Title: Reign the Earth
Series: The Elementae
Author: A.C. Gaughen
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Publication Date: January 30th, 2018
I received a review copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
A.C. Gaughen’s Reign the Earth is a new fantasy filled with magic, mystery, a strong female protagonist, and rebellion. Okay, let’s be honest, at this point in time that’s pretty standard and cookie cutter for a fantasy book, but Gaughen truly separates Reign the Earth from its peers with unique cultures, a complex elemental magic system, and characters with depth and spirit that is unique to them.
Warning that this book does contain abuse, if you are uncomfortable with that aspect you may not want to read.
Shalia is a daughter of the desert, surrounded by a loving family—filled with brothers—and friends, but in order to secure her people peace she gives up her home to marry the king of the neighboring kingdom.
She always knew King Calix’s father took part in the genocide that exterminated the Elementae—magical people of the islands that could control earth, air, water, and fire—but she didn’t know how much her husband shared his sentiment for destroying them. With a husband who switches between kind—at best—and cruel, a brother who leads the rebellion, and a brother-in-law who keeps catching her eye, Shalia is in deeper than she could’ve imagined.
And let’s not forget the opening of the Elementae temples, which have stirred a whole new type of power within her.
I ended up falling in love with this world and its characters. First off, elemental powers—can anyone say Avatar—how cool is that, but also everything is so fleshed out, whether it’s the desert (which we spend little time in) and its culture, Shalia, or the relationship between Calix and his siblings.
The “kingdoms” in this world played off of known favorites, while adding in little twists and differences. Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands, a nation that is responsible for the extermination of Elementae and the islands they lived on. They’ve lived in wartime and are now looking to have peace (or are they). Besides the whole bigoted war effort, there’s a lot more wrong with the Bonelands.
They treat women unequally, like their only job is bearing children, and they do cruel experiments on those with powers. They also have a really interesting, if only somewhat explored, religion that dictates a lot of their government.
This is in stark contrast to Shalia’s native dessert tribe, where her father led without using fear and women were important and valued within their society for more than just their reproductive capabilities; they were encouraged to have fire.
I think this is also one of my favorite magic systems, although it still isn’t fully developed or explained in this book, which is fine because we learn all of it through the lens of Shalia, who herself doesn’t know that much. I can’t wait to see all the elemental powers make appearances and evolve. Again, AVATAR!
The characters drove this story with their complexity. Shalia is so strong. She is giving up everything to protect her family and people. She looks to make the best of the situation and use her power (whatever little she may have) to the best of her ability.
She is in an abusive relationship with Calix, and throughout the story it gets worse and worse. And while it’s frustrating that she doesn’t just get up and leave, it is a show of strength on her part. There is no romanticizing abuse here, but she also isn’t portrayed as a coward for staying. She is thinking about her family and those she needs to take care of.
Kairos is one of Shalia’s many brothers, and he’s my absolute favorite. Fierce but unassuming, his strength and skill aren’t outwardly obvious, but that makes him all the more dangerous. He also has a wicked sense of humor that adds a lightness to the book and allows Shalia some relief.
Calix is a monster in the form of a man; okay, okay, okay, he’s a lot more complex than that but still. We know right from the beginning (jacket cover anyone) that he’s not going to be good news, even though he seems harmless (albeit a little cold) at first. I’m really interested in seeing more of his villainy and hopefully figuring out more of his reasoning as this series goes on, we got a peek, but he’s definitely spiraled hard and I wanna know why.
And then we have Galen, the better brother. The first impression we get of Calix and Galen is them standing next to each other for the marriage ceremony; Calix is striking, while Galen isn’t the image of physical perfection, at least in Shalia’s eyes.
It’s an interesting start, as Shalia is obviously not drawn to Galen at first, but his kind and caring personality sucks her (and us) in throughout the book. He knows what his brother is doing is wrong, but still feels a sense of duty to him. It’s conflicting, I wanted to love him, but had a hard time accepting that he was letting all this happening.
There are so many complexities in this book; loyalty, duty, and family are brought into question and magic is a hidden but ever-present force. Our characters are both loveable and frustrating, toeing the line between good but complicit. Reign the Earth is the perfect pick for any fantasy lover. You can find it on Amazon and the author at acgaughen.com .