I bought this in November last year and didn't pick it up until now because I got the oddest feeling that I was going to love this series and with a little research, I discovered that the author was planning on publishing the next four books in February, April, and July of 2016 (which I thought was crazy because most authors release a new book in a series every one-three years, not in rapid succession with only a few months in between!) so I decided to wait to start reading until the whole series was released and I could read all the books in rapid succession, avoiding those dreaded periods of anticipation and waiting to find out what happens next.
And god, am I glad I did! This was an excellent set up book! The world building is amazing and I loved the characters; I'm personally pretty picky about the way magic is presented in a story, but I liked this execution pretty well and was engrossed in the overall universe. Now, since this is the first of five books in a fantasy and only goes a bit over 300 pages, of course it suffers from that "build up, set up" syndrome where a lot of the novel has to be dedicated to creating the scenes necessary to allow understanding to occur within the reader at the expense of the story moving along from major plot point to plot point at a quick pace. We're given a lot of scenes where we get to see who Vhalla and Aldrick are, have them interact, see their relationship develop and change, get a feel for what's happening, and I think all this stuff is very important in a fantasy series because if a reader isn't given substance in a book, just the exoskeleton of events like an outline for a history class, they aren't going to want to read the rest because they can't connect with the characters or find reason to care about them and what's happening to them and around them. I hate it when books gloss over the important aspects of story telling (like character development and scene-setting and telling the history) just to get around to specific plot points and scenes that are generally considering the most appealing/engaging. Not every story is just non-stop action and war and bloodshed, so stories that skim everything else just to have as much focus on these things as possible can get so boring. The author certainly could have cut this book down and gotten us straight into the war by the end, but doing so would have cost the reader a lot of worthwhile character development and backstory and set up for what's to come. I'm really glad she didn't though! This book had all the necessary storytelling elements and the author made good decisions at every turn, deciding that readers deserved to get a fully immersive story and not one that was gutted to the bare minimum. The stuff covered in this book enriches the read with details and conversations and inner thoughts and conflicts and developments, which I liked. I feel primed to get into the next part of the story, the next arc.
Which brings me to another quality thing I want to point out: this book doesn't cut itself off in such a way that you feel like book #1 and #2 could be bound together in one book and no one would ever know they were two separate books because they're formulated more like sections of the same continuing book and not individual installations of a longer, larger story. While the transition into book #2 seems like it'll be clean and straightforward, the way book #1 wraps up gives you the sense that this part of the story, this arc, has now concluded and that we're moving on to another arc, another section with new goals and obstacles to address. This book covers Vhalla leaving behind her identity as a normal girl and library apprentice to embrace her identity as a sorceress, which is wrapped up with a scene that showcases her accepting what she is and looking towards what's to come, so I imagine the next book will be about her coming into the role of solider now that she's (metaphorically) killed the girl who worked in a library in order to let the woman who's a sorceress be born. I quite like this format of book writing; it follows that more traditional, satisfying model of writing that has one major conflict resolved, leaving one or more other conflicts to be resolved in the following books in a continuing pattern until the large, final goal is achieved, which is much more fulfilling than reading a volumes/sections format.
What other things were good? Well, outside of the character all being complex and interesting, I found the author to write beautifully and appropriately for a fantasy setting that's far removed from our modern world. The editing job was excellent, my physical copy was error free as far as my scrupulous eye could tell, which definitely makes the $14 price tag easier to swallow. There was nothing problematic about the content (like no blatant shows of sexism or racism or other such things that are normalized/romanticized/deemed okay), which was wonderful because I've read far too many books with problematic content that just repulsed and disgusted me so much because of the way it was used and regarded. This gets a thumbs up from this 21-year old social activist. And we get left with enough stuff unanswered or not closed up that there's a lot to wonder about while continuing along the story. It doesn't come across as a wholly predictable story; I got some feelings about a few things and am churning around some theories and predictions, which is always nice because while a predictable novel can be nice, it can also take away the fun of getting hit with a twist or the unexpected.
Overall, I loved this book and I'm excited to see what happens next! I'm happy I picked up this book. Was finished in about five hours of reading and in a single sitting.