ARC Review: Beneath the Citadel {Destiny Soria} - rebels losing their memories all over the place

title: Beneath the Citadel
author: Destiny Soria
pages: 480
format: e-ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 2/5
Genre: Fantasy
Topics: Political intrigue, Rebellion, Gay character, Asexual character, Black character, Fat character, Magic
CW: Death, Violence

2 lemons - I wasn't really into it 

Swing and a miss      

I loved Destiny’s debut, IRON CAST, so I was really excited for her foray into otherworld fantasy. Unfortunately, BENEATH THE CITADEL and I just didn’t connect. It’s one of those cases where all the pieces are there, but somehow when they’re all put together, you’re staring at the final product wondering if you screwed something in wrong.

It follows four friends and one ex-friend as they contend with the powers of the Citadel, their city’s ruling body, who has long kept the public beneath its thumb using the prophecies of its Seers. Need some land? Oh, sorry, it was prophesized that we should have it. The political implications provide interesting texture to what would otherwise have been a basic mystery. But in the end, the story as a whole falls short of its potential.

Hands off my memories, witch! 

The magic is honestly the coolest thing about this book. Magical powers are rare and feared, and come in all varieties related to the mind. Seers who see true futures. Diviners who catch snippets. Rooks who steal memories. Sentients who read your truths in your features. And more ordinary people with blood bonds to elements, who can manipulate silver, gold, iron.

As with IRON CAST, Destiny shines in inventing unique kinds of magic. And for the most part she’s successful in navigating the pitfalls that always come with prophecy, by adding some ambiguity: not-so-infallible prophecies, human error, liar prophets.

The characters are also pretty solid. I actually disliked Cassa quite a bit and I found myself dreading her chapters, but that could be a personal thing; she’s got that baseless self-assurance and cockiness, despite causing real damage to her friends, that tends to rub me the wrong way.

But I liked everyone else quite a lot, and overall the cast is diverse in terms of both race and sexual orientation. There’s a cute m/m romance that felt really organic. Alys is ace and has panic attacks, which were rendered with such wonderful sensitivity and feeling. And I like Vesper, because she’s painted as a traitor but actually has really complicated motivations.

I think we just went over that  

The plot is where it fell apart for me. It’s somehow both too fast and too slow at once. It begins, BAM, right after the teen rebels have been caught in their first attempt to break in to the Citadel.  We get an introduction to each of them as they are on trial before the Councilors. Normally I don’t mind being thrown in in the middle, but this time it just felt like I was missing half the story. People are losing their memories? There’s a huge mystery? Cool! … but it’s already happened before you got here. Then it immediately slows down so each POV can comment on the same information. Speed up again, they’re escaping their cells and finding their way (dun dun dun) beneath the Citadel, where a revelation kicks off the main plot.

A couple things didn’t work for me. First, we have five POVs and occasional flashbacks to how each of them met each other. There’s a lot of backtracking, and also a lot of repetition, because the POVs tend to go over the same segment of time more than once with little movement ocurring. There’s also a lot of “let’s have long conversations about things we all know,” which is one of my particular hot spots. And some pieces that didn’t make sense. So many flashbacks to Cassa and Evander’s former romance, which never became important.

Finally, we’re acquainted with the Big Bad very early, so there’s very little mystery and much more running around trying to figure out who to trust, what to do, how to do it. The emotional punches landed softly, because for the most part they were expected. The ending was actually a clever, unexpected twist, but by then I was just waiting for it to be over.

Just not meant to be

Sadly, we just weren’t meant for each other. I almost DNFed a number of times, but instead forced myself through. When I notice I’ve been skimming for pages, I know a book just isn’t working for me. Which is too bad, because some of Destiny’s writing is truly beautiful, full of quotable gems, stunning descriptions, and humor. It just struck me as a book that could have used another round on the chopping block, some tightening here and cutting there. But other people really loved it, including my co-blogger Whitley, so if the synopsis appeals to you, definitely give it a try!

My thoughts overall

A claustrophobic novel of rebellion and infiltration with clever magic, but a plot that didn't quite connect.

Will I read this author again? Yes. I loved her debut, so maybe this one wasn't for me
Will I continue this series? I believe it's a standalone 

Note: I received this copy from the publisher for an honest review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions. 

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