Review of Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen
Rating: 4.25/5 Stars
I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Reign the Earth is a dark, gritty, story of perseverance and taking control of your own destiny.
“I was not poor. I was not alone, or broken, or hungry.
Their blessings had carried me through every challenge and horror I had faced;
in truth, I had never left the desert at all …”
I’d like to start this review by mentioning that this book has received some negative attention for its representation of intense and possibly triggering themes, such as arranged marriage, unwanted physical advances, emotional and physical abuse, and more. The author does NOT romanticize these subplots. However, if these are themes you are uncomfortable reading about, this may not be the book for you. That said, I had read other reviews before going into this and expected this book to be an extreme emotional rollercoaster. Instead, I came out feeling empowered by Shalia’s story and am looking forward to what happens next. It is all a matter of opinion, but I did not feel as though the themes in this book were as graphic or inciting as others have felt. Again, a matter of opinion! I’m glad I chose to look past the reviews and give this book a shot. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving some information on what happens, so the next few paragraphs may read a bit like a book report while I touch on some of the important aspects of this story.
This story follows Shalia, daughter of a desert clan threatened by war with the mighty Trifectate empire. Shalia is no stranger to misery. Having already lost family to this bloody battle and fearful more of her family will side with the rebellion, she is desperate to find a way to broker peace between the factions at play. Shalia agrees to an arranged marriage with Calix, King of the Trifectate. Immediately, I was impressed by Shalia’s choice. Let me clarify: Shalia is not FORCED into arranged marriage. Instead, she chooses to offer her hand in exchange for a deal between the desert and the empire.
From the start, it is clear that the most important thing in Shalia’s life is her family and she has a loving one at that. However, upon her somewhat untraditional marriage to Calix, Shalia is whisked away to the Tri City, seemingly alone, if not for the wits of her brother, Kairos, who finds a way to accompany her to her new home. I really loved Shalia’s brothers that we got to know, Kairos and Rian are both fierce in their love for the desert, it’s traditions and Shalia. I mean, who wouldn’t want big brothers like these two?
In her new home, Shalia tries to find her place in her new role as Queen – who will she be to the people, to the political factions, to her husband? As they spend time together, Shalia tries to uncover the person Calix is, what his motivations are, if he truly cares for her and if she can come to care for him. On the other hand, Shalia comes to find herself caring for Galen, Calix’s younger brother. After a faux pas during her marriage ceremony with Calix, Shalia feels herself inexplicably tethered to Galen in ways she cannot explain.
To make matters worse, Shalia believes she may be harboring the very magic her husband is fighting to destroy. Unwilling to run from the deal she made to establish stability in the region, Shalia attempts to control her new abilities while also hiding it from the prying eyes around her. For if she is discovered, it won’t just guarantee her own death, but also forfeit the lives of her family and war will continue to rage.
This story is the type to bring you to your knees while simultaneously raising you from the ashes. There is mystery and intrigue. There is violence and tragedy. However, there is also love and lighthearted, humorous moments that bridged those gaps well. I really enjoyed some of the banter Kairos, Zeph and Theron brought to the table. Their characters constantly left me smiling. Every exchange Shalia has with Galen and Danae left me hopeful that loyalties can change. Every time Shalia voiced her opinion or stood against Calix left me feeling encouraged that she would endure, even in the darkest of times. And every time Shalia remembered the desert made me want to feel the sand between my toes.
I could continue to talk at length about this book – but then you’d get bored and I’d probably spoil it for you. Overall, it had good world building, believable character development and EARTH MAGIC! The elemental magic system is interesting, though not unique, but the focus on earth magic being most rare and coveted was a welcome development. The action really picks up in the second half and the atmosphere becomes increasingly foreboding as the threat of something to come looms near. I felt pretty pleased with where this ends. There is a pretty major plot twist near the end that made me very happy and I kind of scoffed at myself that I hadn’t considered its possibility, but its so good and gives me hope for the future of this story! This is one I certainly plan to continue and definitely recommend it.