Shalia is a proud daughter of the desert, but after years of devastating war with the adjoining kingdom, her people are desperate for peace. Willing to trade her freedom to ensure the safety of her family, Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands.
Partial synopsis provided by Goodreads.
Reign the Earth
Series: The Elementae #1
Author: A.C. Gaughen
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Page Count: 438
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Cover Artist: Kimi Weart
My Rating: ★★★★★
Shalia, a daughter of the desert, grew up daughter to the clan chief. Her people have known war for many years. It wasn’t long ago that one of her brothers was burned in the desert by their enemy, the people of the Bone Lands. Desperate for peace, Shalia agrees to join the warring clans through marriage.
Without having ever met her soon-to-be-husband, Shalia’s anxiety is high. Yet, she only hopes for the best in her future union. Her close friend Kata, one of the few remaining Elementae, has lived with Shalia’s clan for years after her people were nearly wiped out by others who thought their abilities intimidating. Believing her to also have an ability with the elements, Kata teaches Shalia about these unique powers and how to utilize them–but also to keep them secret.
The day comes for Shalia to prepare and meet her husband. She anticipates the moment, and girlish fantasies accompany her thoughts. But when the two clans converge, everything according to custom is overlooked. Supposed to be unveiled by her husband, his brother instead proceeds with the ritual, and something deep within Shalia’s core comes to life. When she realizes that he is not her betrothed, and is introduced to his fair brother Calix, a seed of doubt sprouts within her.
”You–watching you today, dancing with our family, you can become those things to me, Shalia. A king…a king has little place in his life for emotion, for weakness. But I believe that you will make me stronger. I believe that you will save my people.”
Now married to Calix, Shalia realizes that his thirst for power may be her clan, the remaining elementae, and her own undoing. With a secret of her own to protect, her people to keep the peace for, and trust to earn from the Bone Landers, Shalia has a huge amount responsibility resting on her shoulders.
All included quotes have been taken from an ARC and may not match the finished publication.
”A wedding is not about lust. It’s about partnership. Alliance. Faith and faithfulness.”
It’s so ironic that this book started out with such a strong sense of pure intentions and girlish hopes then turned out the way it did. I’m not sure what it is with tough books like this, but they completely draw me in. I’ll start out by saying that this book will not be for everyone, and will either be loved or hated for the topics it discusses. It is a hard read, and not the typical happy-go-lucky fantasy novel. Sometimes, a book is worthy of praise simply for the realness that it captures in its characters, and the trials they go through, comfortable or not. The characters here are real, raw, and rememberable.
The world in Reign the Earth is vast and diverse. No matter where the reader is taken, however, there is an aridness about the atmosphere, even if by the sea or in lusher regions. I believe the world itself aided in setting the tone of the entire book–the aridness it portrayed not only mirrored the relationship between Shalia and Calix, but also emphasized the harsh realities that were taking place on all fronts.
The religious system was an interesting one. The “god” position was shared by Calix, Galen, and Danae of the Bone Lands. Each sibling had their own role to play.
”My father said the Three-Faced God had told him that his three children were the God Made Human. That we would be the most powerful rulers the Bone Lands had ever seen.” She held out her hands in a triangle, pointing one of the ends at me. “With three faces, you can only ever see two, at the very most,” she told me. “The third will always be hidden. Calix, he is the face of truth and justice. Galen is the face of honor and strength. And I am the hidden face, the piece that separates honor and truth, and also binds them together always.”
While I’m not sure if it was supposed to reflect either positively or negatively (or if at all) on the Holy Trinity in the Bible, I personally feel that it stood apart from it. The fact that a man declared his children the god-made-flesh was a ploy for power. None of the three had actual powers, they were simply powerful in specific characteristics.
Pacing & Readability
The pacing of this book is consistently moderate and increases the closer it gets to the end. Due to the nature of its content, I could see how it could affect its overall readability, as the tone is dark and heavy at times. Personally, that aspect did not bring me pause and actually made me more eager to know what would happen next. The beautiful writing and description also made this read very enjoyable.
Point-Of-View & Characters
Shalia serves as the main character and protagonist, and the story is told from her perspective. Shalia’s character is rather complex–so complex in fact, that it was aggravating at some periods. While she starts out with the mentality of a young girl, her maturity rapidly shows, as she learns through difficult situations how to handle herself, and to make the right decisions. In order to do so, Shalia’s character goes through immense stages of change.
“You’re a daughter of the desert, Shalia. You have always had the ability to pierce and sting.”
The biggest struggle Shalia faces is standing up for herself. For the majority of the story, she seems rather passive, especially in regards to her husband’s character. She does try to influence Calix by her meekness, but in the end, it simply isn’t enough to turn his focus inward on the parts in himself that he needed to address.
“My hands rested over my stomach. I couldn’t feel her in there yet, but I knew in that moment she would never be raised by Calix.”
The biggest event which took place that changed Shalia’s perspective and tactics was when she discovered that she was pregnant. During this time, Calix became more erratic and abusive towards her.
“I went from being a sister and a daughter to a wife, a guarded queen. I have little idea what my life will be like if I’m free from Calix, but I don’t want to be something you protect. I won’t teach my daughter that her only choice is to be sheltered by the men around her. I want to stand beside you…I want to learn to fight with you.”
I think Shalia’s character is an unusual one in YA today. Instead of being the “all guns blazing” superwoman trope, her meekness is what made her stand out to me. Her words and actions spoke louder than her physical capabilities. While she did have bouts of passiveness, she took action when necessary, and when she was able.
Calix is a piece of work. He is the manipulative and power-hungry antagonist, who thinks he is superior to all. I’m not sure if I can blame him entirely for his character, seeing how he was conditioned his entire life to believe himself to be above others. But it doesn’t excuse his actions and reactions towards Shalia and the other people he torments.
“Your heart is soft, and that is good and right, wife. But mine cannot be. More important than love, than grief, more important than anything is power.”
Discussing his relationship with Shalia in particular, he is one of the worst types of villains. He uses emotional manipulation to get what he wants and damages Shalia tremendously in doing so.
Galen, Calix’s brother remains quite a mystery. While small chunks of his personality are revealed, I never got a good sense of him or is true nature. I wasn’t a fan of the way his and Shalia’s relationship played out in the end. (view spoiler)[ I’m not a fan of cheating, no matter the circumstances. (hide spoiler)] Despite that fact, I’d like to know more about him in the sequel(s) to come.
Danae, Calix’s sister, also serves as a partial antagonist. While her character is the least-developed of the three siblings, she becomes an encourager to Shalia during though periods in her marriage to Calix. Without the sisterly love of Danae, I think Shalia really would have struggled.
There are many other characters throughout this book, but I thought these were the main ones to discuss in more detail.
⇒ Face-value vs. Reality
In the opening of this story, when Shalia is on her way to meet her husband for the first time, she inwardly hopes that he is attractive. Despite the vanity of the thought, she gets what she hopes for, only to realize that beauty on the outside doesn’t mean beauty exists within. It’s a valuable theme to focus on as beauty is monotonized on in today’s culture. It teaches everyone that beauty is better, and the internal parts of ourselves can be covered up and ignored if beauty is present externally.
Represented specifically by Shalia, steadfastness is a key quality in her character. While she was seemingly passive at times when she could have stepped forward, I think she actually made the more difficult choice with not stopping what was going on (specifically with Calix). She tried so very hard and sacrificed everything to keep the peace between the clansmen and her husband’s people. However, it costs her. This is the ugly truth about sacrifice sometimes–it’s painful, and it doesn’t always end in the way we hope or envision. But it’s necessary in order to try and make a situation better for others. This was what made me appreciate Shalia’s character so much. Too often are characters met with “challenges” that aren’t really challenges. They have simple solutions and take little effort to overcome. Shalia’s situation reflects what many people go through in real life, and I think she could be an encouraging figure to have in this genre.
Power was a massive theme. It existed on multiple fronts; men over women (no matter the connection), leader over civilian, a people group over another. It is this desire for power on Calix’s part that transforms him into a being capable of doing anything to another person in order to get what he wants.
”Ruling cannot be about emotion, my sweet. It has to be about power and control. Always.”
“True power does not force others to make themselves smaller,”I told him. Anger simmered in his eyes.
“No, wife. You’re wrong.”
This theme is represented well, as it shows how dangerous and degenerative seeking power can be.
While it’s not a nice topic to discuss, abuse is very real. Several forms of abuse are represented throughout Reign the Earth and show how terrible of a thing it is.
Things that I liked:
⇒ Shalia’s depth of character, especially her steadfastness.
⇒ The world building, and how well it reflected everything else developing throughout the story.
⇒ The use of elementals.
Things that I didn’t like:
⇒ Calix. Pure and simple. He was a “perfect” antagonist.
⇒ The pacing towards the middle slowed down a bit, but I didn’t notice it too much. The beginning and end made up for this deviation in my opinion.
⇒ I felt that the Trifectate needed a lot more explanation surrounding it. While the general idea was explained, I wanted to dig deeper into their role in society.
⇒ The fantasy element of this book takes a backseat to the main story. I would have liked to see more representation of the elementals throughout.
Due to the nature of this book, I would definitely caution young adult readers before picking it up. I personally believe this to be better suited for the New Adult genre, as the topics discussed don’t really reflect that of the life of an average teen. Overall, I believe this book has a lot to offer the reader. It’s real, it’s emotionally charged, it’s challenging, and it’s beautifully written. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the next installment in this series.
Vulgarity: 26 words total (based on the eARC I read – this may differ from the published book.)
Sexual content: Moderate to a lot. While nothing is graphically explained, there are a lot of “bedroom scenes.” This also was an area where a lot of content could trigger some uncomfortable feelings for the reader.
Violence: Moderate to quite a bit. There are scenes of torture and some graphic material here and there.