Review: Whitley: Even the Darkest Stars

Book Cover
title: Even the Darkest Stars
author: Heather Fawcett
pages: 437
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 2/5

Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the Emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the wintry, mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. She knows she could be the best in the world, if only someone would give her a chance.

But everything changes when the mysterious and eccentric River Shara, the greatest explorer ever known, arrives in her village and demands to hire Kamzin—not her older sister Lusha, as everyone had expected—for his next expedition. This is Kamzin’s chance to prove herself—even though River’s mission to retrieve a rare talisman for the emperor means climbing Raksha, the tallest and deadliest mountain in the Aryas. Then Lusha sets off on her own mission to Raksha with a rival explorer who is determined to best River, and Kamzin must decide what’s most important to her: protecting her sister from the countless perils of the climb or beating her to the summit.

The challenges of climbing Raksha are unlike anything Kamzin expected—or prepared for—with avalanches, ice chasms, ghosts, and even worse at every turn. And as dark secrets are revealed, Kamzin must unravel the truth of their mission and of her companions—while surviving the deadliest climb she has ever faced.

This book…had potential. I think that’s the best way to summarize it, really. There were a ton of things that were super interesting in concept and had so much potential to be great, and then they just…weren’t.

For instance, Kamzin has a magical familiar and much commentary is made on how unusual it is to have familiars, how odd it is that Kamzin and her sister both have one. And then her familiar…is just a pet. A pet fox. Who does nothing except occasionally bite people and wander out of the story when there’s nothing for him to do. Her sister’s familiars (crows) are super helpful and smart and take commands from Lusha, but Kamzin’s fox is…around. Cuddles a bit, bites people, wanders off again. Rather a let-down, really.

I felt the same way about the mountain climbing. “Oh, wow, we have to climb this huge mountain that no one has ever scaled before (without dying, at least)” and then it’s accomplished with…walking. And a bit of rock climbing, which was cool but really only one part of mountain climbing. There was a distinct lack of a lot of the techniques and trails I’ve read about in other Everest climbing stories (and, yes, Raksha is Everest, all the technical specs given for the fake mountain match the real one, so). There was mention now at then of various injuries, but that’s it. They were mentioned, and then the characters just kept going anyway without actually treating anything. (Except at the very end, when injuries were used to just keep certain characters out of the way.)

I would have really liked to see this book’s plot played out to the fullest extent, because I think there was a ton of possibility in it, but it did everything by half-measures instead of going full-bore.
There were a lot of weird bits and lazy tricks, too. A lot of tropes like ‘girl overlooked by her family despite having special skills’ and ‘you’re not like other girls’ things, which seem to just…stand on their own, instead of having any narrative context to support them. Why was Kamzin overlooked by her family? Oh, because. Why has River never met any other girls who…rock climb, despite it being mentioned frequently that he travels with women companions and assistants? Oh, because.

Why is there a tired triangle between the new bad boy and the old best friend? Lol, you know why.

Overall…I’m not upset that I read to the end, but I’m not really fulfilled, either. I won’t be continuing this series.

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