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    Creative setting/magic syst./intriguing characters

    "There are many ways a land like ours can be threatened, both from inside and out," Kennan states. "As Bards, we have to be prepared to face any threat and prevail." 'Hush' by Dylan Farrow was another of my most highly anticipated reads for 2020.. and it absolutely exceeded my expectations. Shae, our main character, is a girl of seventeen who lives a quiet life in the small village of Aster with her mom.. the last living member of her family. Terrified of the plague that killed her baby brother, she lives in constant fear that she's cursed.. a fear that's reflected back at her by most of the townspeople. Treated as an outcast, the only friends she has are Fiona and Mads.. both of whom do their best to make her life a little better.. but there are rules with harsh punishments enforced by a group called the Bards. These justice bearers come dressed all in black and gold, claiming to use the magic of Telling to keep the people safe.. so long as they provide appropriate tithes. When she finds her murdered mother's body, the discovery exacerbates everything. All her fears and those of the community.. come down hard around her.. and that's where her journey begins. This is one of those extremely rare instances where the synopsis not only leaves the best parts of the story out.. as well it should.. it even leaves out some of the most intriguing aspects told in the very first pages. It's actually kind of mind-blowing.. how bland the blurb is when compared to even the opening of the tale.. and it only gets better from there. The brooding Bard with secrets of his own has an absolutely magnetic pull and I desperately hope there will be another book so I can learn more about him. Everything seems to imply there will be considering the way it wraps up.. but I've seen no confirmation anywhere yet. "The Book of Days. It is the repository of all truth, brought to our land by the First Rider. In its pages is the record of everything we know. The fabric upon which all reality is shaped." As for the magic system, I loved how the importance of balance was displayed and how it seemed to work. Especially good was the play between illusion and magic grounded in reality. It created a sense of uncertainty, not only for Shae.. but a bit for the reader at times, so that one might wonder which way things would go. Through it all runs an important message that the author alludes to in her acknowledgements. The importance of speaking out, the strength it often takes to do so.. when those around you seem aligned against you, and the celebration of those who do so anyway. It's certainly a position Farrow knows personally and I think that showed in the conviction and sometimes wavering bouts of despair that Shae struggled with. I found the setting nearly as fascinating as the story itself. Shae's home village is described so cleanly, I feel like I can see it.. and the castle.. wow. It's a vast fortress of training grounds and corridors, a hidden maze, and a multitude of dangers. If I was looking for something to improve on.. I'd say the dialogue could be better.. but that's not to say it's bad either. The conversations feel a little contrived at times, but there's definitely better dialogue chemistry once she reaches the home of the Bards. Anyway, this book was fantastic! I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a wonderfully creative fantasy read. (More reviews like this at Betwixt The Sheets.) (I received this title as an ARC. All opinions are mine and freely given.)
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