“Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the Emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the wintry, mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. She knows she could be the best in the world, if only someone would give her a chance.”
Very rarely I come across a young adult fantasy book that surprises me. And this one did. Even the Darkest Stars is a high fantasy full of adventure, witches, dragons, ghosts – and (unexpectedly) mountaineering.
Kamzin is supposed to become a shaman, but her dream lies among the summits of the highest mountains. When the certain famous royal explorer comes into town, her dream suddenly seems much closer than ever before.
The plot is fast-paced, full of adventure and plot-twists, very easy to read. If you like the “journey” type of fantasy, this one is for you. There is a hint of romance, but (thank god) it is only in the background and it is not the main force behind the plot. The worldbuilding was fine to a degree, the mountains, little villages in their shadows and dark woods full of witches were portrayed vividly and well, I just wish there was more about the broader universe of the book.
The characters are portrayed as ambiguous, which is something I enjoy. They are not good or bad, something that is still seen often in YA, but couldn’t be further away from the personality of real human being. The characters have flaws, they make bad decisions and it makes the story even better. I especially liked River, the famous royal explorer, who was very mysterious, and it was impossible to know what to expect from him, whether to cheer him on or hate his with passion. Our main character, Kamzin, is typical underdog, the outsider aiming for greatness, which is something anyone can connect to (at least the outsider part).
Probably the most original part of the book is the above-mentioned mountaineering. It is not just a random theme being present in the background, but very well thought out theme written realistically. The author is obviously knowledgeable about this topic herself. Very interesting were the scenes with dead mountain climbers, who stayed on the mountain after their tragic deaths, which might be alluding to the fact, that there are dead bodies on the real mountains and it is something every climber has to deal with. The author also worked with the altitude sickness, which would be very easy to omit in the fantasy, but the fact, that she kept it in the story adds to its credibility and also helps the reader to imagine the height of the mountains the main characters were dealing with.
As in most fantasy novels, there are fantasy creatures in this book. We have dragons, which are not very typical dragons, being very small and cute – basically puppies. I found this hilarious, but if you are a traditionalist in the dracology, it might bother you that the author didn´t make the dragon into a mighty beast.
Overall – If you are looking for a YA fantasy full of original elements, Even the Darkest Stars would be a good choice.
Favourite Character: River.
Favourite Quote: “And as for my soul — I saw black fire sweeping the village, heard the anguished screams. What use would I have for a soul, if everyone I loved was dead?”