by Nina Varela
read the full synopsis.
After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.
Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.
Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.
Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.
CLEVERLY CONSTRUCTED FANTASY REALM AGAINST A BACKDROP OF POLITICAL UNREST
Set in a fictional realm where alchemy-made androids have successfully overthrown their human owners and enslaved all of mankind, Crier’s War has an endlessly fascinating world-building that I can wax poetry about for weeks.
The idea of creating a world where sentient androids are the status quo while humans are systematically marginalized is interesting to explore but not entirely fresh and novel. However, I absolutely adored how this world is, at its heart, a grand collision between medieval science and artificial intelligence. Alchemy is often viewed as very archaic, and I thought it was brilliant how something so medieval could pave the way to the birth of android-like beings, otherwise known as the Automae.
Aside from being inventive, it’s evident that this unique fantasy world is also cleverly constructed. A lot of effort is put in establishing a definitive, sensible timeline of important historical events, political decisions, and man-made innovations. This allowed me to ease myself into the sociopolitical context wherein the story is currently set. Even the concept of the Automae is explained very well in this book, as well as their ideologies and ways of living. In fact, there was honestly a lot of geeking out on my part!
Complicated world-buildings can be overwhelming or exhausting to digest, but fortunately, this is not the case for Crier’s War. I greatly appreciated how the world is introduced very organically, revealing information in helpful fragments and providing sufficient context while managing to depict the underlying political unrest occurring within its dystopia.
Rowan had always told her that justice was the answer. And for a long time, Ayla had believed her. She’d believed that revolution was possible, that if humans just kept rising up, refusing to submit, they could really change things. But Ayla knew better now. Over the years, she’d seen how hopeless Rowan’s dreams were. Every uprising had failed; every brilliant plan had been crushed; every new maneuver just resulted in more human death.
Justice was a god, and Ayla didn’t believe in such childish things.
She believed in blood.
UNEXPECTED DISCONNECT WITH THE CHARACTERS & CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS
The story is told from two perspectives, namely, Crier’s and Ayla’s. Their voices are distinct from each other, which is always a brownie point for dual POVs. As the story’s leading characters, Crier and Ayla both have compelling, well-rounded personalities that very visibly complement each other. As such, being inside of their respective headspace is a remarkably gratifying experience for different reasons.
🌻 Lady Crier — An Automae Made and Designed to inherit the throne from the king. Effortlessly radiates ‘useless lesbian’ energy. Highly opinionated, naturally inquisitive, and too naive for her own good. Is idealistic, has a heart of gold (you know, figuratively), and is really just trying her best, okay.
🌻 Ayla — A human servant who is eventually promoted to being a handmaiden for Lady Crier. Has ‘angry, chaotic bisexual’ energy in spades. Still grieving over the loss of her entire family and driven by her thirst for vengeance. Refuses to show any weakness, except maybe when Crier is around (👀).
On paper, Crier and Ayla both appear to be strong and wonderfully complex female leads with their own flaws and personal struggles. Crier grapples with understanding her identity while Ayla continually battles with her rage and grief, although Crier undergoes more observable character growth as the story progresses. I had higher hopes for Ayla with respect to her developmental changes, but I do think that more is in store for her in the sequel. Nonetheless, it’s easy to see why so many of this book’s early readers have become enamored by this dynamic duo.
In addition to their individual capacity to stand on their own as well-developed characters, the budding romance between Crier and Ayla is likewise wonderful and develops at a gratifying, gradual pace. With Crier’s refreshing innocence and Ayla’s stubborn denial, their ensuing relationship is both adorably tentative and delightfully frustrating. Their slow transition from mutual curiosity to reciprocated attraction is beautifully done and worth commending (plus, there’s a lot of precious pining in between!).
Nicely supplemented with various well-loved tropes (e.g. enemies to lovers, forbidden romance, sharing a single bed), Crier’s War offers its readership the ultimate slow-burn queer romance. However, despite having all the makings of a great and sweeping love story, I unfortunately found it to be quite lukewarm in terms of tension and chemistry. I think this mainly stems from the lack of emotional attachment that I had with both characters.
As great as Ayla and Crier are on paper, I was unable to connect with them as intimately as I would have liked, which hindered my full enjoyment of Crier’s War. This unexpected disconnect may have arisen from the writing style, my occasional unease with some of the decisions they make within the story, and perhaps something else I can’t really pinpoint right now. Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t really emotionally invest in Ayla and Crier as individuals and as a couple.
Moreover, despite the well-written romance, the other character relationships seem to be shallow and underdeveloped in comparison. Some particular examples are Ayla’s friendships with Benjy, with Rowan, and with her fellow human servants. Although I understand that Ayla is intentionally written as closed-off and emotionally distant, her relationships with other characters (who aren’t Crier) are only explored at a very surface level. As a result, it was difficult for me to believe her concern for literally anyone else except for herself.
On a more positive note, I am most fascinated and intrigued by the Mad Queen, namely, Queen Junn of Varn. There’s a lot of mystery and underlying chaos that surrounds her character, which easily makes her my favorite out of the bunch! I am also equally curious about her relationship with her right-hand man. I hope there is more of them in the sequel!
COMMENTARY ON SOCIOPOLITICAL ISSUES & INVITATION FOR PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT
The critical commentary on real-life sociopolitical issues is difficult to miss. Set in a dystopian society where humans are slaves to androids, Crier’s War unsurprisingly tackles themes of oppression, marginalization, and abuse of political power. It also criticizes the appropriation and stealing of marginalized cultures, the misogyny faced by women (even those in positions of power), and the building of empires on skeletons and needless bloodshed.
Moreover, Crier’s War elicits a lot of opportunities for philosophical thought, which is probably my most favorite thing about this book. Its story introduces the concept of being Made and being Designed to a deadly perfection, which provokes discourses regarding our current concept and understanding of “creation” – What does it mean to be created? Does being designed to the most minute detail impact our ability to be and to choose? Specifically, in a conversation about free will vs. determinism, what role does design play? What is creation in the first place?
This story also invites discourses on logic, emotion, and the necessity of balance. Oftentimes in philosophy, logic and emotion are regarded as two opposing extremes in a spectrum, wherein the former is claimed to be rational while the latter is said to be irrational. In Crier’s War, there are two ideologies presented, namely, Traditionalism and Anti-Reliance Movement. Traditionalism suggests that it is greatly valuable for Automae to adopt certain aspects of human cultures and traditions, while in contrast, the Anti-Reliance Movement argues that the Automae are better off without human contact and influence. From the obvious conflicts between these two ideological beliefs, we can derive important questions – Is logic superior over emotion? Should lives be dedicated to living logically and rationally? Are human emotions and compassion weaknesses?
In provoking these philosophical discussions through its narratives, Crier’s War invites introspection and self-reflection among its readers. This book does not just explore what it means to be human, but ultimately, it asks: Is being human something we ought to strive for?
“Yes,” said Ayla, and refrained from adding, Your customs are similar because your entire culture was stolen from ours. Because you have no history or culture of your own.
A PROMISING DYSTOPIAN DEBUT WITH A MIX OF STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Generally, I did enjoy reading Crier’s War, but I can’t say that I completely loved it. As a matter of fact, I have plenty of mixed feelings with the good outweighing the bad.
For instance, I was not fully satisfied with the plot direction and progression of the story. Towards the latter half of the book, the decisions made by Ayla and/or Crier do not really make sense, or in some cases, fail to come across as believable. I can’t help but feel that a lot of these decisions are made solely for the sake of moving the plot along. In addition to this, the story tends to drag too much in a few areas. Finally, everything leads to a weak resolution with too many loose ends and insufficient satisfaction.
Nonetheless, despite these small flaws, there is no doubt that Crier’s War is very cleverly written. With beautifully lush prose and impeccably timed revelations, Nina Varela’s writing style unfailingly impresses, stuns, and captivates. I also particularly appreciated the normalization of same-sex relationships within the context of this fantasy world, as well as the thoughtful exploration of Crier’s sexuality.
It seems like I’m a bit of the black sheep when it comes to this book. Certainly, this novel has its fair share of hits and misses, as most debut novels do. Nonetheless, with a dystopian world that can make any self-confessed geek’s heart sing and a well-executed romance between two compelling queer women, Crier’s War is a very promising start to a YA fantasy series that will definitely win over many readers. In fact, it’s basically The Winner’s Curse with richer nuances and unapologetic queerness. Although I’m not as “won over” as I would’ve liked, there is no doubt that I still intend to pick up the sequel.
Click to read the content and trigger warnings.
Death and murder; loss of loved ones; depictions of grief; violence; abuse of drug-like substance and symptoms of substance addiction/withdrawal
I received a digital review copy of Crier’s War as part of my participation in an amazing blog tour organized by Karina @ Afire Pages and in cooperation with the publisher (of course, this does not affect my review and any quoted passages from the ARC are subject to changes in the finished copy). Many thanks to Karina and HarperCollins International for the opportunity! Follow along the blog tour by checking out the schedule and join in on the fun!
By the way, are you interested in winning a copy of Crier’s War by Nina Varela? Then head on over to this giveaway and try your luck!
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🌻 Are you planning to pick up Nina Varela’s debut novel, Crier’s War? Have you added it to your TBR?
🌻 Are you a fan of Sapphic romances in fantasy? Do you have any favorites that you’d like to recommend?
🌻 Has a book ever made you think about philosophy or made you question your current understanding of the things around you?