Lirra is a Channeler – a woman with the power to control the elements, in Lirra’s case the wind. Aodren is a young king whose father persecuted Channelers and created fear and hatred against these women’s magic. During a tournament that brings many kingdoms together, Aodren and Lirra learn of a drug that mimics Channeler magic, but ends up killing its users. Together, they must track down the source of the drug, and figure out how to overturn the decades of hatred Aodren’s father had cultivated.
In Once a King, Erin Summerhill has created a fascinating world — magical women, fearful non-magical people, a young king trying to heal the divide, a deadly drug masked as a specialized magical elixir. It’s the third in a series, and I haven’t read the first two books, but I didn’t have a hard time keeping up.
I also really love the sweet romance in this book, and both Aodren and Lirra are compelling characters. I love how Lirra dreams of being an inventor, using her Channeler gifts to build a glider that gives non-magical people the ability to fly without magic, and I also love that she is constrained by her need to support her family and earn her father’s approval by helping him out on dangerous missions. I also love how Aodren has to live very much under the shadow of his father’s actions, how he wants to do good for his kingdom but is also uncertain of his own abilities to bring forth change. Both of them complement each other well, and I like the friendship that grounds their romance.
The last few chapters were especially strong, and I love the way the book ended. But most of the book felt slow, partly because of the political machinations, but also some of the twists and action sequences felt repetitive. For such an action-packed plot concept, I felt the book was twice as long as it had to be, and while I loved the concept and am glad I finished it, I almost gave up on it several times.
Still, overall I enjoyed the story, and I like how a fantasy about magic in a far-off kingdom touched on some important real life issues (discrimination, fear-mongering, drug addiction, drug trade, political maneuvering, claustrophobia and anxiety).
Thanks to Raincoast Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.