In a time of personal busyness and perpetual exhaustion, reading Crier’s War felt like visiting a solace, a quiet place. I’ve always had a soft spot for books that read like clever fairytales—ones that momentarily transport you to a faraway world so unlike the one you already inhabit—and this book went above and beyond in meeting this fondness of mine in its mere 25 chapters. The reasons I love this book are genuinely many, and probably more than that I’ll be able to encapsulate in this post alone, but I hope that some of my ramblings today will justify the volume of inane yelling I have hurled at my friends to read this ever since I was accepted for this tour, graciously hosted by Karina @ Afire Pages. You can check out the very cool author interview, tour schedule and launching post here! Now onwards to the post!
I first came across Crier’s War when I saw the beautiful, absolutely stunning cover on Twitter. And boy, when I found out that it was an f/f fantasy (though it feels more like a fascinating mashup of fantasy and dystopian after having read it), all bets were off. Today I’m delighted to report that this book lived up to every single one of my expectations and then some, and that it’s definitely making my favorites list for the year!
Crier’s War follows two girls: Crier and Ayla, in a land on the verge of a war, the kingdom itself built heavily on decades of oppression and prejudice. To the other, both girls are themselves from beyond enemy lines: Crier, the only daughter of the most powerful sovereign in the land; Ayla, a furious servant-turned-handmaiden whose family was destroyed in the administration’s senseless riots, and whose life purpose is to kill Crier. As political tensions grow and their fates begin to intertwine, they find that the feelings they harbor for each other may be more costly than the war they’re prepared to fight.
1. A fantastical, dystopian world where nothing is mere happenstance
So here is the twist: this book is about a war between humans, and a new race of (incredibly) intelligent, flawless beings called Automae, created from a combination of automaton, flesh and bone, and alchemical magick. And you guys, as someone who doesn’t really like stories about androids and the tensions that arise from Created Beings Becoming Sentient, the story’s setting felt so… remarkable. It was a brilliant combination of dystopia (much of the story takes place after years of bloodshed and violence, and humans are largely subservient to the Automae race), fantasy, and almost… medieval realism? that I’ve yet to really see in any sort of fictional media. This unique cocktail of settings and genres was so compelling to me, and definitely contributed a lot to my enjoyment of this book, as it gave me a reason to care about the world beyond the immediate perspectives of our POV characters. Which, speaking of…
2. Characters that came to life on page, and a sweet, slow-burn queer romance
“Sweet mother, I cannot weave –— Sappho (or Crier’s internal narration, probably)
slender Aphrodite has overcome me
with longing for a girl.”
Our two main protagonists, Crier and Ayla, had an absolutely fascinating dynamic, from their very first reaction to the deepening of their romance. (Read also: this is a slow-burn romance between a girl who’s actually an angry cat and a perfectly designed robot-human with an intelligence of 2.) It was so evident to me that their relationship was written as an impassioned love letter to the romances that queer people were never allowed to have: altogether gentle and sweeping and oh my god, FILLED with so much pining.
The title characters aren’t the only ones with great characterisations either. The main villains in the story were downright terrifying in the way they wielded their power, and the sinister threat they posed to our protagonists. Even the way Crier is treated as the supposed heir to her father’s legacy feels like a scathing commentary on the way our society views the competency and capabilities of young teenage girls. Also not to date myself, but that this book is being released in the dawn of Greta Thunberg’s trailblazing activism feels especially poignant.
(Personal note: there seems to be a growing trend of the Big Bads in YA fantasies—who, by and large, are specifically male—being identified as villains by the way they lord their power and greed over the women they try to convince are their allies, and it’s delicious. Please give me more.)
3. Poetic narration that sticks, and utterly compelling voices
And here, friends, the section I have been waiting this entire article to get to. Nina Varela’s writing in this book may be the most phenomenal thing about it yet. You know?? the feeling you get?? when you open a book for the first time and something in your soul just settles and clicks like everything was meant to be??
This book did that for me. Everything—from the way the book is structured between present-day and archives from the dawn of the Automa age, to the back-and-forth POV chapters with both Ayla and Crier (who both have wonderfully distinct voices), to the descriptions of their interactions together—the sheer amount of excellence poured into this book is just… mind-blowing. I haven’t a clue how Nina did it, and honestly suspect that somewhere along the line someone made a pact with higher powers to get this level of polish from a debut.
And honestly, what better way than to just show you what I mean?
Tour Fanart — An excerpt from the opening chapter…
Is it at all surprising that I would award this book with a full five stars? Probably not. All at once, Crier’s War is:
- a slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers, queer love story between two girls who have everything to lose,
- a taut, ever-moving adventure about the brewing of a war in a lushly drawn dystopian fantasy,
- and an unbelievably excellent debut from an author who has definitely made it to my must-buy + favorites list.
Giveawaya Rafflecopter giveaway
I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for the purposes of this tour, but this is an honest review. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, but this doesn’t sway my opinion one way or another! Quotes here are also subject to change in the final copy of the book.
About the book
From debut author Nina Varela comes the first book in an Own Voices, richly imagined epic fantasy about an impossible love between two girls—one human, one Made—whose romance could be the beginning of a revolution.
Perfect for fans of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse as well as Game of Thrones and Westworld.
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.
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.
About the author
Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.
You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at www.ninavarela.com.
Thank you so much for reading my review! I have a couple of exciting things happening throughout the month of October, so keep an eye on this space in the next few weeks! Until then, see you around the Perch, my friend. 💛