It’s not very often you stumble across an epic fantasy that undertakes changing so many “accepted” norms and turning them on their heads as “Imber” does. From the get-go this entire story is in first person, and just in the main character’s POV! That so rarely happens in fantasy that from the onset I found myself grinning. It may seem small, but it’s something Hackett does very well and is so different from the other fantasy books I read that I wanted to mention it up front. But anyway, “Imber” is a story of a young woman who steps into the role of queen under less than favorable circumstances: many of her citizens feel she is too young to rule. Despite that, Nat is determined to be the ruler they deserve, filling her beloved mother and father’s shoes. Her Council demands she prove that she’s ready to be queen, leaving Nat to fill her days with copious amounts of studying, and that’s on top of her learning how to wield a sword and fire a bow. None of these things come easily to her, but she tries nonetheless. But when rumblings that old rumors about ancient enemies might be more than just campfire stories begin resurfacing, swiftly followed by tragedy, Nat acts without hesitation. It may be an extremely impulsive decision, but never let it be said that Nat sends others to do jobs she wouldn’t herself do.
So let me back it up to those small details I was mentioning that make “Imber” different from your run of the mill epic fantasy. 1. Most fantasies have multiple POV’s. We only ever get Nat’s perspective, which is lovely as it leaves the reader second guessing as to what the other characters truly think and feel, much like Nat herself does. Nothing is ever spoiled chapter by chapter by another character’s POV revealing any hidden secrets. 2. There are elves in this story, Jyn, but they aren’t your standard Lord of the Rings elves. Jyn isn’t some regal snob who won’t get his hands dirty, plus, he actually has a personality, which is nice. 3. Nat has crazy anxiety and fear of crowds/public speaking. How awesome is that? A queen who has panic attacks each time she has to go in front of her people? It’s a weird thing to like, but I loved that struggle. I loved that her own nerves were her biggest enemy and she had to really work at a problem that so many people struggle with. Hackett’s description of what Nat goes through is so spot on, that I was often worried for the author (I’m here if you need me!). 4. Jyn and Nat’s relationship is 100% platonic. That’s not a spoiler, either. You hardly ever see a male and female character that are purely friends, who love each other but only as friends. Most of the time, there is this sexual tension between every male character for the female lead, but not so here and I love LOVE that Hackett did that. There’s also this great line Jyn has towards the end about that, which I won’t share because of spoilers. But needless to say, there was a lot of tropes the author took and flipped on their head, so kudos!
Jyn ended up being my spirit animal for a lot of the book. There were several instances where Nat does something where I ended up asking myself: “Why? Why are you doing this now? This is a really bad time. Nat, chill, think this through.” And then a chapter later, Jyn brought up all my concerns and gave them a voice. Not that Nat listens, but then it becomes something intentional, not just an easy way to move the plot along. AND! Nat’s impulse decisions totally bite her in the butt and she owns up to that. It’s not often that a main character accepts that something is their fault, that something is a failure and takes responsibility. Things do not go well on this hastily planned mission to save her kingdom from something that isn’t a true threat yet, and Nat realizes that. She never once brushes it off so her despair, her feelings of worthlessness when it comes to the lives she put in danger, hits the reader all the harder. Or it did me because I tended to be over in the corner with Jyn mumbling things like: “You totally called it Jyn. High five?”
As is the case with most first books in an epic fantasy trilogy, this book starts off slow, so know that ahead of time. Hackett takes her time showing us Nat, her struggles, and her world so that all the action that comes at the half way mark is that much more impactful. Nat may be queen, but she isn’t inherently the best at anything. She has to learn those skills, so the first half of the book is very much her training montage as she takes the time to learn how to be awesome at something, just like most of us! Once you get past that though, the book flies and becomes hard to put down, so prepare yourselves. Once Nat and crew head forth on their journey, the tone of the book takes on some serious Dungeons&Dragons vibes as Nat, Jyn, Meryn, and Camion find themselves assailed by all manner of beasties. Hackett’s creatures are just amazing and she shows off such a wide range of them that it’s rather harrowing to think that so many nasty things live so close to her peaceful little kingdom.
My only issue with the book comes in wanting to see more of certain things, never less (unless it’s Lucian, and then that’s for an entirely different reason). I wanted to see more of why Nat’s mother was so beloved, I wanted more of Meryn and seeing her doing fantastic magic, heck, I wanted to see more magic period. It’s clear the author knows her magic system so well that it comes second nature to her, because when it is present in the book, it all follows certain rules, but you just see so little of the magic that it’s hard to know the different types, how it functions, how certain people get their magic—or lose it—and why, what are its strengths or limitations, things like that. The descriptions used for the magic—and all the creatures, really—are just lovely so I get the impression that to see arcane magic in action is just all kinds of awe-inspiring. But that’s the thing, it was only just an impression and I’m still a bit confused as to how one character got their magic to begin with.
This is a super solid first book in what is shaping to be a thrilling trilogy. It has tender romance, loyal friendships, fantastic creatures, colorful magic (literally), and a main character who—despite her royal birth—is incredibly realistic and down to earth. Additionally, this book actually has an ending! It wasn’t a cheap cliff-hanger, although it does leave things clearly open for the sequel. The thing the characters set out to do gets accomplished—so to speak, dundundun!—and they figure out what needs to be done next, which will be what the next book focuses on. So while there is still plenty to be done, it didn’t end at the start of the action, either. I can’t wait for the next book as I’m sure all the things that were kind of missing this time around will be there in full force, so I’m giving this a well-deserved 4 stars and will end with a plea for Hackett to, sure, take your time and all, but hurry up with the next book! And thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of the book and for generally being an awesome human.
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