AMBER & DUSK by Lyra Selene
[This book was sent for free, courtesy of Scholastic Press, in exchange for an honest review.)
AMBER & DUSK is a entertaining new young adult book that features gorgeous imagery, exciting magic, and a young girl’s journey to discover where she truly belongs.
(Here is a short summary taken from Amazon.com:
Sylvie has always known she deserves more. Out in the permanent twilight of the Dusklands, her guardians called her power to create illusions a curse. But Sylvie knows it gives her a place in Coeur d'Or, the palais of the Amber Empress and her highborn legacies.
So Sylvie sets off toward the Amber City, a glittering jewel under a sun that never sets, to take what is hers.
But her hope for a better life is quickly dimmed. The empress invites her in only as part of a wicked wager among her powerful courtiers. Sylvie must assume a new name, Mirage, and begin to navigate secretive social circles and deadly games of intrigue in order to claim her spot. Soon it becomes apparent that nothing is as it appears and no one, including her cruel yet captivating sponsor, Sunder, will answer her questions. As Mirage strives to seize what should be her rightful place, she'll have to consider whether it is worth the price she must pay.)
The story starts out with a glimpse into Sylvie’s current life with traveling with merchants through the desert. There, we see a glimpse of her burgeoning power, as well as her potential love interest Luca.
I’ll admit straight off the bat that I have a hate-love relationship with this book. While I enjoyed the vivid imagery and entertaining characters, sometimes the flowery language used to describe things detracted from the overall enjoyment of the story. The world-building is unique, though, and I liked the fact that the main action is set in the desert fortress city, but then moves to the ice city. I also liked quite a few of the side characters.
The main problem I had with this book is the main character, Sylvie. Sylvie knows that she comes from a high-born family because of her power. Only nobility have the power she has, so she assumes she must be a royal. This drives her throughout the entire story: Sylvie’s sole ambition is to claim her rightful place among “her people” at the palais of the Amber Empress. For this reason, I can’t stand her. Sylvie only wants what she thinks is her right as a person who wields power: a position in the Empress’s court. She is stubborn, angry, childish, and self-centered. Anyone who tries to tell her this is given a whiny excuse in return (mainly consisting of her sorrow at not being born into court life and not understanding the customs). Don’t get me wrong, I love reading banter scenes in novels, but there’s a point where it gets to be too much and it just turns into the character sounding stubbornly defensive and annoyingly sarcastic all the time. I know what the author was going for here: a story about self-discovery. Unfortunately, it turned into a pity-party-for-Sylvie story, and consisted of her ticking everybody off and thinking she’s high and mighty just because she has a power. And I was SO disappointed. The other characters in the story are very well-written, and it’s a pity that Sylvie was not a likeable character (since she is the main character, after all). I’m all for branching out and trying new things in the YA genre, but don’t give me a character that I can’t support, or at least feel sorry for. I was expecting Sylvie’s attitude to change throughout the book, and every time I spotted a good place for an attitude shift, it didn’t happen. Sylvie is even offered a life with the boy I thought she loved (Luca) away from the court, but she turns it down.
On a happier note, many of the other characters were brilliant. One character in particular was the sole reason I finished the book; I really wanted to find out more about him and why he was so interested in Sylvie. Sunder is a member of the Empress’s court, and sponsors Sylvie to become a member herself. He is seemingly cruel, but has a dark and mysterious side about him (similar to The Darkling) and I found myself wishing that the book would transition into a story about him and why he was at court, his background, etc. He's even more cruel than Cardan (aka "The Cruel Prince")! (I like Sunder in a very weird way...I can see why Sylvie has a little crush on him.) Sylvie is assigned a girl named Lullaby to show her the proper court etiquette, and she was also an interesting character. Even though she said she wanted to be at the Emperor’s court, I had this small inkling of suspicion that she was more powerful than she looked and that we’d be hearing more from her in the sequel. I really liked these “side characters,” including Mender and Thibo, some of Lullaby’s friends. I would have been content with a book consisting of short stories about their backgrounds and how they came to be members of the court.
I was excited to read about the Amber City, but I was disappointed when I read along in the story and all I could think was the similarity between it and the city in Six of Crows. I definitely see where the author was going in trying to make her city unique, but because it was set in sort of the same “time period” as Six of Crows, it just reminded me of that. And I’m afraid the Empress reminded me of Queen Levana from The Lunar Chronicles.
If anything, AMBER & DUSK did actually hold my interest for the entire reading, but only because I was more interested in the side characters. While I wasn’t a fan of many aspects of this book, I would definitely be open to reading the sequel, just because I’d be interested to see if Sylvie’s perspective on life has changed. There are series where I actually enjoy the second book more than the first. No, I didn’t hate AMBER & DUSK, but I think it could have been a much better story if the main character was likeable and had a more relatable struggle than just trying to fit in and conform to a worldly and selfish court.
I do feel bad writing what others would call a “negative” review, but I must review a book honestly. Bloggers get a lot of flak for writing a negative review, and I don’t think that’s very fair to us. If I didn’t like a book, I wouldn’t lie and tell you I did just to write a “nice” review. And I’m in no way “bashing” the author or her writing ability, I’m just stating how I feel about the book in a hopefully diplomatic way. But, just because I didn’t care for this book doesn’t mean you won’t! As always, I highly encourage YOU to read a book for yourself and make your own assumptions.
If you’re interested in reading AMBER & DUSK for yourself, you can find it at any major retailer, or you can purchase it through my Amazon affiliate link below.
AMBER & DUSK receives 3.5 stars out of 5.