Umm… for some reason I’m so nervous for this review… I was so hyped to read this and how I sort of “won” the ARC to read…but it did not wow me… The creativity is there but… well, read on to find out what happened…
The Library of Fates
by Aditi Khorana
Published July 18th 2017
Emperor Sikander has turned his sights on Shalingar, the country of his friend and decided he will wed the man’s daughter. She is not certain she can accept that outcome but it does give her the opportunity to learn about her mother who disappeared when she was born. Setting events into motion Amrita is on the run with the oracle Thala, a slave to Sikander and the drug chamak to find the Library of All Things where one can change their fate. Along the way they warn the chamak harvesters the secretive Sybillines who live in the Jakkara caves…
Okay, first things first… I have to clarify my rating (not a good sign I know)… While I have chosen to rate the book 3 stars it is NOT due to the quality of the book… that is 2 stars. Once I read the end (which most readers concede is decent even if they didn’t like it) I understood what the author was trying to write. My hypothesis is that she was trying to embellish the creation of a goddess. With this understanding A LOT of the story makes more sense. So because the story had a point, was a standalone and not a series plus was creative I gave it an additional star.
The premise of explaining how a human girl can become a goddess idolized by entire countries is pretty neat. It is almost a retelling of Indian folklore if Maya was a real Indian god. (I don’t know if she is or not, there was no note in the book from the author saying what was fact or fiction. I do not approve of calling something folklore or otherwise linking it to reality and there not be a note from the author explaining where fact and fiction begin.) In any case if the book were better written this could be a really great story!
I really appreciated that this story was not dragged out into three books though I think if the writing and story craft were stronger it could have been a duology (breaking when they leave the caves). There is definitely a beginning, middle and end though. It wasn’t a formless story with no plot. Things were shallow, feelings and perspectives shifted for no reason, not much happened at major plot points but there was an attempt for milestones to be reached and a journey to have been made.
A serious problem was the writing. It felt like a news article at times. A really well written news article where a summary of events needed to be explained but where readers don’t want all the details. They just want a really, really good summary. So at times I marveled a book that was ALL TELLING could read so well and at other times I wanted to scream that this writer of obvious experience could not put me inside the character!!
Amrita was a girl I wanted to love… A princess, sheltered, with a loving father and a desire to be a good leader for her people. Plus she is a POC in a world populated with many POCs!! While not exactly diverse I LOVE the cultural aspect of her life and I wanted to know more! Yet she contradicted herself at the turn of nothing. At certain points it was decided that her perspective had changed and there was no motivation developed to reflect that shift. This inconsistency of character continued through the entire book and became quite tiresome.
“And you’ll hear it, the voice of one of those trees, calling you back to you, telling you that the world is alive with mysteries, and that in order to understand them, one must first learn to be still, to listen, and the world will unveil itself to you, as though it was waiting to do so all along.”
Mild spoilers in the paragraph below. It is an example of the inconsistency that is Amrita. It is vague enough that you can read it but you may intuit things that would be considered spoilers.
*For example she says at the beginning that she doesn’t believe any of the parables or stories told to her growing up that had magic or fantastical elements. This is followed by her insistence that what the oracle told her could not be true even though now the oracle had proof! Then suddenly later Amrita believes the oracle and explains how one of her father’s advisors taught her to be logical while this other mother figure taught her the stories… Now come on… she told us herself that she doesn’t believe any of it and now we are to believe she sort of half believed? Well if you grew up logical then you should be able to evaluate when you are making the same mistakes as your father. A logical person would put that together see the pattern. He didn’t believe the oracle though she pointed out the signs and they as political leaders would have been able to understand what those events together signified (invasion). Now Amrita does the same thing at odd with her “logic” that suddenly appeared. This is compounded by the her meeting a boy she talks to on the road so now the stories don’t sound so lame and unbelievable… that is convenient when the oracle who can see things couldn’t convince her…
I wanted to LOVE the world too… fact of the matter is I don’t even know what the time period was… it may have said on the opening page but there weren’t enough environmental clues to really tell me… I believe it was set in a historical time. It seems to be based on Alexander the Great and his life. The temple should have told us but really it could have even been modern times… several times really tall buildings were mentioned as if they may have been skyscrapers…? It was all murky… nothing was described really well so you knew what was being talked about. Not that the description wasn’t there at all… there were some beautiful emotive elements at times, it was just useless to me.
“I didn’t know then what I know now: that everything – my father, this moment, every experience that molds and shapes us – is ephemeral, evaporating into the air before we have a chance to grasp onto it, before we can truly even understand what it means.”
A couple of the settings though were brilliant! I loved the stepwell setting, Temple of Rain, acting like a cistern to collect rain but acting as an ancient site when not full. The markings showing her the way out was great. Also the Sybillines home in the Jakkara Caves was really well described and developed as well! There was a touch of magic in this but very, very light. There is the oracle and her ability. Amrita could talk to nature like in the stories and they could grant her aid. The vetala she meets has the ability to come to where ever she is. And she meets Makera the spider who created the world and his magic is nifty.
I wished this could have been this magnificent tale of friendship between a princess, Amrita and an oracle, Thala. There needed to be more plot though and Amrita couldn’t start out loving Thala just because she was a slave. Many feel great sympathy for slaves (we have many sex slaves around the world) but that doesn’t mean they love them as a friend as soon as they meet. Friends need to get to know the person first, go through trials and moments where they have to take a leap of faith and trust. The friendship with Thala and Amrita started off wrong but later after two experiences it almost worked but we are back to being overly exaggerated… By the end I did feel like they went through a lot together but it was an inconsistent journey that didn’t inspire confidence in their friendship. This felt like a stack of cards that were bound to blow over at any time. This was no more truer than the end of the book where Thala is unable to use her power then suddenly is able to again (very contrived!) The oracles’ power was creative but when she could and would use it and when she couldn’t was not developed well and felt very random. Basically when Amrita had to have Thala help she did and when it was better for Amrita not to know Thala “couldn’t” help. All very convenient.
I was warned of fears of instalove and I poo-pooed them because I thought they were talking about Arjun her childhood love. They were talking about Varun whom she met on a road and instantly felt a connection to that instantly turned to love and feeeeeeeeels that were not supported. This quasi-love triangle was quite painful as it didn’t work and again was all over the place! I liked the difficulty that Arjun was put in but he was very convenient as well acting as a red herring. I LOVED the idea of the vetala and that they were driven away from the humans due to their need of a body. I knew right away about Saaras, the white bird but I loved him anyway and how he carried notes for her. What I wanted to read was how Amrita found who she was because someone held a vision of her that she no longer remembered and how she was able to see that too and make the right choices for herself (not how this person that loved the person Amrita was in the past found her again. It was lame.)
I hope you are starting to see that I really appreciated many elements but that they weren’t used to their best affect. I loved Amrita’s potential journey even though she was all over the place. I loved the magic that was only sparingly or sporadically used. I loved the culture of the world that wasn’t fleshed out very deeply. I loved the back history of her love interests which was touched on in the slightest of ways. I was so happy to see a friendship with a fierce slave girl! Throw in a magical spider and it could have been oh so beautiful…
BOTTOM LINE: An inconsistent but incredibly creative goddess retelling!
Now if this book had been written using showing all these inconsistencies* could have worked because Amrita didn’t know she was holding ideas inside her self that are at odds with each other.
If we were shown she believes because she has a symbol of Maya supposedly treasure by her mother that she herself treasures that would hint that there is belief there that she doesn’t acknowledge or tells herself it is about her mother when it is really about beliefs she doesn’t realize she has.
Her “logic” side could have been developed through a conversation with her father’s advisors and Arjun whom she thinks she loves. They could talk about how she was always skeptical as a little girl and how nothing has changed. She could have argued that if she were allowed outside the palace she could learn for herself if she really believed or not.
These kinds of details are necessary to show us the truth behind the character.
Thanks to Penguin First to Read program for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.