheap device to try and hook readers by giving them a climatic scene, then thrusting them back to the very beginning. It’s like a TV show where they show you the ending first, then bounce you back 48 hours (or whatever) to fill in the gaps, but with reading I find it sticks with me easier than a TV show where I might forget until it gets close the scene I saw earlier. If I had caught up to the “prologue” scene by the end of this book, I think I’d be more forgiving, but the fact that the end of this book clearly is before that prologue scene just grates on my nerves a bit. I don’t want to go into yet another book like that and the more I dwell on it, the less I see a reason for the story to be structured this way. And to be clear, after the prologue, everything is told sequentially. Ultimately those pages in the beginning are causing me to give the entire book a lower rating and I feel its rare I can point to a specific section of the book that can have that much impact on an overall rating, but there it is. Evidently I hate spoilers that much even if they are given by the author, and therefor shouldn’t be considered spoilers.
OK, now with that out of my system, I can go back and say again, I really enjoyed these two characters! I really did enjoy the story quite a bit! Honestly, if I didn’t enjoy it so much, I am guessing that prologue would not have irked me so much because I simply wouldn’t care enough to dwell on it. I never advocate skipping sections of a book, I do feel its important to read the story as the author wants to tell it, but if I were ever forced to pick one section of one book from all the books I’ve ever read to skip, it would probably be this prologue. I just really still don’t understand why its there.